5. Famous Apsáalooke People of 2014: Mardell Plainfeather

(This is the Learning Episode 5 for Shane Doyle (Crow) and Megkian Doyle’s teaching unit, “Living within the Four Base Tipi Poles of the Apsáalooke Homeland.”)

Five 50-minute class periods

  • secondary

By Shane Doyle

Background

Most American Indian tribes did not use surnames, or last names. Many American Indian people experienced name changes during the course of their lives that reflected their experiences and thus, were known by several different names throughout their lifetimes. For people outside of this culture it may seem difficult to trace families, but because of the rich oral traditions that are an important part of American Indian culture, tribal elders know their family histories going back many generations.

Mainstream American naming patterns give children surnames that generally reflect their relationship to their father’s family. This naming system is considered patrilineal. The patrilineal system of naming reflected early colonial beliefs that the wife was the property of the husband. In contrast, many American Indian tribes did not have the concept of ownership of land or people, but instead governed their affairs according to a concept of stewardship. These tribes often trace their lineage through their clans or their mother’s side of the family (matrilineal).

When the U.S. government began enumerating American Indian populations, Native naming systems were not compatible with their concept of lineage so federal census employees began replacing traditional names with a first and last name. Often the first name given was considered a “Christian name” and was followed by the person’s original American Indian name.

The four people in the Famous Apsáalooke People in 2014 all have names that illustrate this history: Mardell Plainfeather, Christian Takes Gun, Kevin Red Star, and Joe Medicine Crow. In the lessons that follow students will become familiar with these important members of the Crow Tribe.

COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

CCSS Literacy RH 10-1

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

CCSS Literacy RST 10-6

Analyze the author’s purpose in providing and explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the question the author seeks to address.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-2

Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-8

Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-9

Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

CCSS Literacy SL 10-1

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS Literacy SL 10-1d

Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

 

GOALS FOR UNDERSTANDING

Students will understand

  • What an ethnography is.
  • The role that ethnographic study has played in the formation of our understandings about people groups.
  • The role of the researcher in ethnographic research. An American Indian perspective on a chosen issue gained though ethnographic study.
  • How to conduct an ethnographic study.
  • The importance of presenting the voice of the culture as an authentic source of reliable and viable information.
  • The purpose of ethnography, ethnopoetry, and ethnophotography.
  • How history has been formed through the use of historical writing and photographic images.
  • How photos and ethnographic writing can improve or mislead our construction of reality.
  • How images and words are used in our culture.
  • How images and ethnographic writing can create stereotypes and misinformation or achieve greater accuracy through the use of certain types of ethnographic methodology.

 

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS

  • What is ethnography? Who is an ethnographer?
  • How do we know what we know about people who are alive today?
  • How do we know what we know about people of the past?
  • How are our ideas of character and culture formed by ethnographic work?
  • How accurate are our perceptions of historical people?
  • How does ethnography help/hinder our understanding of the “truth” about people?
  • How did Lewis and Clark’s ethnographic work contribute to our understanding of and beliefs about American Indian people?
  • How does ethnopoetry of the type written by Mardell Plainfeather help us to understand people more accurately?
  • How are images and words used to communicate messages about our past, our history?
  • What influences the interpretation of images and ethnographies from the past?
  • How is meaning constructed from images and ethnographies?
  • How does culture affect our interpretation of images and ethnographies?
  • How does power influence the use and interpretation of images and ethnographies?
  • How do images and written records construct our “reality”?

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will be able to

  • Discern the intended message and links to historical events and climate of the time in which various photos and writing are used.
  • Examine how photographic images and ethnographic writing construct our reality and either improve or mislead our understanding of it.
  • Compare photographic and written messages to actual truths to determine the direction of influence of each image.
  • Understand the power and influence of image and ethnographic record in our history and also consider the roles of those wielding power to use images and words to influence the masses.
  • Understand and value the power that the use of images and words potentially hold.
  • Utilize critical thinking and independent thought to evaluate images and ethnographies and their intended messages and subsequent influence.

