A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you need to know how to analyze the picture to gain any understanding of it at all. Making Sense of Documentary Photography provides a place for students and teachers to grapple with the documentary images that often illustrate textbooks but are almost never considered as historical evidence in their own right. Written by James Curtis, this guide offers a brief history of documentary photography, examples of what questions to ask when examining a documentary photograph, and an annotated bibliography and list of online resources for documentary photography. James Curtis is Professor of History at the University of Delaware and Director of the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture. Curtis is the author of The Fox at Bay: the Presidency of Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson and the Search for Vindication, and Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth, FSA Photography Reconsidered. Portions of this latter volume were the subject of a BBC documentary on photographs of Depression America. Curtis is currently at work on a book manuscript on the impact of racial attitudes on documentary photography during the 1930s.
Published online June 2003. Cite as: James Curtis, "Making Sense of Documentary Photography," History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/Photos/, June 2003.