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Baseball in Different Times and Places: A Trip around the Bases with Selected Primary Sources

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In a couple of webinars this spring, we’ve turned to the seasonal topic of baseball to lay a foundation for a primary source analysis process and suggest additional research paths. Now that we find ourselves moving into summer, we thought it might be useful to take a trip around the bases together and walk through the analysis process in some detail.

We first introduced the image below, without the caption, and asked participants what they saw, what surprised them, what they thought was happening, and what they wondered. Responses noted that the picture shows men and women, and there were many comments about the clothing, including that of the spectators in the background. Some speculated that the men are soldiers because it looks like they’re wearing uniforms. Others wondered what the buildings are, where this is, and what game they’re playing – cricket or baseball. And there were a number of questions about when and why this image was made. This process of observing, of reflecting on observations along with prior knowledge, and of generating questions about a primary source is valuable in itself. It also can serve as a springboard into further research.

Introducing the bibliographic information from the item record may answer some questions, but may prompt more. The item record for this photograph includes a possible date (1942?) and the title (“American soldiers in India have taught these Burmese nurses to play softball”) confirms that these are American soldiers, that the game is softballball, and that the women are nurses. The record also attributes this to the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection, which recorded “mobilization efforts for World War II,” according to the collection notes. One research path might be to learn more about the Office of War Information and its purpose to glean clues about why the image was made.

Introducing additional primary sources can lead to other research and exploration. Select additional items from the Baseball Across a Changing Nation primary source set to get started. For example, Ansel Adams’ “Baseball game, Manzanar Relocation Center” was created close to the same time as the “American soldiers in India” image. and close study and analysis might yield interesting comparisons and prompt questions about why each was made. Reading About the collection or Adams’ book Born Free and Equal might offer insights into why he was taking these photographs.

Baseball game, Manzanar Relocation Center, Calif. / photograph by Ansel Adams.

The newspaper article about “Ida Schnall, Captain of the Feminine Baseball Club at Los Angeles” offers another point of comparison to the image of the American soldiers and Burmese nurses playing softball and might launch an investigation into who plays baseball and why. Other items from the Baseball Across a Changing Nation primary source set might shape responses to those questions or spark additional inquiries.

“Girls Organize,” The day book, January 6, 1916

Let us know what catches your students’ attention in these – or other! – primary sources from the Library of Congress.



  1. Wonderful use of primary documents/ photos as resource for teaching!!

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