The Case of the Clock

Historical content: 
The Gilded Age
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing



Use the source information, your knowledge of history, and the photographs to answer the question below.


Photograph A: Sometime around 1910, photographer Edward Curtis took the photograph above of Little Plume (right) and his son Yellow Kidney (left) sitting in a lodge. The photographs were taken as part of a study of the lives of Indians.

Photograph B: Before publishing the photograph of Little Plume and Yellow Kidney, Curtis altered it to remove the clock that appeared in the center of the frame. This is the altered photograph.

Photograph A: "In a Piegan Lodge," circa 1910.
Photograph B: an altered version of "In a Piegan Lodge," used for publication.

Question: Which one of the facts below might help explain why Edward Curtis altered the photograph before publishing it?

1.    At the time, many Americans argued that it was okay to take Indian land because Indians did not understand modern technology and would therefore not make good use of the land.
2.    Clocks were not the only way to tell time. It was also possible to tell time by observing the position of the sun in the sky.
3.    In the foreword to the book in which Curtis’s photograph appeared, Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "In Mr. Curtis we have both an artist and a trained observer, whose work has far more than mere accuracy, because it is truthful.”

About the Assessment

Like the John Brown assessment, this question gauges the student's ability to evaluate the relevance of contextual information for determining the motivations of an author. Students must select 1 fact and explain how it sheds light on why Edward Curtis altered the photograph before publishing it.  Students with a strong understanding of contextualization will be able to explain how the popular belief that Indians did not understand modern technology might have influenced Curtis's decision to alter the photograph.