Incorporating the Visual

It’s that time of year… the time when we get our course evaluations back. I’m pleased to say that mine were pretty good this semester. However, something that more than one of my freshmen requested more of in my U.S. history survey courses was that I incorporate more “visual aids” for those who are “visual learners” by nature. This seems like a reasonable request, but raises another question: How? I think that there is an opportunity for us to do more with the visual than merely throw up a portrait or an iconic photograph or a map or chart on a screen, and then move on to the next series of points in the outline.

In the Civil War, this is a simple matter. Matthew Brady has left us with a rich visual legacy that raises all kinds of interesting discussion points. But with a subject as large as United States history as a whole, things get more complicated.

One thought I had was to select images that reflect a theme or a moment in each lecture, and then spend a few minutes deliberating on the details of those images with students. Perhaps I could even ask them to produce a reflective paragraph or two.

Have any of you incorporated visual aids in U.S. history surveys? What have been your experiences, and do you have suggestions for those seeking to expand the visual in their lectures and discussions?

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