Amazing Teacher Resource: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

When looking back on history, I am often overwhelmed by the countless people and lives that have completely disappeared into time. Who were these people? They were most assuredly just as real as we are. They had loves, and hates, and passions just like ours. But where are they now? Through studying history, it is possible to in some way recover the lives of ordinary people who lived long ago.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog ( is an amazing resource for students to explore the visual record of the past, and to encounter the everyday people who have long disappeared from memory. It contains countless free, digitized images from America’s history and documents both the ordinary and the extraordinary, the trivial and the profound. Yes, you can certainly find images of presidents and senators in the archive. But you can also find silly and sweet images which reveal the lost lives of ordinary people. These are the pictures our predecessors might have posted on Facebook if they had the chance.


Take these two young girls arriving at Ellis Island in 1907. We don't know who they are, but just by seeing their images, they have come back to life.





An absurd example: Harry Kahne, “mental marvel and daredevil,” shown here in 1925 doing a crossword puzzle upside-down and backwards!


Yet another wonderful image: the De Buis family, Cajun farmers from New Iberia, Lousiana in the 1930s.


Encourage your students to simply explore the Library of Congress website, or incorporate the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog into a more formal assignment. As you know from our programs, here at TCI we believe that analysis of historical images is one of the best ways teachers can get students engaged in history. If you are new to our Visual Discovery strategy, you can see it in action in this five-minute video:


Our two newest high school programs—History Alive! World Connections and History Alive! Pursuing American Ideals—have a significant number of images from the Library of Congress. Both programs will be available this summer. In the meantime, we encourage you to check them out in the 30-day trial at

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