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A Little Analysis Practice

Jan 2, 2009 3:33 PM | 2 comments

One of the challenges of working with novice researchers is that they fail to understand that history is an imprecise science.  We can only work with the documents that exist.  Until the time machine is invented (something I am anxiously awaiting), we will never know exactly what happened in the past.  Many of my students are frustrated by this concept because they want to have exact answers and they want those answers now.

I do my best to combat this need by showing them that analyzing documents can be a fun challenge, and that the stories documents tell can be fascinating.  One of my favorite exercises is giving students items from our collection of prints from 19th century illustrated magazines.  Because these pictures have been clipped and separated from the original magazines, we rarely have the accompanying article.  Students must closely analyze the picture and then look for other resources to determine what is being depicted.

Illustrated magazines are particularly fun because they often show us what daily life was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with a little tabloid drama added in for good measure.  They also happen to be my favorite part of the collection - but that warrants an entry for another day.

For the time being, I thought it might be fun to show off my students' favorite image:

There is so much going on this picture that even the most disenchanted students must take a few minutes to consider what they are looking at.  It takes a little prodding of my own to get them to reach the correct answer, but all the while they are practicing good analysis skills.

And so, I leave it up to you to figure out what is happening in the picture above.  After you've made your own guesses, take your research a little further by checking out this issue of the Daily Eagle.  Happy history hunting!

Image: Harper's Weekly, June 9, 1883, pg 1.


1/6/2009 12:34:23 PM #

I would have thought it was the opening of Ikea in Red Hook...  Great article!


1/7/2009 9:14:18 AM #

Or -- on a more macabre note-- the Walmart sale on Long Island.