The North Carolina mountains in the early 1900s through the writing and photography of Horace Kephart
Students will develop an understanding of daily life and culture in the mountains of North Carolina during the early 20th century through photographs and written sources; practice visual literacy skills and gain experience analyzing visual and written sources of historical information; and learn to revise their early analyses of historical sources and to synthesize the information found in different kinds of primary documents by planning a museum exhibit.
A lesson plan for grade 8 Social Studies
- Students will develop an understanding of daily life and culture in the mountains of North Carolina during the early 20th century through photographs and written sources.
- Students will practice visual literacy skills and gain experience analyzing visual and written sources of historical information.
- Students will learn to revise their early analyses of historical sources in light of additional sources and to synthesize the information found in different kinds of primary documents in a planned museum exhibit.
Time required for lesson
Three consecutive class periods. More time may be required depending on the teacher’s choice of final project.
- A North Carolina history textbook.
- Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart, originally published in 1913 by the Outing Publishing Company. Teachers can choose to rely on the online version or to obtain printed copies.
- An image analysis worksheet created by the teacher. Since every teacher will have different ideas for how they want to extend the ideas in the Kephart photographs, you will probably want to create an individualized photo analysis worksheet for your own students to use, but there are several good basic options available online. You could use something like the National Archives photo analysis PDF worksheet or a chart or worksheet of your own design to encourage students to think through different aspects of each photograph independently. Several excellent photo analysis worksheets that may give you some ideas for developing your own can be found on this Document Analysis page from the Library of Congress.
- Our Southern Highlanders analysis worksheet for Chapter 12 or a modified version created by the teacher.
- Computer lab with high-speed internet access. Students could work independently or in small groups depending on computer availability and teacher preference.
- Technology to display a single image from the Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma website. Either a digital video projector or a printed copy of one of the photos on overhead transparency film and a standard overhead projector.
Students should have already covered nineteenth century North Carolina history and be familiar with the geography of North Carolina.
It may help students start to think regionally if you preface this activity with some discussion of how the coastal, piedmont, and mountain regions of the state differed in the time periods covered in class up to that point. One strategy for doing so might be to divide students into groups and ask each group to make a list of key events and characteristics of a given region and then write that list on the board. Another possibility would be to assign an out-of-class activity in which students would write up their impressions of each region up to 1900, noting key events and historical figures in a chart or written document.
Most critically, teachers will want to make sure that students are familiar with working with visual primary sources. A good primer on using primary sources in the classroom generally is Using Primary Sources in the Classroom from the Library of Congress.
Reading Images: An Introduction to Visual Literacy by Melissa Thibault and David Walbert at LEARN North Carolina will provide you with some background information about building visual literacy skills in your classroom: Teachers should read this resource before beginning this lesson plan.
Another excellent resource is Making Sense of Documentary Photography from the History Matters project at George Mason University. I strongly encourage teachers to explore this resource to help them think about the kinds of questions they may want their students to consider when they “read” a photograph.
Scholars in Action: Analyze a Daguerreotype, also from History Matters, puts many of these visual literacy ideas into concrete practice using a single daguerrotype. This resource allows you to look at a photograph and analyze it yourself and then see how scholar Frank Goodyear, an expert in historical images, analyzes the same image. In the classroom, if the teacher has done some detailed analysis of a particular photograph beforehand, he or she can be the expert during a class discussion, offering deeper insights and pushing students to ask additional questions and expand their inquiry about the image. This website can give you a good example of how historical experts think about images to help you (and help your students) learn how to consider images in those ways as well.
The activities from this lesson plan will focus on the website Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma from the digital collections of the Western Carolina University library system.
Day One: Introduction
To begin the discussion, let students know that you will be spending the next couple of days learning about life in the North Carolina mountains in the early 1900s and also learning to use photographs as primary sources. Explain to students that you will be using the photo album of a man named Horace Kephart who lived in western North Carolina from 1904 (when he was 42) until 1931 and that he took photographs and wrote about the mountains and the people who lived there. Teachers can find additional biographical information about Kephart at the biography page of the Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma website. Explain that over the next couple of days, students will be exploring Kephart’s personal photo album and also reading some of his writings about mountain people.
Next, ask some questions to get students thinking and talking about photography as a historical source, such as:
- Why do people take pictures?
- Why do people save some pictures in photo albums?
- What can you learn from photographs?
