Analyzing Pictures

How Do We Know What We Know?

Elementary, Middle


Students will analyze pictures in order to learn more about some of the people important to the history of Jamestown and the Virginia colony.

Standards of Learning:

Virginia SOLs:  VS1a; VS3g: USI.1a

National Standards of History:  Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Materials Needed for Activity:

Cultures at Jamestown – Essay
Portrait of Pocahontas
Picture Analysis Worksheet
Pocahontas – Biography

Teacher Background:

Pictures, drawings, paintings and engravings are invaluable clues to a culture’s way of life.  We can examine dress, surroundings, objects or activities in which they participated, among other things.  We can also view events through other’s eyes by looking at their perspectives as shown in the drawing or photo under study.

Pocahontas presents an interesting study, because she filled so many roles during this time period:  daughter of Chief Powhatan, intermediary between the English and the Powhatan Indians, Christian convert (Rebecca), and wife of John Rolfe.  In addition, she interacted with the settlers at Jamestown, as well as the elite in England.

The portrait of Pocahontas is a 1616 engraving by Simon van de Passe produced while Pocahontas was in England.  The print was rushed into print shortly after that. The purpose of the print was to publicize her visit and to attract investors in the Jamestown colony, so the portrayal was created from the perspective of the English. The portrayal was one of well-dressed affluence but not extravagance.  She is dressed as an Englishwoman, demonstrating her adoption of English ways. Yet, she has the high cheekbones and dark hair and eyes of the Powhatans. Pocahontas seems to look proudly at the viewer. Her fan of ostrich feathers denoted royalty.


Step 1:  Review with students the different ways we have of learning about what happened years ago and of learning about the people who lived then.  These include studying artifacts, examining remains of structures, analyzing documents, oral histories.  Ask them if they have seen pictures of members of their families from years ago.  What did they notice about the pictures that might look different from pictures today? Look at some pictures in their history texts.  Are there any that are photographs or drawings of people or places from long ago?  What can they tell about the person or times from looking at the picture?

Step 2:  Introduce students to the activity by distributing copies of the Picture Analysis Worksheet.  Discuss the worksheet with them and explain that they will first examine a picture of Pocahontas.  Review with the students who Pocahontas was, her role as a Powhatan girl and her interaction with the Jamestown colony.  See the Pocahontas background essay.

Step 3:  Break students into groups of no more than five students each.  Give each student a copy of the Pocahontas picture along with the Picture Analysis Worksheet.  Students should discuss among themselves the questions on the worksheet but they do not have to agree on the answers.  Encourage students to have reasons for the answers they choose.

Step 4:  After a set amount of time, have students come back together as a class and discuss some of their answers.  Encourage students to explain why they responded as they did.

Summary Activity:

Discuss with your students what we know about this picture.  Help them to apply this new information to their understanding of the cultures at Jamestown.

Suggestions for Other Picture Analysis:

Bounty of Virginia

Other Helpful Resources:

Fritz, Jean.  The Double Life of Pocahontas.  New York:  Putnam, 1983.

Price, David.  Love and Hate in Jamestown.  New York:  Alfred Knopf, 2003.

Rountree, Helen.  Pocahontas’s People:  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries.  Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Rountree, Helen.  Young Pocahontas in the Indian World.  Yorktown, VA:  J & R Graphic Services, Inc., 1995.

Townsend, Camilla.  Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma.  New York:  Hill and Wang, 2004.

Lesson plan materials made possible by Archibald Andrews Marks.