Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
From Sea to Shining Sea

Understanding Primary Sources:
Images of the West

Objective: Students locate and analyze primary source photographs of the American West to get a better understanding of what life was like on the western frontier. Students will then create a newspaper article based on the image they analyzed.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2 hours over a period of 1 or 2 days

Building Background:
Remind students that during the 1800s and early 1900s many groups of people living in the East packed up their belonging and moved to the western part of the United States. Ask students to recall some of the reasons why pioneers settled in the West. Then have students look at the photograph of the Moses Speese family on pages 112-113 of their textbook. Ask students when and where the photograph was taken. Ask them to describe the setting, the people and objects in the photograph. Have students share their ideas about what life was like for the Speese family. Share with students that looking at photographs taken in the past can help them better understand the way people lived long ago. Then tell students that they will be looking for photographs of the West and using them to write a newspaper article about pioneer life in the West

What To Do:

1. Have students use their textbook or books in the library to locate primary source photographs of the West. If you have Internet access, students can search these sites for images to download and print out.

Archives of the West

This site contains primary source materials that went into the making of the PBS television series "The West." It includes full texts of memoirs, journals, diaries, letters, autobiographies and photographs and other images used in the documentary.

The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920

This short article tells the story of the construction and use of the canal and links to resources from the New York State Archives.

Images of the American West

This site from the National Archives contains hundreds of images and photographs of the American West. Images are catalogued by subject and by state.

2. Pass out copies of the Images of the West worksheet. Have students complete the worksheet based on the photograph they located.

3. When students have completed the worksheet, have them write their newspaper articles based on the photograph they used.

Have each student give a presentation to the class about the photograph he or she chose. Students should discuss the subject and setting of the photograph and any other factual information they were able to gather about it. Then have them share their newspaper article with the class.


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