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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Observing and Interpreting Historical Images

By observing a primary source carefully, you can gather valuable information from the image. The first step is to notice every detail you can see in the picture just like a detective. The next step is to use your evidence to draw some tentative conclusions and connect these to what you already know. Then test your conclusions and find answers to any questions you have through additional research.

Step 1: Observe (look at the photo)

  • Who is in the photo?
  • What objects can you see?
  • What activities are going on?

Step 2: Analyze and interpret what you see

What do your observations tell you about...

  • When was the picture taken?
  • What is the setting? (City? Country? What kind of neighborhood?)
  • What is the relationship between the people in the photograph?
  • What was the purpose of the photograph? (Who took the photograph, and why?)
  • Use the Photo Observation and Analysis Worksheet to take a closer look at this and other GRHC images.

Step 3: Learn more

Look at other sources with related information...

  • Where might you find more information? (GRHC Online Archive and database? Textbook? Library?)
  • Are there clues in the photograph that help you identify other sources where you can find information?
  • Does your analysis and interpretation agree with what these sources say?
  • Do you have questions that might be answered with further research?

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