Analyzing a first image together
Next, introduce students to the process you’ll follow by analyzing one photograph as a class. Using a digital video projector or an overhead transparency, show an image from the Kephart photo album that you have already spent some time analyzing yourself. Ask students questions about the photo, interjecting your own observations and follow-up questions as needed to keep pushing them further with their analyses. Questions to consider asking (note that these questions go from objective questions about simply observations to questions that are more and more interpretive, speculative and analytical):
- What do you see in this picture? (It may be helpful to direct students to look at the picture top to bottom and left to right, noticing every detail, or to encourage them to think about a tic-tac-toe grid superimposed on the image and think about each section independently so that they focus on the details rather than the overall impression.)
- What objects are in this picture? Are they old or new? Are they well-cared for? Are they expensive or inexpensive? Handmade, from nature, or store-bought?
- What people are in this picture? How many men? women? boys? girls? How old are they? What are they wearing?
- Are there any animals in this picture? If so, what do you notice about them?
- When do you think this picture was taken? How can you tell?
- Where do you think this picture was taken? How can you tell?
- What can you tell about the buildings or objects in this picture and their relationship to any people in the image?
- What do you think is the relationship between the people in the picture? What makes you think so? Are these people rich, poor or in the middle? What do you think they do for a living? How can you tell? Are they happy? Do they like each other? What kind of life do you think they have? What details in the image lead you to draw those conclusions?
- What is your overall impression from this picture? What is the “mood” of the image? If you didn’t know anything else about these people or this place or this object other than what you see here, what would you conclude about them/it?
- What do you think happened right before this picture was taken? Right after? What would you imagine the rest of the day (before and after) was like, and was it a typical day?
- We know that Horace Kephart took this picture — why do you think he took it? What do you think interested him about this subject and what do you think he was trying to show with his camera? Do you think Kephart gave any instructions or arranged anything for this picture — in other words, is it “posed” in any way? If you think it was posed, what makes you think so?
Analyzing images independently (or in small groups)
Let students know that for the rest of the period, they will have the opportunity to analyze other images in the Kephart photo album and think about these same kinds of questions on their own.
Hand out a photo analysis worksheet (see Materials Needed for links to some pre-made worksheets or, preferably, develop your own based on the kinds of photo analysis that you would most like to see your students do). As students work through their images, they should use one worksheet per image, writing a detailed description of the image, page, and location on the page for each so that they can compare their reflections to the actual image again if need be.
Have students go to computers to analyze images from the Horace Kephart online photo album. Depending on teacher preference and the number of computers available, students can either work independently or in groups.
You have several options for assigning images to students. There are 81 pages in the Kephart photo album and the index to the album lists the general topics covered on each group of pages. You may want to ask students to only look at photos that include people or to focus on a particular series of photos that are particular interest to you. If you give students free choice, you may want to assign ranges of pages for each student or group to choose from to make sure that everyone doesn’t pick the same image. Alternatively, some teachers may want everyone in the class to look at a few images in common to facilitate later discussions. Since the photographs are arranged by pages, though, it will probably be best if you ask students to choose 2 or 3 pages of photos (and no more!) to analyze. Detailed photo analysis takes time and concentration and if students try to rush through analyzing 20 or 30 photographs, they will probably not be doing the kind of detailed, thoughtful analysis that this lesson plan is designed to encourage.
Allow students to work through their photographs for at least 30 minutes, recording their analysis in detail on a worksheet. Make sure to leave 7–10 minutes of time at the end of the class for the final activity on Day One.
Starting to interpret
In the last 7–10 minutes of the class, ask students to get out a piece of paper and pencil and freewrite about what they think life was like for people living in the mountains of North Carolina in the early 1900s. With freewriting, the writer simply writes without stopping and without self-editing for the entire time — there is no concern for grammar, spelling, or organization. The writer writes down whatever they are thinking on the question at hand as a way of getting ideas down on paper. (If you are unfamiliar with this technique, there is a good description of freewriting in the Brainstorming handout from the Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.) Students’ reflections could include anything they wish to speculate on — material factors (housing, possessions, wealth), food, environment, relationships (marriage, parent-child relationships, community), lifestyle (work, school, leisure activities) or whatever else pops into their heads. Feel free to write some of these topics on the board for students to turn to in case they get “stuck” while freewriting. Students can also freewrite on the computer if that is the easiest way for them to write and if you will have time for them to print copies of their work for tomorrow’s activity (and/or save copies to disk or server space).