 

ASSESSMENT EVIDENCE

Suggested Formative Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Part 1

Epistemology discussion—Can students evaluate the source of their beliefs and the authenticity/reliability of these sources?

Part 2

The Lewis and Clark scenario discussion—Can students recognize how “truth” is impacted by perspective?

Ronda reading—Can students explain how our ideas about “the other” are constructed?

Thinking about ethnography—Can students identify the effect of ethnography on our constructed understanding of humanity? Can students identify the qualities of a good ethnographer?

Part 3

Plainfeather interview—Can students define ethnopoetry and explain its value to the discipline of ethnography?

Ethnopoetry reading—Can students explain how this example of ethnopoetry illustrates the utility of this form of ethnography?

Part 4

Photography discussion—Can students recognize how perception of images continue to shape our construction of reality?

For each presentation the class will discuss what is seen and what is not seen, what is true and what may not be.

Following the lesson students will show continued care in considering images and records and their intended messages.

Following the lesson students will show continued careful consideration of the source of photos and writing and the truths being represented.

Culminating Performance Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Part 1

Ethnography project presentation – students should organize their information and present it to the class, discussing how the ethnographic procedures helped them to better understand a group of people, how the study may have changed or improved their own thinking, reflections on the experience of being an ethnographer (objectivity), etc.

Part 2

For the ethnographic research study students will design and conduct a study of a group they wish to know more about. Their final product should interpret the results of the study.

Part 3

Students will gather a verbal recording and engage in ethnographic research by translating the recording into an ethnopoetic interpretation. They will discuss the value of presenting information in this way.

Part 4

For the historical photography project, each student will research who took the photo, something significant about the person’s background that may contribute to the WHY of the photo’s taking, the historical climate at the time of the photo’s taking and public display, the intended purpose of the use of the photo, and the public’s reaction to the photo and present this information competently and in an organized fashion to the class.

For the cultural photography project, each student will take a set number of photos attempting to capture the essence of a specific cultural group. Students will present their photos mounted on a standard sized piece of poster board. Each student will present what he/she feels is represented by each photo and what this idea tells about the culture being depicted.

 

LEARNING MAP

Background

Ethnography is the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures. Lewis and Clark used journals to collect ethnographic descriptions of the people they encountered. These descriptions became a foundation for what people in America who were far removed from the western frontier, knew about the American Indian people Lewis and Clark encountered. The accuracy of their ethnography and all ethnographies, is dependent upon the accuracy of the perceptions collected. It is important to recognize that there are multiple perspectives surrounding any event and that even though ethnography is a scientific process, and ethnographers try to create an objective record of the observations and experiences, ethnography is still a human endeavor that can contain misperceptions and untruths along with the valuable information they collect about a subject.

One of the most difficult tasks presenters of Native issues face is how to present images of Indian people and information about Indian people that will not encourage the continuation of stereotypes or misinformation. Because so much of our information about Indian people has been derived from a pictorial and written history of tribal life in the past, interpreted through non-Indian eyes and voices, much of the non-fiction of Indian life is unknown, misunderstood, or misinterpreted. Indian people must grapple with how their images are appropriated for profit (the use of Indian imagery and ideas to sell the popular Old West or mystical Indian ideas) and how images and words are used by the media to present them as a people.

One method Mardell Plainfeather, a member of the Crow (Apsáalooke) tribe, has explored to collect an accurate Apsáalooke perspective on a historical period is to employ what is known as ethnopoetics. Ethnopoetics is a method of recording text versions of oral poetry or narrative performances (i.e., storytelling) that uses poetic lines, verses, and stanzas (instead of prose paragraphs) to capture the poetic performance elements which would otherwise be lost in the written texts. The goal of ethnopoetry is to accurately reflect the unique manner in which information is shared orally within a specific cultural context.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “An ethnography is a descriptive study of a particular human society or the process of making such a study. Contemporary ethnography is based almost entirely on fieldwork and requires the complete immersion of the anthropologist in the culture and everyday life of the people who are the subject of his study.

