Lange's Iconic Photograph

Historical content: 
The New Deal and World War II
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Corroboration, Sourcing



Examine the photograph, source information, and background information to answer the questions below.

Background Information: The Resettlement Administration was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s agencies that helped people from the Dust Bowl. This agency hired photographer Dorothea Lange to take pictures that would build support for its programs. This photograph was one of several that Dorothea Lange took of migrant farm worker Florence Thompson and some of her seven children.


Title: Migrant Mother
Date of photograph: 1936
Photographer: Dorothea Lange
Location: Nipomo, California

Question 1: Why might the background information above lead you to question the photograph’s reliability?

Question 2: What is one feature of the photo that might lead you to question its reliability? Explain your reasoning.

Question 3: What is one thing you would want to know about Dorothea Lange or how she took this photo to better determine its reliability? Why?

About the Assessment

This assessment gauges students’ ability to source, contextualize, and corroborate a document.  Students must consider how the contextual information about the creation of Lange’s iconic photograph affects its reliability as historical evidence of Dust Bowl life.  Students must also analyze the photograph and determine how the content of the image might affect its reliability.  Finally, students are asked to think about what other information they might seek to help them evaluate the reliability of the document.

This student adeptly explains how the fact that Dorothea Lange was hired by the Resettlement Administration could affect the reliability of the photo as evidence of living conditions during the Dust Bowl.