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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Great Depression to World War II
Painting the American insignia on airplane wings

[Detail] Painting the American insignia on airplane wings

Chronological Thinking

Although the collection is not organized chronologically, it does lend itself to sequencing activities since it provides a slice-of-life view of the United States during the late 1930s and 1940s. Students can select a topic and choose photographs to show the order of the processes or events related to the topic. For example, students might select the topic military aircraft. They can arrange photographs to show military planes being built, being loaded with bombs, and flying in the air. Students can use the same approach to sequence other events and processes, such as the agricultural processes of plowing, planting, and harvesting.

Search on airplane industry, bombers, and employment to locate pictures of aircraft in various stages of development.

Historical Comprehension

History texts often document the political history of a nation and provide little insight into the daily lives of the American people. In contrast, the FSA/OWI collection shows rural locations, factories, and ordinary Americans at work, at home, and at play. It provides an opportunity for students to study the social history of the United States. For example, students can gain insight into the living conditions of African-Americans in the rural South.

Search on Afro-Americans, agricultural laborers, migrant laborers, and Fourth of July. Encourage students to describe living and working conditions for African-Americans living in the rural South.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Through the collection, students can gain an understanding of how world and national events impact ordinary people. They can use the photographs to hypothesize about the effects of the Great Depression and relief programs on farmers and laborers, for example.

Search on food relief and auctions for photographs showing the impact of the Great Depression on farmers, laborers, and their families.

Students can interpret what a photographer chooses to depict by comparing the photographs with written accounts about the same topic. For example, they might view the pictures of relocation camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and compare the visuals to accounts in their history texts. How do the photographs reinforce or enhance the accounts of relocation? Do students think the photographer provided an objective, non-opinionated viewpoint of relocation? Do the photographs show how the people felt about being forced to leave their homes?

Search Japanese Americans for pictures of relocation camps during World War II.

Historical Research Capabilities

The collection can serve as a primary source springboard for research. For example, students might review photographs of the construction of Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dams and reinforce the visual images with research information about the TVA construction projects. They can investigate the effect of dam construction on the people living in the TVA region and on the environment. In addition, students can use photographic evidence from the collection to support research topics on many aspects of American social history during the 1930s and 1940s.

Search on dams, Tennessee Valley Authority, and construction industry for photographs depicting the building of TVA dams

Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making

The collection contains many photographs of the war effort on the home front, particularly of women working in wartime industries. Students can examine the roles women played during the war and form theories about how their role in the workplace affected the women themselves and their family lives. They might analyze how the work of the women compared to that of the men they replaced. They might consider how women who joined the work force were treated by their fellow employees, as well as how they were viewed after the war came to an end. Students can also compare and contrast the roles of working women during World War II with those of today.

Search on airplane industry, women-employment, and bombers for pictures of women in the workplace.