Today's Visual Primary Source for the History Classroom

Activities for the History Classroom

Otto Dix, War Cripples (1920)
Otto Dix, War Cripples (1920)

Question: Why did Otto Dix's paintings cause great controversy in the 1920s in Germany. Why did Adolf Hitler insist that Dix should be sacked as professor at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts in 1934?

Isaac Cruikshank's comment on William Pittand the Treason & Sedition Bill (1796)
Isaac Cruikshank, The Royal Extinguisher (1795)

Question: The man in the cartoon is William Pitt the prime minister and is a comment on the Treason & Sedition Bill (1795). Why does he call the cartoon "The Royal Extinguisher"?

James Gillray drew this picture of Humphrey's Shop in 1808.
James Gillray, Doublures of Character (1798). The drawing shows the leaders of the Whig Party
including Charles Fox, Sir Francis Burdett, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and George Tierney.

Question: Is James Gillray a supporter or opponent of the Whig Party?

Punch Magazine (January, 1907)
Punch Magazine (January, 1907)

Question: In the 19th century upper class and middle class women were not expected to earn their own living. Women rarely had careers and most professions refused entry to women. In the middle of the 19th century it was virtually impossible for women to become doctors, engineers, architects, accountants or bankers. After a long struggle the medical profession allowed women to become doctors. Even so, by 1900 there were only 200 women doctors. It was not until 1910 that women were allowed to become accountants and bankers. However, there were still no women diplomats, barristers or judges. How does this cartoon attempt to persuade its readers that women did not make good dentists? It will help you to read this article on Careers and Women.

The price of petrol has been increased by one penny." Official Philip Zec, The Daily Mirror (5th March, 1942)
"The price of petrol has been increased by one penny. Official."
Philip Zec, The Daily Mirror (5th March, 1942)

Question: On 5th March, 1942, the Daily Mirror published a cartoon on the government's decision to increase the price of petrol. Philip Zec said the purpose of the cartoon was to make people aware that every drop of petrol was precious. Zec was trying to say that lives were being lost bringing tankers to Britain and that wastage was thus immoral." Winston Churchill was furious that the cartoon had been published and Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, called it a "wicked cartoon". The government even considered prosecuting Zec under 1940 Defence Regulation 2A ("If, with intent to assist the enemy, any person does any act which is likely to assist the enemy or to prejudice the public safety, the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of the war, he shall be liable to penal servitude for life.") Why do you think the government was so hostile to Zec's cartoon? Why did they eventually decide not to prosecute Philip Zec and the Daily Mirror?

Lewis Hine, Sadie Phifer, A Cotton Mill Spinner, Lancaster, South Carolina (1908)
Lewis Hine, Sadie Phifer, A Cotton Mill Spinner, Lancaster, South Carolina (1908)

Question: Lewis Hine was an American school teacher. Hine was critical of the country's child labour laws. Although some states had enacted legislation designed to protect young workers, there were no national laws dealing with this problem. In 1908 the National Child Labour Committee employed Hine as their staff investigator and photographer. This resulted in two books on the subject, Child Labour in the Carolinas (1909) and Day Laborers Before Their Time (1909). Hine travelled the country taking pictures of children working in factories. In one 12 month period he covered over 12,000 miles. Unlike the photographers who worked for Thomas Barnardo, Hine made no attempt to exaggerate the poverty of these young people. Hine's critics claimed that his pictures were not "shocking enough". However, Hine argued that people were more likely to join the campaign against child labour if they felt the photographs accurately captured the reality of the situation. Do you agree with Hine or his critics?

Freedom Riders before the journey that left Washington on 4th May: Top, left to right: John Lewis, James Peck, Edward Blankenheimand, Hank Thomas, Walter Bergman and James Farmer. Bottom, left to right: Benjamin Elton Cox, Charles Person, Frances Bergman, Genevieve Hughes and Jimmy McDonald.
Freedom Riders before the journey that left Washington on 4th May, 1961, for
Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi: Top, left to right: John Lewis,
James Peck, Ed Blankenheim, Hank Thomas, Walter Bergman
and James Farmer. Bottom, left to right: Benjamin Elton Cox, Charles Person,
Frances Bergman, Genevieve Hughes and Jimmy McDonald.

Question: Why would the Freedom Riders have had their photograph taken before their journey on 4th May, 1961? Why did President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy try to persuade them not to take this journey?

George Cruikshank, The System Works So Well (1831) The House of Commons is shown as a water mill. The water wheel bear the names of rotten boroughs. Underneath lies the corpses of the poor, and from the mill pours a stream of benefits of being MPs, which they stuff in their pockets, while praising the system and opposing reform.
George Cruikshank, The System Works So Well (1831)
The House of Commons is shown as a water mill. The water wheel bear the names of rotten
boroughs. Underneath lies the corpses of the poor, and from the mill pours a stream of benefits
of being MPs, which they stuff in their pockets, while praising the system and opposing reform.

Question: Is George Cruikshank a supporter or opponent of parliamentary reform?

For other questions on this subject see: 1832 Reform Act and the House of Lords (Answer Commentary)

Russia and the First World War
Walter Trier, drawing illustrating the military alliances in Europe (1914)

Question: Is this a British, German, French or Russian interpretation of military alliances in 1914?

For other questions on this subject see: Russia and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Will Dyson, Peace and Future Cannon Fodder, (Daily Herald, 1913)
Boardman Robinson, The Masses (July, 1916)

Question: In July, 1917, it was claimed by the authorities that cartoons by Boardman Robinson published in The Masses had violated the Espionage Act. Why do you think the authorities did not like this cartoon?

