Top of page

Analyzing Photographs: Child Labor from a Child’s Perspective

Share this post:

John Howell, an Indianapolis newsboy, makes $.75 some days.

How do 21st century children respond to photographs of child labor? Barbara Natanson, who works in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress, recently wrote a blog post about what her children saw in selected photographs that Lewis Hine took for the National Child Labor Committee.  She showed them the photos with the simple direction to choose some that they found interesting and write down why.

The comments her children wrote showed imagination, outrage, and at least one incorrect assumption; all of those are opportunities to spur research and new learning. Replicating what Barbara did would be an easy way to introduce students to learning with primary sources. One commenter even suggested that this could be turned into a lesson plan.

The Library’s education staff came up with a few ideas to extend the activity:

  • Show students an image without the caption that Hine included. Working in pairs, ask students to write a caption or a headline. Then show them Hine’s caption and ask students to compare them.
  • Select a set of images, and ask students to identify a unifying theme.
  • Ask students to study a set of pictures, form a hypothesis and identify images that support it or disprove it. For example, Barbara noted that her children thought that “the boys in the pictures appear to be much more animated than the girls.”

Tell us your ideas for teaching with images in the comments.

For sets of photographs and other primary sources on additional topics, take a look at these primary source sets selected by the Library’s education staff.




Comments (2)

  1. Images from this time period, those depicting child labor in particular, provide so much potential for engaging kids. Empathy is innate, and can therefor create common ground among all students. How about an activity where students take on different personas depicted in a photograph and write a diary entry from that perspective? Having students step “into the shoes” of someone else forces them to consider difficult questions, while simultaneously injecting an alternative point of view.

  2. Although labor unions are the subject of much media discourse today as a result of the Chicago School Strike, let us not forget their part in eliminating such child labor atrocities.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *