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[Detail] Maria Gonzalez and soldaderas. Photographer - Robert Runyon.

Complementing the photographs of South Texas Border with texts and music, teachers can provide students with several creative language arts projects. Runyon's photographs of the Mexican Revolution and small towns in Texas can be used in conjunction with literature to understand these topics better, as well as the relationship between these two media. Folk songs from the American Memory collection, Southern Mosaic, bring another dimension to students' understanding of the border culture while also providing the impetus to learn about and write ballads. Runyon's photographs can also be used to learn about and practice journalism and the art of portraiture in image and word.

Literature and Small-Town America

Students can compare literary portrayals of small-town America with Runyon's photographic documentation of life in small Texas towns. Search on commercial and street for images of small-town business districts and commercial establishments, such as movie theaters, soda fountains, banks, and hotels. Or search on residence and interior for views of domestic life. What are the similarities and differences between homes and businesses as recorded in Runyon's photographs of the past and these places as they exist now? What would life in a small Southeastern Texas town have been like in the 1920s?

Sinclair Lewis portrays small-town America in the beginning of the twentieth century in his novel, Main Street. Students can read all or parts of this novel and use the following questions to compare it with Runyon's photographs.

  • What visual imagery does Lewis use in his novel?
  • How are Lewis's scenes similar to or different from those captured in Runyon's photographs?
  • If Lewis had used a small Texas town as the setting for his novel, how would it have differed from his fictional midwest town, Gopher Prairie?
  • Based on Lewis's novel and Runyon's photographs, would you conclude that there were so many similarities between small towns in America in the 1920s as to make one representative of all? Or do you find that regional differences outweigh national similarities?
  • Why do you think Lewis titled his novel Main Street? Do you find these reasons reflected in Runyon's photographs?
  • How does Lewis's portrayal of life in small-town America affect the way you view Runyon's images and the inferences you make from them?