Will Dyson, Peace and Future Cannon Fodder, (Daily Herald, 1913)
Will Dyson, Peace and Future Cannon Fodder, Daily Herald (17th May, 1919)

Question: Will Dyson cartoon (Peace and Future Cannon Fodder) is about the contents of the Versailles Treaty and shows the four most influential politicians at the Paris Peace Conference: Georges Clemenceau (France) David Lloyd George (Britain), Vittorio Orlando (Italy), and Woodrow Wilson (United States). Tiger is Clemenceau. What is the meaning of this cartoon. What is the significance of the words "1940 class".

David Low, The Salute with both hands now (3rd July, 1934)
David Low, They salute with both hands now! (3rd July, 1934)

Question: How does David Low convey his feelings towards Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels. Explain the significance of the caption.

For other questions on this subject see: Night of the Long Knives (Answer Commentary)

(Source 19) Grand Dragon, Dr. Samuel Green, in Atlanta, Georgia (24th July, 1948)
Grand Dragon, Dr. Samuel Green, in Atlanta, Georgia (24th July, 1948)

Question: What does the photograph tell us about the Ku Klux Klan?

For other questions on this subject see: The Ku Klux Klan (Answer Commentary)

Christine de Pisan instructs her son, Jean de Castel (c. 1413)
The death of Thomas Becket in the Luttrell Psalter (1325)

Question: Explain the problems of using this illustration in the Luttrell Psalter to understand the death of Thomas Becket. What other sources would you need to study?

For other questions on this subject see: Why was Thomas Becket Murdered? (Answer Commentary)

Christine de Pisan instructs her son, Jean de Castel (c. 1413)
Christine de Pizan instructs her son, Jean de Castel (c. 1413)

Question: Christine de Pizan commissioned an artist, Anastasia, to illustrate her books. What does this tell us about Christine de Pizan?

For other questions on this subject see: Christine de Pizan: A Feminist Historian (Answer Commentary)

A drawing from the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette in 1909
A drawing from the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette in 1909

Question: Compare the drawing by Alfred Pearse (A Patriot) above with other illustrations found on the page Women's Hunger Strikes. Explain the different ways that the artists attempt to influence the opinions of the viewer.

Artist's impression of soldiers in 1066 (1880)
Illustrated manuscript from the late 12th century.

Question: Describe the work these women are doing. Why do you think two of these women have their heads covered?

For other questions on this subject see: Women and Medieval Work (Answer Commentary)

(Source 7) A Newcomen steam-engine being used in a coal-mine (1790)
A Newcomen steam-engine (1790)

Question: Describe what is taking place in the painting.

For other questions on this subject see: James Watt and Steam Power (Answer Commentary)

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
David Low, But what have they got in their other hands, nanny? (26th January 1934)

Question: David Low's cartoon shows Lord Rothermere as a nanny giving a Nazi salute and saying "we need men of action such as they have in Italy and Germany who are leading their countries triumphantly out of the slump... blah... blah... blah... blah." Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Evening Standard, refused to allow the original cartoon to be published. Low was forced to make the nanny unrecgnisable as Rothermere and had to change the name on her dress from the Daily Mail to the Daily Shirt. Why would Beaverbrook protect Rothermere from Low's satire?

For other questions on this subject see: Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

(Source 12) Ivan Vladimirov, Revolutionary workmen and soldiers robbing a wine-shop (1917)
Ivan Vladimirov, Revolutionary workmen and soldiers robbing a wine-shop (1917)

Question: Ivan Alexeyevich Vladimirov was a member of the Petrograd militia in 1917. In his spare-time he created a series of paintings about life in the city. Explain, with careful reference to the painting above whether you agree with the statement that: "Paintings are not as useful to an historian as photographs".

For other questions on this subject see: The Provisional Government (Answer Commentary)

Third Chartist PetitionPunch Magazine (April, 1848)
The Chartist Petition (1843)

Question: What comment is the artist making about the Chartist petition? It will help you to read Chartist Petitions.

For other questions on this subject see: The Chartists (Answer Commentary)

Section 23: Harold swears fealty to William of Normandy, Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1090)
A picture in a book (c. 1390)

Question: What is taking place in the picture?

For other questions on this subject see: The Feudal System (Answer Commentary)

Woodcut of an heretic being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London.
Perotine Massey, Guillemine Gilbert, and Katharine Cawches being burnt at the
stake. An illustration from Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563).

Question: Most of the information about the burning of heretics in England comes from the book, Book of Martyrs (1563). Read about John Foxe and then describe the methods he used to write the book.

For other questions on this subject see: Mary Tudor and Heretics (Answer Commentary)

A Court for King Cholera, Punch Magazine (October, 1852)
A Court for King Cholera, Punch Magazine (October, 1852)

Question: (a) Why were dunghills more of a problem in the summer than the winter? (b) Explain why dunghills were responsible for a considerable amount of disease. (c) Give reasons why many British streets had dunghills in the first-half of the 19th century. Which one of these reasons is the most important?

For other questions on this subject see: Health Problems in Industrial Towns (Answer Commentary)

Vaughn Shoemaker, Chicago Daily News (1938)
Vaughn Shoemaker, Chicago Daily News (1938)

Question: How does Vaughn Shoemaker convey his feelings towards Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels? Explain the significance of the caption.

For other questions on this subject see: Propaganda Campaign against Adolf Hitler