Social Education 59(1), 1995, pp. 11-13©1995 National Council for the Social?Studies

Teaching about Local History Using Customized Photographs

Joseph M. Kirman
The value of pictures and photographs as teaching aids is firmly established. Teachers are well aware of the now trite statement that one picture is worth a thousand words. Apropos of this, point-and-shoot cameras can provide the most novice photographer with near perfect photographs. With modern automatic 35mm cameras, you can become the producer of customized study prints and slides, and develop mini-units based on them. Automation is virtually total-from focusing to flash photography. In fact, it has been said that the only thing the camera can't do for us is tell us whether the picture is worth taking in the first place.

Curriculum Objectives
One interesting technique for teaching about local areas is re-photographing scenes in pictures of earlier times. Such old pictures provide interesting information about the history, geography, and social life of the past. They lend themselves to units found in the elementary, ever-widening circle curriculum such as My Family, My Community, My Province or State, secondary units dealing with local history and geography, and reflective thinking. When these old pictures are compared with photographic updates, the following objectives can be explored:

1. Perceiving change over time

2. Examining the impact of technology

3. Proposing city or area planning ideas

4. Determining environmental impact

5. Suggesting alternate land use

You must have the answers to two questions to use this technique. First, where can these old photos and pictures be found? Second, how are the scenes re-photographed?

Photos from earlier eras can be found at government archives, museums, historical societies, and in the collections of local unofficial historians, old newspapers and magazines, and family albums. Sometimes local libraries and places of historical interest sell sets of old photographs.

Re-photographing a Scene
To re-photograph a scene, the following are of importance:

1. Where is the location from which the photograph was taken? Here you have to determine where the original photographer was standing when he or she took the picture. This can sometimes be a problem if the area is no longer accessible to the public, or the scene from the original location is now blocked by a re-growth of vegetation or buildings. You may have to compromise and take the next best location to re-photograph the scene. A good technique is to match the center of your photograph with that of the original photograph's. In one case, in re-photographing the location of old Fort Edmonton (figure 1), I found that the original view from the top of a river valley was blocked by vegetation. However, the manager of a nearby high rise building allowed me to shoot from the building's roof (figure 2).

2. What is the photograph's perspective, i.e., ground level, oblique downward or upward, or overhead aerial? This is often resolved by finding the original shooting location.

3. What is covered from edge to edge and top to bottom in the photograph? This can be a problem when the angle covered by your lens does not match that of the original one. For example, your lens may provide wide angle coverage compared with the original photo, so that the subject matter looks too far away in your view-finder. There are two options in this case. If you have a zoom lens or can change lenses, zoom in or change to a telephoto lens. If you have a fixed lens camera, try to change your position by moving closer to the subject area.

4. What is the format of the photograph's edges, e.g., square, rectangle, round? If the original photo's format is different from that of your camera, there are two options. The first is to ignore the format and concentrate on getting the best area coverage. In this case, you will probably sacrifice some of the area shown in the original photograph. The second is to make a wider angle photograph by moving further back, zooming, or changing lenses. When the print is made, hand draw the format lines of the original photo directly on the print. Because of the wide angle of the new photograph, it may be necessary to enlarge the photograph to bring out the details shown in the original photograph. Enlarged photographs can also be custom cropped to eliminate extraneous detail and concentrate on the desired subject matter.

Even if you try to follow all of the above suggestions, at times it is not possible to get the exact area in the old photograph. This happens when you must shoot from a different compass point or angle than the original, or when the old photograph has been dramatically cropped and enlarged by the original photographer. This latter element may make it impossible to get the identical area unless you have a super length telephoto lens. These were problems I faced in re-photographing the original Fort Edmonton picture.

Sometimes you may not want the exact original scene. Perhaps you may wish to show the area around the scene for dramatic changes. Or perhaps newer structures or vegetation are blocking interesting items, and you need a different angle to show these items. Whether or not your photograph captures the exact scene, the key requirement is that the resulting photograph will meet your educational objectives.

