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StoryMap JS for the History Classroom


Visual Analysis

Why Visual Analysis?

Visual analysis is the process of reading and interpreting visual as opposed to textual sources. Historians frequently bring in visual material in addition to text in order to enrich their source bases or because textual sources don't exist. This is a short discussion of how to begin engaging your photographs, paintings, and more. If you have questions or would like to talk through your work, feel free to contact your history library (Dr. Bee Lehman).

Starting a Visual Analysis

To do a very basic visual analysis, you can ask the usual questions for a primary source analysis. You want to ask your usual who/what/where/when and consider how each of those points should influence your reading. Does it matter, for example, if you are looking at a photograph taken by a Muslim woman in India or an atheist non-binary individual in Mexico in 1955?

In addition to those core questions, you should also think about breaking down what you see. Things to consider specific to images:

  • What you notice about an image? Make sure to note what you see first.
  • Think about what is largest or smallest in the picture.
  • Is there a clear foreground and background?
  • Where does any light fall, particularly if it highlights something?
  • Are there clear lines in the image (vertical, diagonal, etc.) that draw your eyes along certain paths?

You can (should) take each of those components and consider what they mean. 

Video Explainations

For Additional Help

For additional recommendations, contact your History Liaison, Erin, at or schedule an appointment.