American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Learning To Look Launches National Network of Summer Institutes

Published March 24, 2011

How might illustrations by Frederic Remington, paintings by Alfred Bierstadt, and sculptures by Edmonia Lewis help advance our understanding of the frontier past? What can students learn from a nineteenth-century slave narrative set alongside J. T. Zealy’s 1850 photographic portraits of Columbia, South Carolina, slaves “Delia” and “Jack”? And what questions about the past does such evidence leave unanswered?

The study of visual sources has advanced in significant ways in recent years due in large part to the development of multimedia technologies such as the Internet. Simultaneously, cross-disciplinary collaborations among scholars studying and educators teaching American history and culture have improved students’ ability to interpret and contextualize visual sources. This summer, ASHP/CML’s national network of new media and pedagogy centers will undertake a promising course of study for improving teaching about the past through the use of visual sources.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Learning to Look: Visual Evidence and the U.S. Past in the New Media Classroom is engaging a broad range of participants — teachers of U.S. history and culture, art historians, museum educators, and archivists — in an interdisciplinary dialogue that provides participating faculty with: 1) a sense of the scope and nature of visual sources available on the World Wide Web, including illustration, painting, public art, photography, advertising, and film; 2) an understanding of the interpretive questions scholars ask of visual sources; and 3) models for how to use visual sources to enhance students’ understanding of American history and culture.

Located on ten high school and college/university campuses around the country, Learning to Look (LtL) centers will conduct weeklong summer seminars on teaching with visual sources, followed by workshops and online communication throughout the year. Each center will address the theme of visual sources and new media pedagogy through various themes in American history, including life and culture in the 1920s and 30s, multicultural studies, African/African American history, and regional history. Each LtL center will also consult with local art, historical, and cultural institutions to add a new collaborative aspect to this program, combining LtL’s broad goals with its own particular regional and/or thematic focus.

Providing a mix of presentation, demonstration, and hands-on work, participants will engage with such topics as how to teach slavery using paintings and illustrations from the antebellum period and looking at the early national period through portraits of George Washington. Interactive learner guides from ASHP/CML and the Center for History and New Media (GMU)’s History Matters Web site will be introduced as teacher-friendly tools for interpreting evidence, featuring methods for examining photographs, letters and diaries, films, advertisements, and other source materials.

Some centers are still accepting applications for summer institutes through June 2003. Go to for a list of center locations and contact information or email Donna Thompson Ray, project director:

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