You can either collect students’ freewriting and image analysis worksheets to hand back to them the next day, or you can allow them to keep their materials and bring it back with them — but it is important that they have their freewriting and worksheets available to them the next day!
Day Two: Analyzing mountain life
Ask students to take a few minutes to read their freewriting from the previous day and look over their image analysis worksheets. Then start a discussion of students’ initial impressions of mountain life. Ask students questions like the following:
- Based on what you saw in the photos, what was it like to live in the mountains of North Carolina in the early 1900s? What was the natural environment like? How important was the natural environment in people’s lives?
- What were people’s houses like? What kinds of things did people have? Did most people seem to be rich or poor? What did people do for a living?
- What was family life like? How did husbands and wives get along? How do you think children were reared? How important were friends, neighbors, or community?
- What do you think people did for fun? What do you think a typical day might have been like? Was it a good life?
- What was important to mountain people at this time? How do you know?
Allow for some disagreement or further clarification by asking follow up questions — Did anyone else get a different impression? What led you to draw that conclusion?
You may want to write students impressions on the board as they offer their ideas to create a visual record of the conversation. If you frequently use graphic organizers like Venn diagrams, bubble maps, concept maps, or others in the classroom, you could also use some sort of graphic organizer on the board or an overhead to keep track of their ideas or organize them once the discussion is completed. (Some examples of graphic organizers can be found in the LEARN NC Education Reference.
Explain to students that by drawing all of these inferences from the photos they examined, they have begun to create their own interpretations of this time and place in history.
Turning to Kephart’s written work
Living in the mountains at the time, Kephart also recorded his impressions of mountain people and wrote his own interpretations of their lives. Remind students that Kephart obviously had a great affection for the mountains of North Carolina, but he was not from the mountains and moved there when in his 40s. Because he was an outsider to the community (at least at the beginning of his life there) it’s important to remember that he may have had biases or assumptions about mountain people that came from his own background and, as a result, what he recorded may be influenced by his own beliefs and perspective.
You may find it helpful to explain to students, at this point, that many people around the country were interested in Appalachia and rural places around the turn of the century and into the 1920s — the information for teachers about the Country Life Movement and the early twentieth century interest in Southern Appalachia under Supplemental Information will provide information on why Americans became so interested in rural places at this time and you can incorporate that information into your comments.
Ask students to read Chapter 12 of Our Southern Highlanders. They can access this chapter online, if using the computer lab, or could use a printed version.
As they read, ask students to take notes using the Our Southern Highlanders analysis worksheet. Students could work on this assignment individually or in groups, depending on the teacher’s preference. Assign individual students (or groups of students) to specific topics covered in the chapter. These categories could include Married Life, Childhood, Ceremonies (Weddings & Funerals), Entertainment (Music, Dances & Games), Holidays, and Religion (feel free to add or delete categories based on your own reading of the Kephart chapter). Students should all read the whole chapter, but taking detailed notes on just one topic will allow students to craft a more focused analysis and dig more deeply into the material.
Allow students to work on this material throughout the class, but leave the last 15–20 minutes of class time free to discuss their findings and the point of view of the chapter’s author.
Closing discussion: Point of view
In a brief discussion to close the day’s class, ask students to report back on each topic — what did they find? What was interesting? What was surprising?
Then launch a discussion of Kephart’s point of view based on students’ findings on the second page of the worksheet. What examples did students find of Kephart being judgmental or finding something strange or puzzling about mountain people’s lives? How would mountain people view these same incidents or cultural traits differently? What does this disconnect suggest about how well Kephart understood these people? About his own background and possible biases? How do you think that the people Kephart was writing about would have felt about his descriptions?
At the very end of the chapter, Kephart writes about mountain people as “half-wild creatures” and says “these people, intellectually, are not living in our age.” He goes on to describe their morals, speech, and conduct as old-fashioned and boorish. What do you think of these characterizations? Are they fair? Do they reveal any bias on his part?
Encourage students to discuss their opinions of Kephart’s feelings for these people. Did he like them? Admire them? Look down on them? See them as equals? Does he see their culture as superior to, inferior to, or the same as “modern” culture in American cities at the time? Is it possible to both like/admire someone and condescend to that person at the same time?
Ask students if they found anything in Kephart’s account that supported the impressions they had in their freewriting. Did they find anything that contradicted it? What do you make of the similarities and differences between what you thought after looking at the images and what Kephart thought after living in the mountains?
