Understanding America Through Four Remarkable Photographs

From its introduction in 1839, photography has transformed the ways in which we see the world. Photographs capture events and also transform them; they depict reality but also tell a story. Scores of photographs have changed America, and we will discuss four of them in detail. Some won't come as a surprise, while others may open eyes anew. Examining the histories of these images, and learning how to read them, provides a deeper understanding of how photographs have shaped, and continue to shape, American society and culture.

  • Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother (1936). The most iconic photograph of the depression, "Migrant Mother" changed how people thought about poverty.
  • Joe Rosenthal, Flag Raising on Mt. Suribichi (1945). People thought it was posed, but it wasn't. It helped the United States to win World War II and define the nation.
  • Nick Ut, Napalm Girl (1972). Images from Vietnam fueled opposition to the war, and the story of the girl in the picture traveled around the world.
  • Stanley Forman, The Soiling of Old Glory (1976). This Pulitzer-prize winning photograph brought the civil rights struggle to the North and transformed how Americans thought of the bicentennial.

About The Professor

Louis Masur / Rutgers University

Louis Masur is a Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He received outstanding teaching awards from Rutgers, Trinity College, and the City College of New York, and won the Clive Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard University. He is the author of many books including "Lincoln's Last Speech," which was inspired by a talk he presented at One Day University. His essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, and Chicago Tribune. He is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and serves on the Historians' Council of the Gettysburg Foundation.

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