Dust Bowl Photo Compare and Contrast Lesson
Source: NARA www.archives.gov >click on Teacher Resources>Lesson Plans and
Lesson adapted from:
Author: Christine Adrian
Additions: Cindy Wallace
Time Period: 1930-1945
Primary Objective: Historical Analysis and Interpretation
People Acted on Nature. Was the Dust Bowl a natural disaster, the result of severe climate
conditions? Or did people's actions cause this tragedy? Was the government's 1936 report right
in its characterization of causes? What role did governments policies and actions play in making
and managing the "dirty '30's"?
Historians agree on some of these matters, but debate persists on others. Was the Dust Bowl a
natural disaster or was it a disaster caused by what people did to nature? What exactly did
people do to nature?
Historians Disagree on many causes of the dust storms, including sod-busting, over-farming,
farm mechanization, and lack of soil conservation. But what causes people to engage in these
practices in the first place? Donald Worster, in_Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's
argued that it was the American culture of capitalism that ultimately caused the Dust Bowl.
Douglas Hurt's The Dust Bowl agreed that "mans inhabitation and adoption of a new
agricultural technology contributed to the dust storms. However, Hurt did not identify
capitalism as the primary cause. He felt that interrelated factors, balancing natural and man-
made elements like the drought that wiped out crops with humans technological abuse of the
Targeted list of skills
locating historic sources
identifying multiple stories in historical accounts about the same event
examining historical evidence to form a deeper understanding of the events, cause and effect and
distinguishing between history and fiction
locating, analyzing and corroborating historic sources
synthesizing multiple accounts to build a narrative of a past event based on sources
Assignment Contrast/Compare photos of two poins of despair in history such as the Great
Depression/Dust Bowl with images from the Holocaust.
Have students analyze the Universal Dec laration of Human Rights from the United Nations.
Discuss why this declaration is necessary. Why is an international declaration needed? Why is it not
sufficient to simply rely on each country's laws in the country the person lives in?
Distribute two photos such as The Migrant Mother and an image from the Holocaust. The students
could work in groups. Look at both pictures carefully. Explain what you are seeing - the emotions on the
people's faces, the condition they are in as well as their clothes and any other detail that you see. What
is society's responsibility to those in despair?
How are the pictures alike/different?
What had happened to the subjects?
Discuss the context of each image : impoverished Farmers, Depression era United States and Holocaust
Survivors, WWII era Germany etc..
There is an excellent TOOLBOX for this lesson at:
diaries / first person accounts
newspapers, biographies etc.
expanses - areas
penetrates - enters, breaks in
accululation - collection
barren - unproductive, empty
desolation - misery, sadness, despair
enduring - stable, continuing
indefinitely - forever
Library of Congress American Memory site - searchable by subject, creator and location
How does life in a sod house differ from your house?