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HSS 300 - 1865-1945 in the US: Addison Gallery Resources

This guide is intended for students enrolled in the second term of U.S. History.


Did you know that the Addison Gallery of American Art's collection of over 17,000 images and objects includes numerous resources for you to use as primary source documents?

The collection is available digitally in the Addison's online database and available by advanced request for study in our Museum Learning Center.

For JPEGs of these images, search the Addison collection online at by typing in the name of the artist in a QUICK SEARCH, or click the image thumbnail on this page to be taken to its listing in the online database.

Questions? Email Jamie Kaplowitz, Museum Learning Specialist at the Addison Gallery, at

Addison Museum Learning Center Portfolio Guides

MLC Portfolio Guides and Image Lists are designed to familiarize you with the subjects, themes, artworks, and artists in the Addison collection.

  • Portfolio Guides examine and explain the ways groupings of images explore perspectives on a topic or theme.
  • Image Lists show the width and breath of available resources for a topic or theme.

Portfolio Guides and Image Lists can be downloaded from the Addison's website.

Documenting the Progressive Era

In 1890, when social reformer Jacob Riis published his book How the Other Half Lives, exposing New York City’s tenement conditions, technology required that his photographs be printed as illustrations, which were edited and composed to elicit sympathy from his middle class audience.



In Riis’s second book Battle with the Slum, published in 1902, his poignant photographs were able to be printed in halftone, illuminating the contrast of the mediums and their narratives. Riis's work inspired people to ask difficult questions about the relationship between ethnicity, race, and poverty; about the roles of government and private charity; and about the connections between social reform and publicity.



Photographer Lewis Hine began photographing immigrants at Ellis Island in 1904 and came to the realization that documentary photography could be employed as a tool for social change and reform. In 1908, he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee and his photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States.

These resources can be used to explore questions including:

  • What can an image tell us about the values and beliefs of the society in and for which it was created?
  • What stories do images in different formats and mediums tell? What are the advantages of each?
  • How can the power of images to sway public opinion be harnessed by a social or political movement?

Documenting the Civil War

The United States Civil War was one of the first military conflicts to be documented through photography, although the technology to reproduce photographs was not yet practical for mass distribution. Newspapers, including Harper’s Weekly, employed artists such as Winslow Homer to create illustrations to be engraved for print.

Photographers such as Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner and their photographic teams had to navigate the limitations of capturing motion by documenting posed and still scenes rather than battles.




Reverting to an earlier medium, Edward Lamson Henry compiled sketches to create this post-war composite scene emphasizing the bustling transportation network as a new basis for national identity during Reconstruction.


 After the war, Alexander Gardner bound one hundred of the Civil War photographs taken by his team into two albums published in 1865 and 1866, which he entitled Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. You can view all of the images alongside the text online here.

Also published in 1866 was Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, a compilation of Harper’s Weekly stories and illustrations.

Search each of these artist's names in the Addison Collection to see JPEGs of their photographs.

These resources can be used to explore questions including:

  • How do artists’ perspectives on the war broaden our understanding of this complex event and its legacy? 
  • How does the story told by a composite image compare to a single image? or to a series of images?
  • How do the intentions of Civil War photographers compare to subsequent and recent war photographers and the current ethical codes of photojournalism?

Documenting the Great Depression

In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Resettlement Administration, which later became the Farm Security Administration, to aid sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and migrant workers whose lives were challenged by the Great Depression, and included a photographic unit called the Historical Section to document poverty and government efforts to alleviate it.

Photographer such as Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, and Walker Evans carefully composed their images in order to communicate the impact of the economy on communities and families.

Search each of these artist's names in the Addison Collection to see JPEGs of their photographs.

These resources can be used to explore questions including:

  • What can visual clues in images tell us about the infrastructure and quality of life in U.S. cities and towns during the Great Depression?
  • How do photographers’ unique interests, perspectives, and processes influence the way we understand life during the Depression?
  • Why and how does a portrait become an icon?