We are often asked which Library of Congress primary source is our favorite. We could never choose just one, but today I’ll highlight this especially intriguing primary source from the Library’s online collections.
Seeing a primary source without knowing anything about it can help us make a personal connection to a past event – in a way nothing else can.
Years ago, I ran across this photo on the Library’s website, and its desolate wintry look caught my attention. I thought about the depth and weight of the snowy accumulation and wondered about the family inside the home. My wondering lasted only a moment, however; it was replaced by astonishment when I read the title and realized it was an accumulation of dust I was looking at, not snow.
In the way everyone brings their own prior knowledge and past experience to each new primary source, I brought my familiarity with snowy weather to my viewing of this photo, and it evoked a deep and emotional response as my brain tried to reconcile my personal experiences with the possibility of dust as deep as snow.
Had I known in advance that I was going to see a Dust Bowl scene, would I have thought as deeply about what was happening in this photo? I don’t think so. Making an immediate and unconscious personal connection with something familiar helped me better understand something unfamiliar.