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Petersburg, Va. The “Dictator”

[Detail] Petersburg, Va. The “Dictator”

Overview | Preparation | Procedure | Evaluation

Lesson Procedure

  1. Before having the class look at "Dictator" image, it may be useful to choose another picture from Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865 to discuss as a class. One excellent example would be "Cold Harbor, Va. African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle." If you choose to examine this image before looking at the "Dictator," have students make observations, bring in outside knowledge, and draw conclusions based on their observations and knowledge as in part 5 below.
  2. Then show the "Dictator" photograph to class.
  3. Start by asking students with low level questions, such as "What do you see?" Select additional questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  4. Then ask students to focus on different parts of the photograph. "What Do You See?" has six sections with associated questions. You could either divide the class into small groups, with each group looking at one section of the photograph, or have the whole class look at each section of the picture in turn. Click on a section to bring up questions to focus students' attention on details of the picture. Encourage factual observations first, not conclusions. Encourage multiple deductions about different aspects.
  5. Brainstorm answers to questions either in the small groups or as a class.
  6. The teacher's role in the process is to urge students to justify their conclusions by relating the evidence they used. Focus on the process moving from observation to conclusion. The process is:
    • observation
    • bring in outside knowledge
    • conclusions based on (a) and (b)
  7. Once students have developed their answers to the questions, correct any misconceptions by using the "answers" provided. Note that several of the answers are not definitive. There has been much knowledge lost about this and any image from the period.
  8. Then show students this additional photogaph of the "Dictator": Petersburg, Va. The "Dictator," a 13-inch mortar, in position, Discussion might include:
    • Compare this picture with the other views. What is similar? What is different?
    • What additional information can you gain by looking at this new picture?
  9. Not all information about the "Dictator" can be determined from pictures. Books and Web sites can also provide additional information. Conclude the examination of the "Dictator" by having students read additional information. This textual material should answer some of the questions that students had from their examination of the images.
  10. The next stage would be for students to search the Civil War Photographs Collection for other photographs to analyze. The teacher will have to provide students with guidance on how to search the collection. For example, to search for technology in the Civil War, terms to use would be:
    • telegraph
    • artillery
    • railroad
    • ironclad
  11. Other general topics would be a specific event, place, or leaders.

  12. In small groups, students should find a photograph that is multi-dimensional (e.g. has technology and people), is unusual, has depth of background, etc. Once a photograph has been located, the group should analyze the details in the image as above. Have students observe, apply their prior knowledge, and draw conclusions.
  13. Finally each group should share their image and conclusions with the rest of the class. Make sure that the group relates how they found the image, and how they drew their conclusion. Restrict the group to a given amount of time to find their image, to make observations, and to report to the group.
  14. Bring the whole group together and discuss additional aspects of the Civil War and America's industrial development.
    Possible questions might include:
    • What does the picture tell us about the Civil War?
    • How is war changing?
    • How are changes in technology and industry affecting war?
    • Which side, Union or Confederate, had the greater advantage due to technology?
    • What do we know about the Battle of Petersburg? Who won?