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[Detail] Yosemite National Park, Mirror Lake and Mt. Watkin

American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, provides materials that will aid in the development of various critical thinking skills. For example, the wealth of images documenting the period of estate-building in America can be used to form and test comprehension of this movement. Comparing images, you can practice identifying evidence of change and time. Numerous plans and photographs of design projects provide an opportunity to use analytical and interpretive skills in determining the decisions and values that shaped these materials. Other images tell the story of the design of Washington, D.C. and provide the opportunity to analyze and form opinions about the issues and decisions that influenced the city's development.

Chronological Thinking

The collection offers a number of ways to practice identifying, organizing, and examining information in regard to its place in time and to change over time. Examining the collection's photographs from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, try to identify and articulate the way architecture changed over time. You may want to focus on one particular aspect of design, architectural feature, or location, using the Subject Index and the State Index. Create a photographic timeline that reflects the changes you see. For a more complex project, use the collection's images to create a timeline that locates different architectural styles in history. Or, use the Names Index to create a timeline that illustrates the career of one architect and the development of his or her signature style.

Gannett House, Portico

Gannett House, Portico, Harvard University, 135 Western Avenue, Cambridge, MA, 1838.

Craigie House

Craigie House, Facade, 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA, 1759.

Dixon Estate

Dixon Estate, Exterior of House, Elkin's Park, PA, 1920; Completed 1931.

Compare and contrast these images of houses built in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

  • What are the building materials and design style of each house?
  • What social and economic classes do you think the owners of these homes belonged to? Why?
  • What are the relationships of these houses to the natural environment?

Retrieve images from the collection that are not dated and try to determine when the structures may have been built, using information gleaned from other, dated images. What factors do you need to take into account to determine the date of a building? For example, how might Revivalist styles complicate your efforts at determining a date? The lantern slides may have been created long after the sites were originally built with motorized cars and electric lines appearing in images of houses built before these innovations existed. What other changes might throw you off track?