There has been some confusion regarding the terms ethnography and ethnology. The latter, a term more widely used in Europe, encompasses the analytical and comparative study of cultures in general, which in American usage is the academic field known as cultural anthropology (in British usage, social anthropology). Increasingly, however, the distinction between the two is coming to be seen as existing more in theory than in fact. Ethnography, by virtue of its intersubjective nature, is necessarily comparative. Given that the anthropologist in the field necessarily retains certain cultural biases, his observations and descriptions must, to a certain degree, be comparative. Thus the formulating of generalizations about culture and the drawing of comparisons inevitably become components of ethnography.

The description of other ways of life is an activity with roots in ancient times. Herodotus, the Greek traveler and historian of the 5th century BC, wrote of some 50 different peoples he encountered or heard of, remarking on their laws, social customs, religion, and appearance. Beginning with the age of exploration and continuing into the early 20th century, detailed accounts of non-European peoples were rendered by European traders, missionaries, and, later, colonial administrators. The reliability of such accounts varies considerably, as the Europeans often misunderstood what they saw or had a vested interest in portraying their subjects less than objectively.

Modern anthropologists usually identify the establishment of ethnography as a professional field with the pioneering work of the Polish-born British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands of Melanesia (c. 1915). Ethnographic fieldwork has since become a sort of rite of passage into the profession of cultural anthropology. Many ethnographers reside in the field for a year or more, learning the local language or dialect and, to the greatest extent possible, participating in everyday life while at the same time maintaining an observer’s objective detachment. This method, called participant-observation, while necessary and useful for gaining a thorough understanding of a foreign culture, is in practice quite difficult. Just as the anthropologist brings to the situation certain inherent, if unconscious, cultural biases, so also is he influenced by the subject of his study. While there are cases of ethnographers who felt alienated or even repelled by the culture they entered, many—perhaps most— have come to identify closely with “their people,” a factor that affects their objectivity.

In addition to the technique of participant-observation, the contemporary ethnographer usually selects and cultivates close relationships with individuals, known as informants, who can provide specific information on ritual, kinship, or other significant aspects of cultural life. In this process also the anthropologist risks the danger of biased viewpoints, as those who most willingly act as informants frequently are individuals who are marginal to the group and who, for ulterior motives (e.g., alienation from the group or a desire to be singled out as special by the foreigner), may provide other than objective explanations of cultural and social phenomena. A final hazard inherent in ethnographic fieldwork is the ever-present possibility of cultural change produced by or resulting from the ethnographer’s presence in the group.

Contemporary ethnographies usually adhere to a community, rather than individual, focus and concentrate on the description of current circumstances rather than historical events. Traditionally, commonalities among members of the group have been emphasized, though recent ethnography has begun to reflect an interest in the importance of variation within cultural systems. Ethnographic studies are no longer restricted to small primitive societies but may also focus on such social units as urban ghettos. The tools of the ethnographer have changed radically since Malinowski’s time. While detailed notes are still a mainstay of fieldwork, ethnographers have taken full advantage of technological developments such as motion pictures and tape recorders to augment their written accounts.”

ethnography. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 15, 2013, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9033138

 

PART 1

INTRODUCTION TO ETHNOGRAPHY

MATERIALS

Examples of ethnographic studies (see resources listed below)

 

LEARNING MODALITIES

  • Visual
  • Auditory

 

ENTRY QUESTIONS

Begin by asking students to think about all the people we know about from different countries, ethnic groups, and cultures.

  • Have we experienced all of these groups of people and cultures personally?
  • How do we know what we think we know about different people groups?
  • Where did our information come from?
  • How has it been constructed over time?
  • How does the past influence the present when we think about how we see people?
  • What would be the best way to really understand what it’s like to be a part of a specific group?

