Skip to main content

America Through Pictures: A Research Guide: Developing Your Topic

Use the following guide as a reference for your picture projects for Ms. Sepcie and Mr. Bresnan's U.S. History classes.

On This Page...

On this page you will find...

  • Resources and step by step instructions on how to analyze and begin finding basic information regarding your picture
  • Instructions, models, and examples of thesis statements and their structure


Day 1: To examine a picture's historical relevance by using tools such as Google Reverse image search and basic internet searching to build a context for a photo.

Day 2: To hypothesize a historical concept and develop a thesis statement by using a photo's historical context.

How to I Research an Image?


You have a photograph - Now what?

First, you should explore the general subject of the image and begin to find its historical context and significance, then you can start to brainstorm topics to research and write about.

Picture Project: Research Plan

Please make a copy of the doc above and complete the research questions in order to guide your project. You will be expected to submit these research plans and your final topic must be approved before you begin your annotated bib.




Step 1: What tools can I use to figure out what my picture is about?

  • Analyze and make observations about the photograph - is there anything or anyone in there that is "searchable"?
  • Does the photography provide any words, descriptions, or captions that you can use to search?
  • Can you locate that image, or similar images, on a image search such as Google Reverse Image? If so, what additional information can you locate?

Step 2: What is the historical context? Why is it historically significant?

  • Now that I have an idea what my image is about - what time period can I place it in?
  • What is the context of the picture, does it connect or relate to another historical event or movement?
  • Does the image provide an alternative or varying perspective on a well-known subject or event?
  • Why was this image taken?
  • What does the angle, subject, or other artistic compositions convey about its historical significance?

Step 3: What approach or focus will I use to interpret the image? How will this shape my thesis?

  • From what approach can I interpret my photograph? 
  • What are the possible topics or sub topics that I can address? (who, what, when, where, why)
  • My thesis is too broad - Am I overwhelmed by the amount of information I find? Does it cover to large of a time period of geographical area?
  • My thesis is too specific or not accurate - Am I having a hard time locating reliable sources? Are the sources I am finding opinion based or too generic?

 Before you leave...

 Research Process Check-in: Day 1

Writing a Thesis Statement



Next, when you have an idea of what the photo signifies and its impact, develop a thesis statement: a CLAIM that you are stating about your topic that you would like to PROVE through research.

What were the causes? Its effects? What statement or conclusion can we make about it?




When developing a thesis statement, keep in mind that a well-developed thesis statement...

  • defines the focus of your research project: Your thesis statement helps readers to know the specific subject matter you will be addressing within the broad topic (i.e.: environmental disasters, as the example demonstrates).

  • provides critical information about your project by defining the focus of your research, its scope, and your motivation, 

  • can set boundaries to help you figure out where to go next, 

  • helps you figure out what types of sources you need to collect and analyze.

So how do you develop a “well-developed” thesis statement? Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Make sure your statement isn’t too broad

    • Example: The impact of environmental disasters in the United States

  • Make sure your question isn’t so specific that it can be answered by a quick internet search

    • Example: The causes of the Dust Bowl during the 1930s

  • Make sure your question is something that can be debated - not all research may agree with you, which gives you the chance to prove your point.

    • Example 1:  Wide-spread erosive farming practices, in combination with the government subsidized settlement established by the Homestead Act, resulted in the ecological phenomena of the Dust Bowl. (policy's effect on the environment)

    • Example 2: As a result of an inability to farm the land due to the ecological conditions of the Dust Bowl, many workers seeked refuge in California, altering the population and infrastructure of the state. (migration and policy)

    • Example 3: Poor living conditions during the Dust Bowl and public spending through New Deal programs, caused a decrease in the demand for agricultural child-labor and an increase in education for America's youth. (education)

 Before you leave...

 Research Process Check-in: Day 2