Beacon Lesson Plan Library

America's First Pictures

Francis Sicius
Colleges and Universities - Florida


Students will search on-line early photo archives from the Smithsonian located at in order to draw conclusions about life in the mid-nineteenth century.


The student knows ways American life was transformed socially, economically, and politically after the Civil War (for example, Western settlement, federal policy toward Native Americans, massive immigration, the growth of American cities, big business, mechanized farming).


-Computer with Internet access,one computer for each five students
-Pencil or pen


1. Students should be organized into groups of five to six.
2. There should be a computer available for each group.
3. Teacher should explain to students that historic photos are important resources for discovering the past.
4. Students should be told what to look for (for example, difference in fashion over the decades and difference in technology. How are women depicted? Are there any interracial pictures or were photos as segregated as the society? Are there notable differences in photos taken before and after the Civil War?


1. Students will be divided into groups of five or six.

2. Each group will be asigned to a computer and directed to the Smithsonian website ( that contains Daguertypes from the mid- nineteenth century. (See WebLink.)

3. Students will browse catalogue of on-line Smithsonian Photos from 1830-1864.

4. Students will then select ten photos at which to look. They will keep notes on each photo. They should note could only be seen then and not now (oil lamps, for example).

5. What in the photo could be seen in a photo today as well as then (a clock, for example)?

6. Students will also note modes of dress, methods of transportation and communication depicted in the photo.

7. Students will then write a short story about one of the subjects in a photo.

8. Evaluate activity.


The paper written by each student should be the basis of the assessment. The paper should contain information from pictures, be well organized, and follow grammar and usage rules.


Students can use the same process to study other eras of history that are recorded in photos.

Web Links

America's First Look Into the Camera:Daguerrotype Portraits and Views 1839-1862
America's First Pictures

Attached Files

The Assessment Rubric.     File Extension: pdf

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