Educator's Guide: The Arts: Expressions From the Past

Classroom Activities:

  • Art
  • Language Arts
  • Photography
  • Social Studies

Suggested Grade Level:

  • Grades 7-12


Students will research historical photographs and discuss the impact of photography on the Civil War.


  • Civil War books, newspapers, documentaries.
  • Camera, film, presentation boards to display photographs.


The Civil War introduced a new art form to the world: photography. Photographs, unlike the artistic renderings of the battle scenes, were graphic representations of the horror of war. The artist tended to present a romantic view of war, while the camera showed its realities. The photographer would often arrive at the battle scenes one to two days after the event, when bodies would still be lying on the ground where they had fallen. The photographers during the Civil War spoke of "smelling the great battles before seeing them." Photographers of the time would take liberties and often stage shots, but most of the time the scenes needed no props. The reality of the scenes conveyed the message quite well, for the first time in history the names of the dead now had faces.


Have students research Civil War books and newspapers for photographs or watch Civil War documentaries such as PBS' THE CIVIL WAR or A&E'S CIVIL WAR JOURNAL. Have the students choose a photograph that has impacted them and write why the photograph affected them. Have the students work in small teams and photograph their community. These photographic essays should evoke a message the students want to convey to their classmates and to the future.

Questions to Ponder:

1. Did television do to the Vietnam War what photography did to the Civil War?

2. Are we no longer shocked by the horrors of war and accept its gruesome reality?

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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