Comparative Photographs-Teaching Procedures
Once a set of comparative photographs has been made, the photographs can be used for motivations, discussion stimulators, and creative activities. The latter include essays and student drawings about how the area will appear in the future, and what the area could have looked like now if certain historical events had not happened or if other events had happened. Students could be encouraged to examine photos of their relatives and home, and write family histories illustrating them with current photographs comparing then and now. They can also speculate on their own and their families' futures with essays and drawings. Another use of the comparative photographs is to allow classroom guest speakers such as senior citizens and local historians to comment on them.

General Questions
The following general questions can be used to help guide discussion and inquiry:

1.How has the scene changed?
2.Is the change for the better or the worse?
3.What is in the modern photograph that is in the earlier photograph?
4.What is in the modern photograph that could never be in the earlier photograph?
5.If you were in charge of developing this area from the date of the earlier photograph, would you have done anything different than what is shown in the modern photograph? Why?
6.What type of life-style does the earlier photograph represent? How do you know?
7.What type of life-style does the modern photograph represent? How do you know?
8.What type of environmental impact do the older and newer photographs show?
9.Is anything being done in the old photograph that would not be permitted today, or in the modern photograph that would not be permitted in earlier times?

Take your camera with you when you travel. This allows you to photograph interesting subject matter for later use, e.g., the national parks and points of historical or geographic interest. It also provides a personal archive of photographs that can be used after the fact for comparisons with old photographs. This is especially valuable if you are familiar with the availability of earlier photographs on various subjects. For example, pictures of boats taken while visiting a fishing village can be compared with pictures of fishing boats from the turn of the century. A visit to a farm during harvest can provide you with pictures to compare with harvesting in an earlier era. Such thematic photographs do not have to be of the same places, but only of the same genre. You could even photograph your own class to compare with a photograph of an earlier classroom.

A Sample Unit Outline
One example of what can be done is to compare an old school classroom photograph to your current classroom. Figure 3 presents one such photograph taken in the Horse Hill School in 1910, when it stood to the north of Edmonton (it is now within the city's boundaries). The result of a comparison could be a mini-unit on education, examining subjects taught in the past, school behavior and rules of the past, the people who went to school then and for how long, educational changes, the scientific and technological impact on education, the changing duties of teachers, and the responsibilities of students over the years.

Unit Discussion Questions
Discussion questions that can be based on the class photographs are the following:

1.How does this classroom of the past differ from our classroom today?
2.If a student from that old picture could visit our classroom, what questions would that person ask?
3.How do the people in the old picture differ from us? How are they the same?
4.Did the students in the old photograph study the same things we do? How did their curriculums differ from ours? Why?
5.Do teachers today do the same things that teachers did years ago?
6.How do you think the community has changed since those students went to school?
Unit Activities
Activities based on the pictures include the following:

1.Running the class for a short time using teaching methods from an earlier era.
2.Examining scientific and technological developments that have occurred since the old picture was taken. Decide what changes have been made in schools because of them.
3.Comparing old and new schools for safety features.
4.Comparing school textbooks from the past to modern school textbooks. Discuss why changes have occurred. Determine if any content has remained the same, and discuss your findings.
5.List the school's equipment that was not invented when the earlier picture was taken.
6.Invite a retired teacher to discuss how schools have changed.
7.Compare our community school taxes today with school taxes in 1910. Discuss why they are so different.
8.Discuss what future schools may be like? Do you think that changing technologies may eliminate schools as we now know them?
Unit Reflective Questions
Reflective questions for discussion at the end of the unit are the following:

1.What would you prefer to be, a student today, or one in 1910?
2.Some people say "School days are the happiest days of your life." Do you agree with this? Would the students in the old picture agree with it?
3.What kind of a world were the students in the old picture being trained to live in? What kind of a world are we being trained to live in? Is our education meeting this need? Can our education be improved? If so, what can we do about it?
With fewer dollars available for instructional items, producing your own customized classroom teaching materials with a camera is an excellent value for the money. The photographs are good reusable teaching aids and can even be used years from now for updated comparisons.

Joseph M. Kirman is a professor in the social studies subject area in the Department of Elementary Education at the University of Alberta. He is also editor of the magazine Canadian Social Studies.