|Cover scan of ”The Americans”
1969 2nd printing
Robert Frank is one of my favorite photographers – I discovered The Americans in a History of Photography class as an undergrad, and it has resonated with me ever since. Back in the Fall semester of 2009 I was able to take a group of students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the collected photographs of The Americans on display. Here is a story NPR produced about that show, and here is another. This one is from The New Yorker. You get the idea.
When this show was on display, the creators of Selected Shorts aired a program comprised of short stories written by authors who were inspired by a particular photograph from the Frank show. You can download the podcast of the stories being read and have students listen to the readings as part of an examination of the photographs. They could choose their own photograph to be the inspiration for their own creative writing or research or select work from a different photographer or genre all together to inspire their writing. Lots of possibilities!
In a history or American Studies class, these (or any) photographs can be used to identify important moments in US history and the array of perspectives from which the event can be understood. My students used photographs as the starting point for researching and writing historical fiction; working in groups, they shared the historical event which was the focus of their stories, but each author developed a narrator with a unique perspective on that particular event in history.
Here is the outline of the exercise that I presented to the students. Once they selected their groups, identified their event and their narrator perspectives, they had to research to find the authentic answers to these questions about their fictional narrator’s experiences. The students were required to submit an annotated bibliography before submitting their responses to their questions so I could check the sources they were using for depth and accuracy. For citations I usually recommend they use a resource like BibMe, but they prefer EasyBib. When they were ready to began crafting their short story, I provided them this rubric (according to which their final story collections were assessed) and links to several online writing assistants and resources like writing advice from Barry Lane, literacy education online, and the Roane State OWL.
By writing historical fiction students develop research skills, critical reading and writing skills, become intimately familiar with a period of time in history and engage in authentic inquiry.
About the Guest Blogger, Jacquelyn Whiting:
This is my fourth year as a member of the humanities department at Joel Barlow High School in rural Redding, CT. I have been teaching social studies since 1993 during which time I have taught all different levels of US History including AP, as well as American Government, Art History, Women in American History, Psychology, Environmental Studies and integrated US History and English. My work with my classes is archived on my website: http://jackiewhiting.net as is my contact information. I also write a blog about incorporating digital resources into the study of the humanities, http://www.thedigitalhumanities.com/. I am currently the chair of the professional development committee for my school and offer workshops each year focused on exploring and integrating into the curriculum web resources that enhance our teaching and our students learning. Outlines of and resources for these workshops are also available on my website.