Lesson Two: Photographic Developments

Photographic Developments

Ask students to get into four groups. In this lesson, they try putting the photographs in chronological order.


  • to obtain historical data from photographs
  • to think chronologically
  • to consider the relationships between technology and society


Give each group copies of all four Smithsonian photographs or display the photographs so that the whole class can see them. Tell the class that each group should try to put the photographs in chronological order. Encourage students to use any element of the image as evidence, including the general look of the photograph.


Ask each group to write its sequence on the board. In a class discussion, explore the reasons for any differences of opinion.


After the discussion, give each group copies of images of the kinds of cameras used to take the photographs: Children, Street, Horse, and Girls.

Does this new information change anyone's mind about the chronological order? Why or why not? Does the Girls camera tell us anything? Does it seem more like a modern camera than the others? Students might speculate that Horse is a series of frames from a movie, and that it is therefore the latest of the images. Do the Horse cameras change this idea?


Lead the class in a discussion of larger questions:

  • What are some of the ways that changes in technology might have changed the purposes of photography?
  • What are some of the ways that these changes might have changed life in the nineteenth century?
  • Do you think people merely responded to the advances in photography, or do you think that a need for new technology led to the advances?

Encourage students to think about how the technology has continued to change. Students who note the relatively small size of the GirlsKodak, for instance, might see it as part of an ongoing trend. (Some students might have heard that scientists are developing, for medical purposes, a camera pill!) What might be the reasons for the trend? Are there similar trends in other kinds of technology?