Lowntheil Collection of African-American Photographs at Cornell University

Educators wishing to enrich their senior high school social studies or  college curriculum or to help commemorate African American History Month should check out the Lowentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, available through Cornell University.

This rich collection of historical photographs from the time of slavery to the modern era is an incredible research and educational opportunity. These digitized photos are a compelling look at “how black people in American saw themselves and were seen by others,” according to Cheryl Finley, associate professor of art.

It took several years of painstaking work to digitize and organize these photographs to be made available to the wider public.

There are so many ways an educator could use these photographs from the Lowentheil Collection of African-American photographs. For sure, to glimpse the attire, hair styles and posing of the time period. But also, to understand the essential humanity captured in the photos.

For sure, an American History teacher could find these valuable artifacts to deepen the understanding of the time period. Students can scan the gallery and answer questions about what is observed. They can begin getting an understanding of how a historian would use primary source material for research. Additionally, you can help them develop an appreciation of the great role that media specialists and archivists play in recording the history of our culture.

I can also imagine using these photographs in a creative writing context. The clothes, the facial expressions, the poses of these African-American subjects could be used as a “prompt” for a creative writing, free write. Simply look at the picture and imagine the story of the person in the photo. Imagine what was happening in their lives during the time of the photographs. What was important to them? What were they thinking and feeling and dreaming?

What genre would best fit the image titled, “Portrait of a Man?” A poem, an essay, a short story? For some reason, I see him possibly giving a speech, what about you?

I believe our colleagues in the Fine Arts classes would find much to commend about the photographers effort in “Men and children dancing” from 1886. What do you think of the staging and the intensity in which the boy in the foreground stares at the camera? How has the camera and film technology changed since the era of these older photographs? Stylistically rich and visually appealing, these photographs would enliven any photography classroom discussion. 

Any educator with a passion for celebrating the difficult work of curatorial research and of experiencing a profound glimpse into the power of the humanities to close the gap of time, would find spending time with this digital collection gratifying.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How can this digital collection help us better understand this time period?
  2. How has the photographic technology changed?
  3. What is the importance of primary source material in historical research?
  4. What can we learn about the subjects in this collection- are there generalizable characteristics or is it best to understand the subjects individually?
  5. Why do you think Cornell believed it was important to share this resource?
  6. How else could you use this collection in your own class or professional development setting?

For a link to an article in the Cornell Chronicle by Melanie Lefkowitz, please click here.

For a link to the Lowentheil Collection of African American Photographs, please click here. 

American Thanksgiving

a-trio-of-pumpkins

Educators, seeking enriching anecdotes to help their students understand the historical context of the American Thanksgiving traditions, will enjoy the excerpt from Melanie Kirkpatrick’s speech, “Thanksgiving and America”, published in Hillsdale College’s, Imprimis. 

While the holiday itself has passed for this year and you are likely far beyond the Pilgrims in the semester of American History, this speech would be a great read-aloud or supplemental literacy enrichment text. It is intelligent and insightful, yet quite readable and accessible.

I especially enjoyed the acknowledgement of Sarah Hale’s singular dedication to this cause as well as the uproar caused by FDR when he moved the date!

Questions for Discussion

  1. What was Benjamin Franklin’s description of Thanksgiving?
  2. What were three of the major controversies surrounding Thanksgiving?
  3. What role did Sarah Hale have in establishing the Thanksgiving tradition?
  4. What were the early Thanksgiving celebrations about?
  5. Which colony established the first specific date for the holiday?
  6. What were two of the main objections voiced regarding the holiday in 1789?
  7. What were two of Washington’s key solutions to establish this as an inclusive holiday?
  8. What does Ms. Kirkpatrick mean by, “Shades of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians sit at every American’s Thanksgiving table…?”
  9.  What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”