Child Labor in Mississippi and the Visual Discovery Strategy

January 25, 2018

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

“[S]tanding, reaching, prying and dropping—minute upon minute, hour upon hour, day upon day, month upon month.” 

This is how the renowned sociologist, photographer, and researcher, Lewis W. Hine described the plight of child workers, who toiled in seafood canneries on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Child labor remains one of the saddest and blighted chapters of our state history—not to mention the national landscape.  In his efforts to document these labor practices, Lewis W. Hine toured the state in 1911 and 1913 taking photographs of children as they worked in canneries on the gulf coast and cotton and yarn mills spread throughout the state.

 Fortunately, teachers and students can access these compelling images of child labor practices in Mississippi through the Library of Congress.  There are 169 distinct photographs of child labor in Mississippi along with some duplicates (188 images altogether) at this link:  Library of Congress: Child Labor Photographs in Mississippi

In addition, the Museum of Mississippi Gulf Coast History has a wonderful website with additional photographs including child labor images, but also photographs of the larger context (e.g., cannery shacks, docks, camp houses of workers, etc.) at this link:  Mississippi Museum of Gulf Coast Historical Photography

Visual primary sources are a wonderful way to invite students into the lesson!  Visual Discovery, a Teachers’ Curriculum Institute strategy, is one very effective method of teaching students how to responsibly analyze and synthesize this type of primary source.  

The strategy can be briefly summarized as follows:

STEP ONE:  Select a few powerful images (strong visual impact and tells a rich story).

STEP TWO:  Arrange your classroom to enhance the projected image.

STEP THREE:  Ask carefully sequenced questions that lead to discovery.

STEP FOUR:  Challenge students to read about the image and apply what they learn (see two handouts related to the Gulf Coast canneries listed under “Social Studies Materials and Links” on this website).

STEP FIVE:  Have students interact with the image through an “Act-It-Out.”

More detail about the visual discovery method will appear in the next installment of the Lesson Launch blog on February 1, 2018.

For more information about this Lesson Launch blog entry, other engaging strategies, and speaking engagements or professional development, please contact the author at:

Paul BinfordComment