by Rachel Taliaferro
Last night, I stumbled across Photogrammar, a new platform set up by Yale University and the National Endowment for the Humanities to view, search for, and organize the 170,000 photographs produced by the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI), which are now housed in the Library of Congress.
The digitization of this collection makes it a fantastic resource for energizing the social studies classroom. The photographs are vivid portraits of the past, depicting life in the United States as it was from the Depression to WWII. Organized geographically, the photographs allow a teacher to travel with students from the streets of Depression-era New York City to the wartime evacuation of Japanese Americans in Los Angeles (the picture above is of a trailer camp in my hometown of McAllen, TX).
The large-scale digitization efforts from FSA-OWI, The National Archives, and the Library of Congress were either just beginning or still in process when I was in junior high and high school, so my social studies and history classes were usually only informed by the content in my textbook, which wasn't exactly stimulating (it didn't help that my history/social studies teachers were typically football coaches with no background or interest in history). As a result, I frequently had a difficult time connecting to my studies, and it was often hard for me to see history as something real, with faces and places attached to it, instead of just stories I read in a textbook.
It wasn't until I got to college, where my French history professors encouraged students to make personal connections to history and consistently made an active effort to present history as a living thing, that I understood the benefit and educational advantage in incorporating primary sources like the ones offered on Photogrammar in everyday instruction. Using these resources to supplement social studies instruction might be a good way to get uninterested--or unmotivated--students to see history not as a dull series of beginnings and ends, but as an ongoing continuum with a beating pulse.