Photographs have been made since the early nineteenth century in a variety of forms. These include daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, carte-de-visites, postcards, as well as black and white, color, and now digital photographs. Always handle old photographs with gloves.

Daguerreotypes are one of the more common types of old photographs to be found. An image formed on a sheet of copper plated with silver and sensitized by iodide vapors. Highly vulnerable to physical damage and tarnishing they were normally protected by a metal mat and a covering sheet of glass. The image is on a highly polished plate, and to be seen must be held at an angle to minimize reflections.

Photo albums often provide as much if not more information than a group of individual photographs. Remember that someone carefully arranged them on a page. Think about that arrangement. Is it chronological, by theme, or maybe by family? Photographs are often organized at an historical society by topic. Examining topics such as roads, schools, or businesses can provide much information about how a community has changed over time.

One fun way to use photographs with students is to make a “viewer.” Take a piece of poster board and cut out a square. Then cut out a square in the center of the first square. Slide this window over the photograph and many more details will pop out. You can make the squares of almost any size. Magnifying glasses also work well.