A Much Closer Look at Three Engaging Images

Join me as we use historical thinking skills to further analyze some images.

The Image above shows what appears to be a U.S. Marine band performing

Look at the audience, not a phone in sight, just enjoying jazz in the moment. With the armed forces being such a demanding and sometimes horrific journey, I think both being in a jazz band or simply listening to jazz music would be a pleasant way to spend an evening. We know this big band style of jazz and the days of Frank Sinatra was popular in the 1940’s which could clue us in on when this image was captured. What other aspects of 1940’s culture is present? Do you think traditions like this continue today in the armed forces?

It looks as if they are in a dining hall of sorts when focusing on the napkins and condiments on the table. Why might they be performing here? Could they be overseas or is this a domestic base?

Above we see four photos taken in Qing dynasty China

John Thomson was the first known photographer to document the people and landscape of China. He worked to capture all aspects of Chinese life and share the culture with the Western World. What is the significance of better understanding another country’s culture? Could this have been the first time these Chinese citizens saw a white foreigner?

How did the photographer communicate with his subjects? What’s the significance of that long hair? What does he appear to be painting?

A class that appears to be in the middle of a history lesson.

This is what class looked like before distance learning. Based on the formal dress and use of cursive, what year might this be? Also, what is the purpose of this photo, does it seem pretty mundane? Might this photo be taken outside of the U.S.? Is this a public or private school? What are the students gathered around?

In the zoom above we can make out the writing on the chalkboard that shows us the lesson is on the Pilgrim’s voyage. How might that lesson differ in today’s classrooms?

In the zoom below we see that there is a photo hung front and center in the classroom. I know having a photo of the country’s leader is a common practice in classrooms around the world but what might this be a photo of here?

Going Bananas for Historical Images: A Visual History of the United Fruit Co.

Featured image source

One of the most fascinating topics I studied as an undergrad was about the sinister role the United Fruit Company, known today as Chiquita Banana, played in shaping the history of Central and Latin America. The fruit followed a long, and complicated path to become the “world’s fourth major food, after rice, wheat and milk.”[1]. It’s bizarre to think of the innocent banana toppling governments and becoming a symbol of U.S. global imperialism, but the yellow fruit certainly has a checkered past!

Wear-Ever United Fruit Company “Great White Fleet” cooking utensil advertisement from 1920 source
Notice that this this advertisement mentions the United Fruit Company’s ‘Great White Fleet.” What do you think the relationship is between a cruise line and the fruit company?
The advertisement is actually for ‘Wear-Ever’ Aluminum Cooking Utensils. Do you think viewers of this ad would have known what the advertisement was for, and would the average person have been familiar enough with the Great White Fleet’s cooking equipment?

Citation: Evening public ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 02 March 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-03-02/ed-1/seq-17/

Workers loading bananas onto rail cars in Costa Rica source
What is the point of view of the person who captured this image? Are they advertising for the United Fruit Company?
From the caption we know this picture was taken in the banana fields of Costa Rica. Notice the different clothing the subjects of the image are wearing. What can we infer about the power dynamics between different individuals at the banana fields? How might the conditions Costa Rican banana field workers faced differ from that of Western-European/Americans?

Citation: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. (1900). Loading Bananas into Plantation Cars for Transportation, Banana Fields, Costa Rica, C. A. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-9c55-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Three men on boats transporting bananas to markets in Panama source
The previous image showed men loading bananas into a rail car, and here these men are floating bananas in a boat. Are these men transporting bananas for consumption in the U.S., or locally? What can we infer about the importance of bananas as a food source in the region?
The individual at the front of the boat appears to have a pot with food behind him. I wonder how long these men have been on this boat. What types of infrastructure would need to be in place to transport the fruit such long distances locally and to the U.S. without rotting?

Citation: Carpenter, F. G. Three men in a boat transporting bananas to the city markets in Panama. Panama, None. [Between 1890 and 1923] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/89713947/.

You can learn more about United Fruit Company by listening to this episode of Throughline on NPR.


[1] Kurtz-Phelan, Daniel. 2020. “Big Fruit”. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/books/review/Kurtz-Phelan-t.html.