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Early Modern Europe

Image Collections

Interpreting Primary Source Images

Images are great primary sources full of meaning, but can be a little harder to interpret than print documents.  As James Curtis notes in History Matters, "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you need to know how to analyze the picture to gain any understanding of it at all." When analyzing an image, try to keep a few of these questions in mind: 

  • Who created the image?
  • Why was the image made?
  • How was it created?  Painting, sculpture, drawing?
  • Why are certain characters, settings, lines, shapes, perspectives, and colors used?  What do these elements communicate to the viewer?
  • Does the image portray culture accurately?  Is it more myth?  Perhaps some of both?
  • What was happening in history when the image was made?
  • What do the images communicate about issues of gender, race, and class?