Images are an important part of our life stories captured in photo albums, including that picture of a first piece of birthday cake, summer vacations, graduations, weddings, and other moments. Perhaps that’s why historical photos hold a similar fascination for students of all ages. It’s a chance for them to become voyeurs of times long gone, and visual evidence of real events in history—some more than 100 years old—that depicts surroundings, mannerisms, modes of dress, and transportation that seem foreign by today’s standards. And sometimes, a photographer captures the unthinkable picture during a historical event, such as a world war, the Holocaust, the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany, or the tragedy of 9/11 in New York. A picture can also answer important questions such as how badly the Titanic was damaged or how big the crowd on the mall was during a presidential inauguration.

Who is credited with inventing photographs? German-born pioneer Johann Heinrich Schulze initially proved that the darkening of salts was caused by exposure to light. This discovery, when combined with a camera obscura, formed the basis for photography. However, it was Louis Daguerre, a French photographer who was credited as being the father of photography with his invention of the daguerreotype process in the nineteenth century, and Henry Fox Talbot, an English scientist and inventor. The process employed an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapor. At the time, the most desirable use for photography was portraiture; however, one of the earliest, and perhaps most famous, subjects of historical significance was the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. One of the first archival shots of the structure was captured in late 1800s photos.

A photo is an important element of classroom instruction, too. Archival photos can provide context for students, and can act as visual aids that offer a concrete frame of reference for important moments in history. Pairing authoritative text with historical photographs lends credibility to any subject. In fact, researchers suggest that students are more likely to believe what they are reading when text is paired with a compelling historical photo rather than other representational data, such as graphs and charts or more complex book text. In a series of experiments, David McCabe, an assistant professor of psychology at Colorado State University, was able to prove that historical digital images have a persuasive influence on perception.  In another study done at Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey, a connection between photograph usage in history education was directly tied to student achievement.



Gale In Context’s Winning Combination of Text and Imagery Brings K-12 Studies to Life

In a world where digital content is king, teachers, librarians, and administrators are aware of the value photography brings to a K-12 audience. Text anchored in captivating visuals encourages curious students to search out more of what they’re seeing in a historical photo than through text alone. Students also consider a photo to be an important visual clue to determining if the page they land on is what they’re looking for. Gale databases, including Gale In Context: World HistoryGale In Context: U.S. History, and Gale In Context: Biographyoffer primary sources especially designed to meet the needs of grade school, middle school, and high school learners and help them make important connections through text and imagery that lead to achievement.

  • Gale In Context: World History archives reach back early in recorded history to present a view of the people, cultures, events, and societies chronicling the history of humanity to help connect the dots between the past and the present for learners. In addition to reliable library reference and multimedia content, World History also offers photography of people, places, and artifacts that can be traced back to the 1880s. This database is cross-searchable with Gale In Context: U.S. History for users with access to both.
  • Gale In Context: U.S. History (cross-searchable with Gale In Context: World History) archives include a library of historical reference content, millions of news and periodical articles, and rare historical photographs, plus primary sources ranging from slave journals to presidential papers. This contextual, content-rich collection strikes a careful balance between text, source documents, and imagery. It connects the threads of American history that begin with Native Americans and moves through the American Revolution, the civil rights movement, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Gale In Context: Biography archives span oceans, continents, and time periods to illuminate the world’s most influential people in history. The main content of this user-friendly portal is a collection of more than 600,000 descriptive biographical entries users can search to find famous individuals based on a range of criteria, as well as by keyword and full text. Students have the chance to view portraits and other primary source images of historical figures that put their lives as well as their accomplishments in context. The database is continuously updated to ensure access to the latest information.

The entire Gale In Context suite of special collections offers an enhanced user experience with familiar navigation and a modern design to enable users to orient across all Gale products. As with other Gale K-12 products, it offers translation, text-size adjustment, and text-to-speech tools supporting comprehension for a wide array of students, as well as Lexile and content levels to meet learners where they are. And all this great content is accessible through your local public library.

In addition to these excellent content opportunities, why not add Gale In Context: For Educators and see how quickly your classroom comes together with a specialized toolkit that lets educators collect, organize, customize, and share instructional materials sourced from Gale In Context: World HistoryGale In Context: U.S. History, and Gale In Context: Biography.



Images from Gale’s Academic Collection Inspire Deeper Engagement through Research

University students are tasked with looking beyond what they read in textbooks to primary sources like historical photographs to draw deeper conclusions about historical, social, and cultural phenomenon through academic research. Why? A picture can betray clues about a person or period, in the manner of dress, subject, and surroundings—such as Victorian life. For example, an individual might take a picture to give a false impression about the main subject in order to change public opinion. Gathering visual and textual information together helps today’s researchers in their scholarly detective work to form new and more interesting narratives around not just what they read but what they perceive in historical images. Both Nineteenth Century Collections Online and Archives of Sexuality and Gender can help support their efforts.

  • Nineteenth Century Collections Online digital archives are formed by successful partnerships between nearly 100 libraries to preserve and make digitally available content for academic research in history, literature, and culture. Main collection content includes vintage monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, and more—plus an impressive catalog of high-quality, high-resolution rare historical photos from the 1830s onward in a single resource.
  • Archives of Sexuality and Gender is the largest digitized collection of primary source publications related to gender studies, spanning the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. Documentation covers social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) global communities. Included are rare, unique books on sex and sexuality and historical photographs. All materials are guided by an advisory board of leading scholars and librarians in gender studies.


1. Hermes, J.J. "Simple Minds." The Chronicle of Higher Education 54, no. 16 (2007). Gale In Context: U.S. History (accessed October 4, 2022).

2. AKBABA, Bülent. “The Effective Implementation of Professional Learning Communities - Ed.” PHOTOGRAPH USAGE IN HISTORY EDUCATION , 2009.