A Geographic History Mystery using Apple Maps Look Around

I think it is important for learners to connect geographic location in their study of history and analysis of primary sources.  In this way they can better understand the history of a time and place.

I work with teachers in the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Network and suggest ideas for learning with primary sources.  We focus on resources that are housed in the Library of Congress.  Often an image in the Library will catch my interest as a possible lesson or activity.  However, as we know, most cameras of the past did not embed location metadata into the captured image file. As a result, there are primary source images in the Prints and Photos collections of the Library of Congress that have little in the way of location information. That nicely leads to a “history mystery” where learners can use inquiry, research and questioning along with some virtual travel via Apple Maps Look Around to determine location.

An Example

Toni Frissell was a famous fashion photographer and also known for taking iconic photos during World War II. Many of her photographs are in a Library of Congress Collection, with no known restrictions for use. Here is a photograph of Toni Frissell on the job in Europe in 1945.


Toni Frissell during World War II
[Toni Frissell, sitting, holding camera on her lap, with several children standing around her, somewhere in Europe] digital file from b&w film negative - Library of Congress

Recently I came across the photo below by Toni Frissell.  The woman in the photograph seemed to radiate such joy and the photograph pulled me in to wonder about her very specific location on the Tidal Basin.


[African American woman, seated on ground, fishing, at the Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.]  - Library of Congress  (1957)
[African American woman, seated on ground, fishing, at the Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.]  - Library of Congress  (1957)

The photo title tells us that it was taken at the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C but I was curious as to exactly where on the Tidal Basin.  After some research, I was delighted to find I could walk the Tidal Basin virtually, using Apple Maps Look Around. I think I pinpointed what might be the location. 


Screen shots of Apple Maps & Apple Maps Look Around
Screen shots of Apple Maps & Apple Maps Look Around
I found the spot by taking a virtual “speed walk” around the Tidal Basin via Apple Maps Look Around (Screen recording follows).

Besides being an engaging challenge for students, primary source images such as the Tony Frissell Tidal Basin captured in 1957 can be used to generate student questions and further research. I advocate for letting students select their own primary source images from the Library and then generate questions about the purpose, perspective and point of view of the photographer. They might also take a virtual trip to the location of the photograph and compare and contrast then and now.

This is good media literacy practice as well as way to have students take a deeper dive into the history of an era based on a photograph that has captured their attention.  Questions generated on this photograph might be:

  • What is the mood of this image? Why do you think the photographer captured the image?
  • What was life like for African Americans in Washington DC in 1957?
  • What is the Tidal Basin like today? Has climate change effected the Tidal Basin?
  • How does mapping this image add to the story?
  • What other questions can be generated from this image?

If you are walking along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. and think this is the spot of the Tony Frissell photo, take a picture, and attach it here to either add to or subtract from my location guess!

All Comments

Posted on October 09, 2022

Thanks for sharing. I love using photos as as stimulus for generating inquiry questions, so much potential!

Posted on December 25, 2022

This is a fantastic way to explore historical images using contemporary mapping tools. Got to try this out!

Posted on December 26, 2022

Thanks Peter! You’ve also done a lot with location and historic images which is always inspirational to me. One of my favorites is Portland’s Japantown Revealed. Such an informative look at a hidden history and an important story.

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