 

SITUATED PRACTICE

For instance, if I as your teacher, wanted to better understand what it’s like to be an avid skateboarder (or some other pertinent group), what would I have to do to gain that information? Allow students to suggest ways you could study this group. What things might help me get good information and what things my hinder me? (The researcher’s interaction or lack thereof with the group, the willingness of participants to divulge truthfully or fully, preconceived opinions/assumptions the researcher has, etc.)

As a second example ask students what they know about North American Indians. Ask them to consider how they know what they know and how accurate and authentic they feel their understandings are. Next, ask students to hypothetically consider studying a North American tribe to better understand a specific tribe as a unique cultural group. What would students be interested in studying or understanding? How could they go about gathering information that would be authentic and reliable?

 

OVERT INSTRUCTION

Introduce students to a formal definition of “ethnography” explaining how ethnographies contribute to our understanding of people groups, how they inform and misinform us, how ethnographers are influenced by the beliefs of their own time, how ethnographers try to be objective while also participating in the group, how ethnographers collect data (photographs, audio or video recordings, written journals or other writings), etc.

 

CRITICAL FRAMING

Read some samples from the suggested texts or websites in the resources list below. Allow students to evaluate the value, authenticity, and objectivity of the excerpts. Discuss what each author wants to know about and how he/she has gone about gaining good information. Discuss some of the barriers/challenges these authors may have had in gathering good information.

 

TRANSFORMED PRACTICE

Introduce the North American Tribes ethnography project. In this project students may study any aspect of life related to any of the North American tribes. Students will draft a single research project to focus their work as individuals, in small groups, or as a class. Possible questions might be: What is it like to be a bicultural teenager? Why is living on the (specific reservation) reservation important to Native Americans who do? What is it like to be an urban Indian? How do Indian (choose a specific tribe) young people define their identities? How do (specific tribe) Indian young people view the role of elders in their tribes? What is the experience of (specific tribe) Indians who participate in pow wows, etc.? As a next step ask students to plan whom they will contact for information and how they will gather this information. If interviews are chosen, students should draft a series of interview questions to guide their questioning. Set specific parameters for the amount of information to be gathered and also suggest resources for students to pursue (tribal colleges, Native American studies departments, Indian organizations, willing Indian students or adults, etc.) One or two interview sources should be adequate for students to gain a substantial amount of new information. As individuals, small groups, or as a class students should organize their information and present it to the class, discussing how the ethnographic procedures helped them to better understand a group of people, how the study may have changed or improved their own thinking, reflections on the experience of being an ethnographer (objectivity), etc.

 

DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION FOR ADVANCED AND EMERGING LEARNERS

Base ethnographic example information on auditory resources for struggling learners to reduce the amount of reading and comprehension work and create concrete examples of what to do for the assignment. Pair struggling learners with other students for the group project. For advanced learners allow students to choose an ethnographic study and evaluate it for bias, motivation, etc.

 

RESOURCES

Counting Coups: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn by Larry Colton (a contemporary example of ethnographic writing about Crow Indian young people based in Hardin, MT.)

A Braid of Lives Edited by Neil Philip Publication Date: 2000
ISBN: 0-395-64528-x
This book is a study of Native American childhood experiences through the compilation of direct quotations about childhood.

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*hear excerpts

Artist Julie Mehretu designed an ethnographic study that eventually became part of the permanent collection of the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis, MN. Go to this site for an inspirational excerpt about the project. An interactive Web site that incorporates the stories she collected can be found at http://tceastafrica.walkerart.org.

 

PART 2

EXPLORING THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF LEWIS AND CLARK

MATERIALS

Copy of scenarios

 

LEARNING MODALITIES

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Tactile
  • Kinesthetic (depending on research project choices)

 

SITUATED PRACTICE

The ethnographic collections of Lewis and Clark are discussed at length through the Harvard Peabody Museum. See images of some of the remaining artifacts brought to Washington D.C. as a result of Lewis and Clark’s expedition.

