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America Through Pictures: A Research Guide: Step 1: 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.


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 research question 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.

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)
  • Conduct some preliminary information and gather conclusions based on what you find:
    • Am I overwhelmed by the amount of information I find? Does it cover to large of a time period of geographical area?
    • Am I having a hard time locating reliable sources? Are the sources I am finding opinion based or too generic?

STEP 2: Writing a Research Question 

  • Based on your initial research, you should have a general sense of what you want to write about. 
  • Right now we need to ask a question of our topic, and conduct academic research to try to answer it.
  • These "answers" will be the basis of your thesis statements

What a research question does...

  • It ensures that your research won't sound like a "report"
  • Sets your thesis statement up to prove a point
  • Helps frame your searches

 What are the health effects of the the dust bowl?

 How might have the biological effects of the dust bowl impacted the US healthcare system during the 1930's?