Historian’s Eye is intended as both an archive devoted to the current moment, and a pedagogical tool for helping students to think historically about the present.  Hear more about the process and pedagogy behind Historian's Eye in this lecture by Matt Jacobson at Princeton on, November 29, 2011 (video by Princeton Event Streaming WebMedia).

Guide for Teachers

Assignment from UC Berkeley Historian's Eye

These materials were prepared for Professor Cohen’s Introduction to American Studies course at UC Berkeley. The course, subtitled "Culture Wars" is a survey of post-Civil War US history centering on how culture serves as a critical site of conflict, power and dissent. Throughout the semester, students are asked to write papers in which they perform close readings of cultural documents they find in the past (photographs, poems, essays, films, short stories, paintings, songs, performances), asking how such documents are waging the culture war and whose side they seem to be on. Read more about UC Berkeley Historian's Eye's pedagogical approach.

Assignment: Historianʼs Eye on the Present

What does it mean to document the current moment? How do we do a Cultural Studies of the Present? The Historianʼs Eye website, built by Yale American Studies Professor Matthew Jacobson, takes on these questions through a collection of photographs and oral histories beginning with Obamaʼs election in 2008 and the ongoing financial crisis. Together, these texts ask us to think about the current moment as historical. Visit the Historianʼs Eye at the following link: Write a 3 page paper choosing ONE of the options below:

Option 1:

Take a photo that documents some aspect of the economic crisis and consider the photograph in space and time. Where did you take your picture? Why did you take this photo? Now back up and treat the photograph as a cultural document and read your own photo as a representation of the present moment. How does it represent contemporary issues in American Studies? Upload your photo to To Upload to Flickr:
• Go to and sign in or sign up for a new account • Click on the Upload tab and upload your photo to your own Flickr account. • Once your photo is uploaded, go to our AS10 Historianʼs Eye Flickr Group website at: • Add your photo to the “Group Pool” on our AS10 Historianʼs Eye Flickr Group. Enter a description of the photo with your name.

Option 2:

Find a photo on the Historianʼs Eye website that speaks to you and discuss how and why the photo is emblematic of the economic crisis. In developing your argument, consider some of the following questions: Why did you choose this photo? What is being represented in the photo, and how is it being represented? What connections are being made in this photo across geographical lines? (Egypt, Oakland, New York). Are there any historical connections being made? Whatʼs at stake in making those spatial and historical connections?

Lecture by UC Berkeley Historian's Eye

Listen to a lecture by the UC Berkeley Historian's Eye Education Team about Historian's Eye and how to use the site to think historically and critically about the present.

Assignment from California State University at Fullerton

Here is the final assignment for Professor Elaine Lewinnek's "Intro to American Studies," a course that focuses on America's multiple revolutions, including political, industrial, and cultural revolutions. This course fulfills the California State University's General-Education requirement for "U.S. Institutions and Values." FINAL ASSIGNMENT: APPLYING OUR HISTORY Choose a contemporary document to analyze: · - Matthew Frye Jacobson’s “A Historian’s Eye” website ( · - or the “We are the 99%” tumblr ( · - or the movie “Into The Wild” (directed by Sean Penn, 2007) Even more specifically, choose a subset of approximately three specific images from “A Historian’s Eye” or three posts in the 99% tumblr or three scenes from the movie “Into the Wild.” Two or four images are okay, if they work well together. Include your several images – or quote from your selected movie scenes – in your essay. Consider how the several images you have chosen relate to the whole website or movie. Analyze your chosen images, using our entire study of American cultural history to help you make sense of these documents. How does this document understand American institutions and values? How do the document’s creators remember or misremember American history? What version of America is represented here? What variety of American revolutions is espoused here? Compare and contrast your chosen documents with our course’s case studies: 1770s Revolution, Industrializing Chicago around 1900, and Beatniks in the 1950s. You may also want to consider our interludes about transcendentalists or the New Deal or other ideas from America’s past. Use at least two other documents that we have seen in lectures or reading to analyze your chosen contemporary documents in historic context. The more the better, as you make connections between the past and the present.

Additional pedagogical ideas:

Large, overarching essay assignments: Comb the various galleries, interviews, and transcripts for references to F.D.R. and the Great Depression.  Assess the utility of these analogies, and explain whether on balance they are productive, limiting, or misleading.  How so? Tightly focused interpretive assignments: Select a photo or a series of photos and situate them as cultural documents of their historic moment.  How, in formal terms, does the photograph convey meaning? And what is the meaning that it conveys? Research assignments: Research the political economy—major industries, foreclosure rate, unemployment rate, business closures etc.—for one of the sites in the “Places” gallery.  What is the socio-economic story to which this gallery is a partial illustration? Individual or group documentary assignments: What does the current historical moment look like in your town? Create a video, a gallery of images, a set of oral history interviews, or a multimedia production that begins to answer that question.

Wiki Instructor’s Guide

Please submit assignment and course ideas, syllabi, or samples of student work to for posting.  Send questions or queries to this address as well.  Photographic work from group or class projects can also be submitted by following the Flickr instructions under the “Participate” tab. Instructions for audio and video submissions—Audioboo and YouTube—are forthcoming.

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