For homework on the second day, students should read information in their textbook about the mountain region of North Carolina from about 1890 to about 1930. You may want to look through your copy of the North Carolina history text that your school uses to find specific page numbers that cover the mountains during this period. This will give students some secondary information in addition to the photographic analysis and Kephart’s writing to help them further develop their own interpretation of this period in the history of the mountain region.
Day Three: Final project
By this point, students have done their own analysis of primary source photos, developed their own initial interpretation through freewriting, read Kephart’s chapter on daily life among mountain people, discussed the point of view from which Kephart wrote his book, and read some additional information in their textbooks. They are now ready to synthesize all of this information in a meaningful way.
For the final project, students will develop their own ideas for a museum exhibit on mountain life in turn-of-the-century North Carolina. I have provided two versions of this assignment to allow for differences in the amount of time that teachers might have to devote to this activity.
Short version of the assignment
Students should imagine that they have been given the task of planning an exhibit on mountain life in turn-of-the-century North Carolina. They need to write a compelling, persuasive proposal to convince potential donors that their planned exhibit will present an accurate, interesting, creative, and thoughtful presentation of this time and place in North Carolina history so that those donors will provide funding for the exhibit. The teacher can decide if students should work on these proposals individually or in small groups.
During class on Day Three, students should brainstorm their ideas for which images they might include in an exhibit, what kinds of artifacts or objects they might try to procure for the exhibit, what main ideas they would want visitors to come away with and so on during class and write up a description of their planned exhibit as homework. As students do their in-class planning, they can revisit the Kephart websites, draw on their own worksheets and freewriting, and consult their textbook. Students could also do additional research in the school’s media center if the teacher wishes and time permits. Online resources for further research are listed under Supplemental Information as well.
Students should think about not only what they KNOW about the mountains at this point, but also about what else they might want to know if they were going to produce an exhibit. For example, they may point out in their descriptions of their planned exhibit that they would like to find recordings of fiddle tunes to play as visitors enter the exhibit, or that they would like to include oral history excerpts with people who lived in the mountains at this time, or that they would like to incorporate information about African Americans and American Indians into the exhibit as well.
Written descriptions of the museum exhibit should include:
- A one-paragraph summary of the exhibit plan describing what will it cover and how it will educate and interest museum visitors.
- Title of the whole exhibit.
- Main topics to be covered in the exhibit.
- The order in which visitors should view the topics. Students could draw a map of the space if they like, showing the path visitors would take through the exhibit. For each topic:
- Title of the topical section
- Main ideas that they want visitors to understand and WHY those ideas are important
- Photographs used — for each, explain why it is being used
- Artifacts/objects used — for each, explain why it is being used
- Quotations or primary source text they might use and why they would use it
- Special experiences for the visitors, such as listening station for music, an interactive experience, or a dramatic performance
- A convincing conclusion designed to persuade the reader that this exhibit will present an accurate and insightful view of turn-of-the-20th century mountain life in North Carolina that will be not only educational but also interesting and enjoyable for the visitor.
In-depth version of the project
Using the guidelines from the shorter version of the project, students could actually put together an exhibit, converting the classroom into a museum for the day in which students set up different areas of the room to convey information about different topics through photographs, quotations, and written descriptions on posterboard, music, or dramatic presentation. Other classes could visit the Mountain History Museum and your students could tell them about the history of this region in the early twentieth century.
Teachers who are interested in museum exhibits as assignments could work together. Your students might develop this exhibit and use it to teach your colleague’s class about this topic, and the colleague’s class might develop a museum exhibit on a different topic at a different time of the year and your class’s visit to their museum could serve as part of their instruction on that topic.
- Teachers living and working in the mountain region could, of course, expand this activity considerably by having students conduct oral history interviews about life in the region in later time periods to create a comparative exhibit or taking students on field trip to a local museum to learn more about turn-of-the-20th-century in the region and talk to curators and archivists about the decisions they make when creating an exhibit.
- Teachers not living in the mountains could use the Kephart photos and document as a jumping-off point to explore the time period from 1890 to 1930 in their own region of the state using photographs and first-hand accounts or newspapers from their own community. Local historical societies and NC ECHO can be great resources for finding these kinds of primary sources.