 

ENTRY QUESTIONS

Allow 10 minutes for students to share their answers to the questions below with either small peer groups or the whole-class learning group. Imagine you are on the Lewis and Clark expedition. You are charged with bringing back a report of the people, places, animals, and land forms you encounter.

  • In describing the different tribes of Indians you encountered what types of observations should you make?
  • How would you make meaning of the new things you were seeing?
  • What types of information about these people groups should be included in your journal reports?
  • What do you need to know about a group of people in order to accurately define them?

 

OVERT INSTRUCTION

Provide half the class with Lewis and Clark’s report of the Clatsop stealing their elk meat. Give the other half the Clatsop story of Lewis and Clark stealing their canoe. Based on the description of this encounter, how would you define the character of the other group?

 

Group 1 Scenario

We have been stuck on the west coast all winter and each of us is eager to complete this mission and return home. We are going to need a lot of canoes to make an expedient return trip. We have purchased a few, but we need more. The Clatsops know how much we want them and I think this keeps them from trading with us for a canoe. We recently killed an elk. It was so big we were only able to carry a small portion of it back to our fort on foot. When returning to get the remainder of the elk, we found it had been stolen by the Clatsop. Today we plan to take a Clatsop canoe in exchange for that meat.

Group 2 Scenario

Lewis and Clark’s men have long been after us about the price of a canoe. We have been very generous with them although they have shared little with us. They do not have enough goods in all their stores to match the price of one of our fine canoes. Our 30-foot cutwater canoes can carry 10,000 pounds of goods for them. They are so valuable we give them as wedding gifts (brideprice) and they are the burial vessels for our greatest people. One of these canoes was stolen by Lewis and Clark’s men today. They say they have taken it in exchange for some elk meat, elk meat they left behind for the wolves to eat because they weren’t prepared to carry what they killed on the hunt.

Ask students to report on their thoughts about the description of “the other” from their given perspective. Then read both scenarios aloud so that the whole class can hear the two different perspectives on the same event. It is important for students to understand that although ethnography is scientific, there may be more than one truth involved. It is also important to realize that while Lewis and Clark were studying the Natives, they were also the objects of study for the tribes they encountered. Both sides were taking notes.

Read how James Ronda, an author on the topic of the Corps of Discovery, describes what this must have been like in retrospect.

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http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/archive/ronda.html

At the expedition’s departure from Fort Clatsop on March 22, 1806, Lewis wrote in his journal that Coboway “has been much more kind an[d] hospitable to us than any other indian in this neighbourhood.”

 

CRITICAL FRAMING

Imagine someone has come to study the teenagers in your class. What do you think they will observe and how do you think they will interpret what they see? What things may influence the way in which they write about you (their perspective and tone)? How would you like to be represented? What would be a fair representation? If a group of 40-year-old scientists collected ethnographic information about your class, do you feel like they would understand what they observed? What things do you think you would have to explain to them?

In small groups make a list of the qualities an ethnographer needs have to conduct a valuable study (unbiased, patient, thorough, open-minded, etc.). What does an ethnographer need to know about him/herself in order to conduct an effective study?

 

TRANSFORMED PRACTICE

Advanced discovery — Think of a people group you would like to better understand. It could be kindergarteners, skateboarders, school principals, custodians, parents, etc. Design an ethnographic study. Before beginning the study examine yourself as the ethnographic researcher. What is your motivation for doing the study? What biases might you have? Do you already expect to see something in particular? What impact might this expectation have on your study? Conduct the study to collect information about the group. You may record your observations and experiences in any form you wish (i.e., you could collect objects associated with the group, record verbal or video files (with their permission), draw pictures of important events, people, objects, etc., write journal entries, or any other recording method you can imagine, as long as it records accurately). What things did you learn about your population? Did you learn anything unexpected? How has your study influenced your perceptions of this group? How do you think your study will influence others who read it?

