Family Photography and American History
Sarah McNair Vosmeier
This course concerns the snapshots and studio portraits
that are part of ordinary Americans' everyday lives -- the photos on your
phone and the ones your relatives keep in desk drawers or shoeboxes or photo
albums. We will be working with photos both as historians (especially
in class discussions and lectures) and archivists (especially in workshops).
Historians make historical arguments based on primary sources, including
photographs. Like written documents, photographs tell us about the
people associated with them as well as the society in which they were
created. Photographs also prompt us to consider the history of
For every primary source a historian studies, other people have acted to
insure its survival. Professional archivists maintain the physical
conditions that prevent primary sources from deteriorating, and they
facilitate our finding and using them. In everyday life, certain
family members take on similar responsibilities -- acting as "family
archivists" when they keep photos and other memorabilia and when they share
the family stories that go with them.
Calculating Final Grades
12% Preparation and Participation
10% Family Archivist Project
12% Teaching Presentation
12% Photo Analysis
14% Cataloging Project
20% Final Exam
Our class time provides an opportunity, rare in modern life, to focus for an
extended time on a single task and conversation. Please do not
multitask -- to avoid distraction for others and temptation for ourselves,
we will not use laptops, cell phones, etc. during lectures and
discussions. Thus you will need to bring assigned texts to class in
paper form. You will need a laptop and smartphone for workshops.
The archives reading room at the Duggan Library is open Monday-Friday from
8:00 to 5:00 -- you'll need to plan accordingly for assignments using
Late papers will be penalized, and in-class assignments cannot be made
up. If you have an emergency and want to request an exception to this
rule, contact me before the due date.
About texts needed for this class:
• Hacker's Rules for Writers
• All the assigned readings are available online, and you
will need to print them out for notetaking and class discussion.
• Excel and Powerpoint (available to download from Office
About Preparation, Participation, Papers, and Exams:
Three Projects draw on the skills used by archivists and "family
For the Family Archivist Project, you will set up a
procedure for caring for your most cherished digital images -- so that they
will still be accessible and useful decades from now.
For the Teaching Presentation, you will teach your
classmates how to estimate the date of a photo based on the clothing people
in it are wearing, with each student responsible for a different period in
For the Cataloging Project, you will identify and
describe photos from the Duggan Library collection. This project
combines the work of professional archivists and of historians.
Students will make a historical argument based on close
analysis of two photographs. They will make their argument either in
the form of a paper or an oral presentation. (Note that "must report"
seniors will be required to write a paper.) Choosing photographs from
your Cataloging Project for this analysis would be an efficient use of your
Blue-book exams will focus on history and historical
analysis and will include essay questions and identifications (that is,
paragraph-length historical essays).
Preparation and Participation:
This class depends on everyone's preparing and
participating fully. People who excel in this aspect of the class show
evidence of preparing carefully for class; they make useful comments or ask
helpful questions in discussion and workshops; and they facilitate others'
success as well.
Occasional brief assignments -- such as marginalia checks
or study guide contributions -- allow you to demonstrate careful preparation
for discussion, and they also facilitate our common endeavors.
Introduction, Definitions, and Background
May 1, 2017 (Mon)
Lecture: Introductions and definitions.
Workshop: Creating a Digital Family Archive and using the college
May 2, 2017 (Tue)
Discussion: Vosmeier, "On Marginalia," 2016 (online);
Hanover College History Department, "Style Sheet for Chicago Manual
Hacker, "Citing Sources; Avoiding Plagiarism," and "Integrating
May 3, 2017 (Wed)
Discussion: Oestreicher, "From Artisan to Consumer," 1981 (online
-- click on "pdf full text" and print the article).
Workshop: Ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, and further research.
May 4, 2017 (Thu)
Lecture: Wet plate photography -- including cartes de visite and
Discussion: Holmes, "My Hunt after 'The Captain,'" 1862; Holmes, "Doings
of the Sunbeam," 1863 (excerpts online).
Workshop: Clothing in history.
May 5, 2017 (Fri)
Presentations: The history of American clothing.
Workshop: Photo analysis.
May 6, 2017 (Sat, 9:30-11:00, meet at the Duggan Archives)
Teaching and learning with the Trustee spouses.
May 8, 2017 (Mon)
Family Archivist Project due.
Discussion: Smith, "When Seeing Makes Scents," 2010 (online);
Gallman, "Three Roads to Antietam," 2015; Janney, "A Family in Camp,"
2015; Sheehan-Dean, "Looking at War," 2015 (These are chapters in a
book. Follow this link
to the book, and then click the "download chapter" icon, which is second
from the left. In the window that opens, fill in the appropriate
pages and download and print the resulting pdfs. Gallman is on pages
41-49, Janney on 111-120, and Sheehan-Dean on 69-76.)
May 9, 2017 (Tue)
Lecture: Wet plate photography -- including photo albums and cabinet
Workshop: Photo albums.
May 10, 2017 (Wed)
Discussion: Motz, "Visual Autobiography," 1989 (online);
Hanover College news, 1903 (online).
Lecture: College life.
May 11, 2017 (Thu) - Meet at the Duggan Archives.
Workshop: Student portraits and other photographs; newspaper research.
May 12, 2017 (Fri)
Lecture: Dry plate photography
Discussion: Local news (email attachment).
May 15, 2017 (Mon)
Midterm Exam (half-day class session).
May 16, 2017 (Tue)
Discussion: Barber, "The Roots of Travel Cinema," 1993 (online
-- click "pdf full text" on the left and print out).
Workshop: Lantern Slides, stereocards, and further research.
May 17, 2017 (Wed)
Lecture: Kodak and the Snapshot.
Discussion: Olivier, "George Eastman's Modern Stone-Age Family," 2007 (online
-- click "download pdf" at the top and print out).
May 18, 2017 (Thu)
Lecture: Mid-twentieth-century family photography -- including Kodachrome
Discussion: Sandweiss, "The Day in Its Color," 2007 (online
-- click "pdf full text" on the left and print out); Kodak, How to Make
Good Pictures, 30th edition, 1957 (photocopy pp. 44-59, on reserve).
May 19, 2017 (Fri)
Lecture: Family photography in recent decades -- including digital
Workshop: Mid-twentieth-century photos.
May 22, 2017 (Mon)
Lecture: Childhood in America.
Discussion: Gear, "Baby's Picture," 1987 (online
-- click "download pdf" at top right and print out).
May 23, 2017 (Tue)
Lecture: Tourism in America.
Discussion: Greenwald, "On the History of Photography and Site/Sight Seeing
at Yellowstone," 2007 (online
-- click "download pdf" at top right and print out); Cavaliere, "Canada by
Photograph," 2016 (online
-- click "download pdf" at the top right).
May 24, 2017 (Wed)
Photo analysis (paper) due.
Discussion: Penner, "A Vision of Love and Luxury," 2004 (online
-- click "pdf full text" on the left and print out).
Note: "Must report" seniors will take the final exam in the afternoon.
May 25, 2017 (Thu)
Workshop: Late Twentieth-Century Photos.
May 26, 2017 (Fri)
Photo Analysis presentations.
Cataloging Project due (end of day).
Workshop: Twenty-first-century photos, or t.b.a.