Scaffolding Image Analysis

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:00 AM
Williford A (Hilton Chicago)
Christina Carroll, Kalamazoo College
One of the major challenges in engaging undergraduates in substantive independent research projects outside of the American history classroom lies in their often-limited language abilities, which limits the number of available primary sources. Collected translations can be helpful, especially for students who want to write on politics, but sourcebooks centered in the Middle East or in European colonies are limited, and they often offer little to students who want to write on social and cultural topics or about marginalized peoples. Photographs, prints, and cartoons, on the other hand, often require much less advanced language skills to unpack and, thanks to massive library digitization projects around the world, such images are easier to access than ever. These visual sources, moreover, can serve as a window into cultural worlds that otherwise might be difficult to access. Relatively few students, however, have experience critically analyzing images as primary sources – and they often struggle to engage with images operating in unfamiliar cultural idioms. In this paper, I will explore different ways of scaffolding the skills involved in image analysis, focusing both on in-class activities and on written assignments. I will consider the ways in which these activities can sharpen students’ engagement with the past. The paper will conclude by reflecting on the ways in which students in my classes on modern Europe and the Middle East have made use of their visual analysis skills in independent research projects.
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