How to Prepare Visual Primary Sources

The first thing you must be prepared to do is to study the sources several times. Give yourself plenty of time to look, think and reflect -- preferably over several days and not just the night before class. Follow the same, step-by-step procedure you've already practiced with textual primary sources. Be sure to take notes on your responses to each step's questions. These notes will enable you to participate well in class.

1. Look for the Narrative or Story

View the images once, just taking in what you can. Then, look closely a second time, now more carefully and try to answer these questions:

  • what are these sources about -- What's happening here?
  • who are the principal characters?
  • what activity is depicted here?
  • jot down your impressions, feelings from the sources (simple phrases are okay)

2. Determine Why the Sources Were Produced

  • who was the intended audience?
  • whose point of view is reflected here?
  • what values or points of view are reinforced by these sources?
  • what values or whose points of view are undermined by these sources?

3. What Do the Sources Tell You about This Civilization?

Without looking at the sources again but only by referring to the notes you have taken so far, answer these questions:

  • under what circumstances were these sources produced?
  • what sort of imagery can be found in the sources?
  • what assumptions are made by the sources? (Look above to the questions on points of view for help with this)
  • what are the sources NOT saying? Whose views are NOT represented here?
  • why might the artist(s) have chosen this subject and not others?
  • what are the limitations of these sources? That is, what can they NOT tell us about the past?