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[Detail] United States Capitol [ca 1846]

The daguerreotypes available in America's First Look into the Camera provide an opportunity to assess the value of research tools such as timelines and visual biographies. The subtle details within occupational portraits of tradesmen and other working classes can be interpreted to determine the status of each group in the nineteenth-century United States. Portraits of politicians provide a starting point to gain a better understanding of the rise and fall of the Whig Party. These and other images also allow a number of opportunities for future historical research.

Chronological Thinking: Timeline and Biography

The collection's Timeline of the Daguerrian Era provides a brief history of the United States from 1839 to 1860. It also provides the opportunity to understand that timelines are interprative tools that enhance the study of history by focusing on select events at the expense of other historical moments. Assess this collection's timeline by identifying the specific themes and ideas that it emphasizes and those themes and ideas that are left out.

  • What themes are represented in this timeline? How are these themes related to each other?
  • Do you think that this timeline is helpful in understanding the collection? Why or why not?
  • What other events or themes could have been included in a timeline for this collection?

Chronological thinking can also be practiced in biographical projects. Select a photograph of a famous person represented in the collection. Research what was going on in this person's life in the year that the photograph was taken. Determine what the main events were in this person's life. Take on this individual's persona, and write a journal entry for the year in which the photograph was taken. Try to make the entry reflect the significance of this time in the person's life.