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Interpreting the Evidence

Analyzing Photographs: Theodore Roosevelt

  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load My File Upload - January 28, 2021 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topic: President Theodore Roosevelt, Importance of visual historical documents

 Skills: Determining the meaning of visual information, Dissociating essential/nonessential visual information

This document shows Theodore Roosevelt circa 1885.

Historical Context: Famous for commanding the “Rough Riders” 1st Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt began his political career as the Progressive Governor of New York. He became Vice President under President McKinley in 1900 and then President after McKinley’s assassination in 1901. Known as the Square Deal administration for his widespread reform programs, Roosevelt expanded the power of the president and the power of the United States into Asia but especially in Latin American with the Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. At 42 years old, the youngest person ever to attain the White House, Roosevelt came in as a popular war hero but with little expectations as a president. The sheer force of his personality would alter that perception and set the course for his legacy.

Essential Question: How do images convey meaning? 

1.      Instruct that photos convey certain meanings but possibly not everything we need to know—sometimes we must interpret the symbols and/or our knowledge and experiences

(think about what a personal photo means to you as opposed to someone who doesn’t know the context)

2.      Give background notes on Theodore Roosevelt including his time as president

3.      If not using the online learning activity, have the students deconstruct the photo using the photograph analysis worksheet 

(guide them by modeling about what they see directly on the surface and what might be suggested about Roosevelt’s characteristics by the staging of the photograph)

4.      Once all students have completed the graphic organizer, have them summarize their analysis of Roosevelt by writing a paragraph that completes the following opening: “From analyzing this photograph, I have learned that Theodore Roosevelt . . .”

Optional Extension Activity

The following activity could be completed in order to extend students’ thinking and encourage them to make connections:

·        Instruct students to brainstorm the qualities they believe Teddy Roosevelt possessed from analyzing the photograph. Make a list on large paper to save and display in the classroom.

o   Direct students in groups to research the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Each group is to research a different time period and report findings to the class:

§  Early Years: 1858-1879

§  New York Politics

§  Rough Riders & Spanish-American War

§  National Politics- 1st Presidential Administration

§  National Politics- 2nd Presidential Administration

§  Later Years: 1909-1919

o   After reports are shared, have students return to the original list of attributes they developed from analyzing the last photograph. How many of these qualities were verified by their research? Direct students to refer to specific events in Roosevelt’s life to support their conclusions.

·        Locate other photographs of notable historical figures, places, events, and repeat the activity.