Picturing Modern America (PMA) contains interactive exercises designed
- Deepen students' understanding of common topics in
the study of modern America 1880-1920
- Build students' skills in analyzing primary sources,
especially visual sources
- Generate questions that students can pursue by searching
in American Memory and other sources.
Above all, we hope that you use PMA to encourage your students to actively
read, question and discuss the photographs and other documents that give
us fragmentary evidence of American life at the turn of the last century.
What is American Memory?
PMA exercises are built around documents in the American Memory collections
from the Library of Congress, one of the best places US history teachers
can go on the Web for primary sources. American Memory collections contain
thousands of searchable documents in many different formats texts,
photographs, films, pamphlets, songs, music, maps. Teachers have found
that giving students direct access to these online sources, along with
guidance in how to use them, gets students more motivated and engaged
in doing history, and helps them adopt the stance of historical inquirers.
Why historical thinking exercises?
Working with lots of primary source materials is motivating for students
but it can also be overwhelming. Teachers who have been successful
in using American Memory and other digital archives have found that it's
important for students to do these things as they work with documents:
- Slow down
- Observe carefully what a document says or shows
- Note the source of the document who made it,
where it came from
- Note questions or confusions you have don't
- Draw on what you already know about the time period
- Compare other documents you have or know about, and
look for agreement
- Make a hypothesis a guess about the
meaning of the document or event
- Point to the evidence you find for your hypothesis
- Share and compare your thinking with others, through
a presentation, product or discussion top
What does PMA Offer?
PMA is designed to help young historians do the things listed just above.
The exercises fall into three categories:
Image Detective - Here students develop
their skill at reading' a single document - observing details, drawing
tentative conclusions, posing questions for further research.
- A good starting place for students.
- Useful introduction to each of nine major topics.
- Good way for students to generate research questions.
- Students can complete the activity (analyze one or
two documents) in one class period.
Investigations -- Students explore selected
themes like women's changing roles, prairie
settlement, child labor and the representation of Indians, using small
collections of documents -- mini-archives'.
- Good for helping students find and summarize patterns across two or
- Students can complete most activities in one period.
Exhibit Builder -- Students act as curators,
and create and save their own online exhibits, using images from American
Memory and text they write themselves.
- Good alternative to reports as culminating
products Prepares children for searching on American Memory.
- Gallery' can be done in one class period and saved; Slideshow'
will require more than one session top
How and where should my
students use PMA?
PMA is designed to be used by students, under the guidance of a teacher.
Many configurations are possible:
- Have your class do the exercises
in a computer lab, working singly or in pairs. Follow the lab time with
classroom discussions organized around printouts of students' online
- Display the site on the
classroom wall using a projector, and step through the exercises with
the whole class (this is in fact a good way to preview the activities
- Assign students particular
exercises for homework; have them print out or display the results of
their work in class to be discussed.
- Create classroom Exhibits
by printing out images and texts and mounting them on the classroom
wall. This is especially useful with work students do in the Investigations,
and using the Exhibit Builder. top
Among the many ways that US society became modern between 1880 and 1920
was in the production and consumption of images. With the growth of new
media technologies such as photography, chromolithography, film, and newspaper
printing, Americans began to document and narrate visually their changing
world as never before. And this occurred at a moment when how Americans
pictured themselves' was of increasing importance -- a period of
unprecedented immigration and migration that for many people threatened
the very notion of who Americans were.
Historians of turn of the century America have therefore learned to work
not only with texts but with visual records as well. The abundance of
visual source materials for this period offers another advantage to middle
and high school teachers: students find it easy to begin interpreting
visual sources using their everyday knowledge. (Period texts, in contrast,
often have unfamiliar vocabulary and references that demand an initial
effort at decoding, sometimes derailing students' interest.) Beginning
with visuals sources makes sense because once students' curiosity is engaged
and they venture to propose an interpretation, teachers can work with
them on refining their interpretation by asking them to cite evidence,
consider alternatives, and connect other events. top
Why are some topics represented,
and not others?
PMA offers a selective treatment of the period from 1880-1920, not a comprehensive
one. We have chosen topics that are commonly taught in 6-12th grade US
History courses, are accessible for middle and high school aged children,
and most decisive, are well documented in the available online archive
of visual materials, especially the American Memory collections.
The materials do not address many topics that are critical to a full
understanding of the period. Teachers and students should therefore consult
any of the following resources for guidance in dealing with the period
more fully. top
History Standards for Emergence of Modern America
History Timeline from American Memory
Who made this?
PMA was created by a team of historians,
teachers, designers and researchers led by the Center
for Children and Technology at the Education
Development Center. Please contact us with any questions or suggestions.
PMA was made with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Visit the NEH website EDSITEment
for access to an outstanding set of teaching and learning resources
in the humanities. top