Using photographs to research the Russian Revolution of 1917

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Abstract

This case study discusses the use of photographic material as primary sources for the study of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Although the study of the Russian Revolution is predominantly dependent upon printed records and written accounts, visual sources like these photographs can likewise play an essential role in constructing evidence-based historical arguments. Yet, while photographs and prints are a valuable form of primary source material, we often tend to look at photographs as unbiased representations of the past, without questioning the photographer’s intentions or considering the explicit or implicit meanings and rhetoric devices hidden within the image. To be able to use visual sources effectively, we must, therefore, learn to become critical visual readers.

This case study discusses the three most common approaches applied by students and scholars in their analysis of historical photographs: passive, practical, and critical. It provides two detailed examples that show the benefits and limits of each method and, in the process, highlights the questions we should be asking of the sources. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then we need to know how to analyse it in order to develop a historical interpretation of its content.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Methods Primary Sources
PublisherAdam Matthew
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

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