- Teachers could refer back to the Kephart photos when talking about later time periods. Photographs of North Carolina in the Great Depression from the Library of Congress, for example, could be compared to the Kephart photos to gain a sense of change over time.
- Students could also compare Kephart’s photos to their own photo albums, or create a photo album showing scenes similar to those depicted in Kephart’s photos (a family in front of their house, for example) to compare and contrast the images.
Assessment will be based on the student’s body of work from throughout the lesson. Teachers can determine how much to weight each part of the lesson and what specific rubric to use based on their own priorities and classroom practices. The following questions will help you think about how to assess students’ work for various parts of the lesson.
Discussions & Classroom Activities:
- Did students contribute frequently and thoughtfully to class discussion?
- If group work was a part of the lesson, did students cooperate and do their fair share of the work?
Image Analysis Worksheets:
- Did students identify significant details in the photographs?
- Did students draw reasonable conclusions from the details that they observed?
- Did students interpret the photographic evidence thoughtfully?
- Did students write down their observations carefully and in detail for later analysis?
- Freewriting shouldn’t be graded on grammar, spelling, organization or content — rather students should be evaluated on whether they seem to have engaged with the task at hand and tried to use the time to productively generate and record their ideas in written form.
Our Southern Highlanders Worksheet:
- Did students identify significant evidence from the Kephart chapter?
- Did their analysis of a specific incident in the Kephart chapter reveal critical thinking about Kephart, his biases, and the ways in which the people he was writing about might have viewed the same situation differently?
- Did students include all required components in their exhibit description (or exhibit)?
- Is the information in the planned exhibit accurate?
- Did the students include appropriate primary sources (photographs, quotations, artifacts) in their plan?
- Does the exhibit plan show evidence of thoughtful analysis of mountain life in the early 1900s?
It might be fun to “grade” the students’ projects by writing each student or group a letter from the imagined funding agency telling them about the strengths and weaknesses of their exhibit design and either telling them that the project will be fully funded (for “A” level papers) or giving them suggestions for improving their plans and encouraging them to resubmit their proposal for future consideration.
Background for teachers
The following readings will give you a sense of why many people were interested in rural America and Appalachia in particular at the beginning of the 20th century:
- “The Country Life Movement” by Dennis Roth, available from the Rural Information Center, part of the National Agriculture Library from the United States Department of Agriculture, provides background on the Country Life Movement. In PDF format.
- Teachers may also be interested in reading this introduction to Anthony Cavender’s book Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, which includes a discussion of the special way in which Appalachian people were viewed by folklorists and anthropologists at the turn of the century.
- This webpage from West Virginia University offers a detailed bibliography of additional resources on Appalachian Studies that may be of interest.
Additional digital resources on the mountain region
These resources could be used if students do additional research for their final projects.
- Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection from the Library of Congress.
- Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip from the Library of Congress.
Teachers may want to be aware that the chapter of Our Southern Highlanders used in this lesson plan includes some descriptions of mountain people that do not show them in the best light and the document does contain some biases related to the author’s point of view. Since students may well have family from the mountains or live in the mountains of North Carolina, I think it’s important to talk frankly about point of view and prejudicial statements, to remind them that this account is just one person’s perspective on people living in the mountains at that time and help them to think about the ways in which people in the past didn’t always write about people different from themselves with the same kind of care, objectivity, and respect that most authors strive for today.
In one sentence at the end of the chapter, Kephart writes “there are ‘places on Sand Mountain’ scores of them — where unspeakable orgies prevail at times” and teachers may want to remind students that this term can mean a range of things including a drunken party. The document also contains some mild swearing (the word damn, for example). Teachers could, of course, edit the document for classroom use or begin the lesson plan with a discussion about reading primary sources with maturity and an open mind to stave off any inappropriate commentary.
North Carolina curriculum alignment
Social Studies (2003)
- Goal 5: The learner will evaluate the impact of political, economic, social, and technological changes on life in North Carolina from 1870 to 1930.
- North Carolina Essential Standards
- Social Studies (2010)
- 8.G.1 Understand the geographic factors that influenced North Carolina and the United States. 8.G.1.1 Explain how location and place have presented opportunities and challenges for the movement of people, goods, and ideas in North Carolina and the United States....
- 8.H.1 Apply historical thinking to understand the creation and development of North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.1.1 Construct charts, graphs, and historical narratives to explain particular events or issues. 8.H.1.2 Summarize the literal meaning of...
- Social Studies (2010)