 

DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION FOR ADVANCED AND EMERGING LEARNERS

Struggling learners may be given more time to respond to the questions posed in discussion if they are allowed to take a list home and respond in writing or through voice recording. (Many students have phones with recording capabilities and can send audio files to a teacher’s email.) Struggling students may also be paired with peers who can help guide them through discussion. They could also be paired with a peer to conduct the ethnographic study. Advanced learners can do a deeper analysis of the findings of their ethnographic research. They may also be instructed to read a formal ethnographic study to gain insight into the process and methods for this type of research and technical writing.

 

RESOURCES

Harvard Peabody Museum’s website with a record of objects collected by Lewis and Clark for their ethnographic study

PBS transcript of an interview with James Ronda

 

PART 3

THE ETHNOPOETRY OF MARDELL PLAINFEATHER

MATERIALS

  • Copy of the book The Woman Who Loved Mankind, Lilian Bullshows Hogan or a link to view the first chapter on Amazon
  • Cell phone

 

LEARNING MODALITIES

  • Visual
  • Auditory

 

OVERT INSTRUCTION

Ethnopoetry is a form of ethnography. Ethnopoetics is a method of recording text versions of oral poetry or narrative performances (i.e., storytelling) that uses poetic lines, verses, and stanzas (instead of prose paragraphs) to capture the poetic performance elements which would otherwise be lost in the written texts. The goal of ethnopoetry is to accurately reflect the unique manner in which information is shared orally within a specific cultural context. Mardell Plainfeather is a contemporary member of the Crow (Apsáalooke) tribe. She has used ethnopoetics to record the voice of her mother as a means of showing a more accurate picture of Crow life, thought, spirituality, identity etc. Listen to a public radio audio recording of an interview with Mardell Plainfeather about her book, The Woman Who Loved Mankind, Lilian Bullshows, Hogan. The book uses ethnopoetry to record the life story of a twentieth-century Crow elder.

 

ENTRY QUESTIONS

  • How might ethnopoetry better explain a person or people than other forms of ethnography?
  • What are the advantages of using ethnopoetry to learn about people?
  • Why did Mardell choose ethnopoetry to record Lilian’s life?

 

CRITICAL FRAMING

Allow students to read an excerpt from Mardell’s book. The sections are short and can be read in about 5 minutes. You can either purchase a copy of her book or the first chapter can be read on Amazon by clicking on the picture of the book where it says, “Look Inside”. Students should read a segment and then examine the ways in which this literary form of ethnography may add to what we already know about Crow people from ethnographic work and other sources. How can ethnopoetics give us insight into the lives of a particular group of people? What does it teach us about humanity?

 

TRANSFORMED PRACTICE

Using a cell phone, record a person or two people speaking. How does the way that they talk give you insight into who they are and the things that influence them? Listen to your recording. How can this conversation be written so that it most effectively and accurately conveys the ethnographic information? Write up your conversation using the idea of ethnopoetics as a guide. Trade your ethnopoetry with another group. Analyzing what you have read, talk to the group about what their ethnopoetry communicated to you about the people you recorded.

 

DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION FOR ADVANCED AND EMERGING LEARNERS

Advanced students may read and analyze larger portions of the Plainfeather text and also examine other examples of ethnopoetry to look at differences and similarities between the examples. They may also analyze the effectiveness of these forms to communicate information about people groups. Rather than reading a portions of the Plainfeather text, the text could be read aloud for struggling students.

 

RESOURCES

Public radio interview with Mardell Plainfeather about her ethnopoetic work.

