By Matt Watson
If a picture is worth a thousand words, two pictures of the same place taken decades apart can fill volumes – and reveal new dimensions of our shared history.
That’s the idea behind rephotography, the process of visiting the location in a photograph, taking a new photo and comparing the two. It’s a learning tool advocated by Teaching With Primary Sources, the grant-funded initiative of the Library of Congress dedicated to promoting the use of primary sources in education.
“Pictures are primary sources. They’re snapshots of something that happened, freezing moments in time and giving us an opportunity to use them as evidence of what happened in the past,” said Keith Patterson, associate director of Teaching With Primary Sources at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “One of the methods you can use to compare and contrast the past with the present is going out and comparing the two in real time by taking a new photograph of that same place.”
MSU Denver is home to one of three regional Teaching With Primary Sources programs in the U.S., covering 16 states in the Western region. The MSU Denver office offers free professional-development opportunities for K-12 educators across Colorado.
TPS has collaborated with local teachers and university faculty on rephotography projects, including shoots at the Auraria Campus’ Ninth Street Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic photographs can be found easily through websites of the Library of Congress or public libraries, such as Denver Public Library’s Western History digital collection.
“It’s very easy to go look up historic images, and you can get a lot from that, but if you have the opportunity to go to a place, it’s much more real and allows you to investigate things in different ways than you can beyond just looking at photographs and maps. If you can go there and see the changes, it adds another dimension,” Patterson said. “Auraria is the oldest community in this area, so it’s a good place to start.”
RED sent photographer Elizabeth Moreno Morales around campus with MSU Denver archival photos to do just that. Use the slider on each photo below to see the before and after shots.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church (right) was constructed in 1898 using stone from Castle Rock quarries.
The Auraria Library, which opened in 1976, can be seen on the left when looking down Curtis Street toward downtown Denver. Central Classroom and West Classroom (foreground) were constructed shortly after the library.
Golda Meir, Israel's first female prime minister, ran away from her home in Milwaukee to pursue her education in Denver as a teenager. Meir lived in a duplex at 1606 Julian St. in Denver from 1913-14. The Golda Meir House was relocated twice before being relocated to the Auraria Campus in the late 1980s.
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