Amazon site for The Woman Who Loved Mankind, the “look inside” link will allow students to read the first chapter

 

PART 4

EXAMINING ETHNOPHOTOGRAPHY

MATERIALS

  • A selection of historical photographs (you could consider using the historic photos found in Supaman’s You Tube video, The Prayer in the Christian Takes Gun lesson).
  • Disposable cameras or cell phones with picture-taking capabilities
  • Poster board

 

LEARNING MODALITIES

  • Visual
  • Auditory

 

SITUATED PRACTICE

Discuss the power of image in various historical contexts (i.e., Lewis and Clark’s drawings or the iconography surrounding the Corps of Discovery, J.F.K’s presidential election following the first televised debate, Hitler’s use of film and photograph as war propaganda – the construction of an alternate reality, WWII raising of the flag photograph illustrated in the movie Flags of Our Fathers as well as other images that moved the American people – Hurricane Katrina, atrocities in Darfur, AIDS in Africa, images of jets flying into the World Trade Center, etc.) During this discussion consider questions of the following nature: What is true about each photograph? How does the photo craft or influence our sense of reality? What meaning do we construe from each photo? What is the intended message or meaning? How does who controls the photo affect how we see it?

 

OVERT INSTRUCTION

Allow students to select a historic photograph (independently or from a predetermined selection) to research. For each photograph students should find out who took the photo, something significant about the person’s background that may contribute to the WHY of the photo’s taking, the historical climate at the time of the photo’s taking and public display, the intended purpose of the use of the photo, and the public’s reaction to the photo. Students should present the photos and their research to the class. These presentations should be used as a bridge to discuss other photos that have shaped and continue to shape our beliefs about reality (such as those of Native Americans). When we see contemporary photos of Indian people we usually see them in their dance regalia. What is the significance of this observation? What do photos like this tell us about Indian people? What don’t they tell us? Is what photos like these communicate true about Indian people? What is the purpose of using these types of photographs? Why is their use to depict contemporary Indian people so prevalent? Consider the photographs of Indian students taken during the boarding school era. Carlisle Indian Industrial School has many before and after photos of students. The first photos were taken when students entered the boarding schools. Students were photographed in their “Native” clothing and often placed sitting on the ground. Their dark skin was enhanced photographically. The second photos were taken after students were “civilized”. Students were photographed in military uniform or domestics clothing, seated on chairs, and their skin appears lighter. What was the purpose of these photos? Scroll down this web page to see pictures of Tom Torlino.

 

CRITICAL FRAMING

Engage students in a discussion about how we take pictures of people. What are we trying to capture about them? How do we depict culture through photography? If we want to tell a story or capture the essence of the way in which a group of people live, what should we try to photograph? The use of the quotes and other materials included in the books and excerpts referenced below would lend much to this discussion. Consider reading some parts of these books aloud or allowing students to read these books.

 

TRANSFORMED PRACTICE

Following the discussion and readings, give each student a disposable camera (or ask each student to purchase one or use cell phones) and ask them to use the set number of photos to capture the essence of a cultural group. (You may need to discuss what a cultural group is at this time.) As a way of allowing students to really think about what they “see” in other people, allow students to present their photos, mounted on a standard sized piece of poster board. Each student should present what he/she feels is represented by each photo and what this idea tells about the culture being depicted. For each presentation discuss as a class what is seen and what is not seen, what is true and what may not be. Also consider mentioning how possible biases may influence the taking of photos. Students should understand that biases are not necessarily bad, they just require awareness.

 

DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION FOR ADVANCED AND EMERGING LEARNERS

Allow struggling students to verbalize their descriptions of the photos they take rather than creating a poster board. This verbalization could happen in smaller groups or oneon- one with a teacher or peer depending on the level of modification needed. Advanced learners may work with controversial photos and research the impact of these photos on later historical events. They might also design a research study to show how people respond to photos they take to see how messages are transmitted through images or analyze cultural images in film or commercials.

 

RESOURCES

Excavating Voices: Listening to Photographs of Native Americans, by Michael Katakis, University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1998, ISBN 0-92-417157-X

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http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13663.html

Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
“The photographs are a means of making “real” (or “more real”) matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore.” (p.7)

Carlisle Indian School photographs of Tom Torlino