Dorothea Lange: The Photographer as Agricultural Sociologist, by Linda Gordon


Linda Gordon examines the photographer Dorothea Lange as both a paid propagandist for federal agricultural programs and a knowledgeable critic of the business of U.S. agriculture. Lange’s photographs called attention to the horrendous working and living conditions of farm workers, denounced the practices of large-scale agribusiness, and revealed the inadequacy of New Deal attempts to help farm workers. This installment of “Teaching the JAH” gives students the opportunity to explore the functions of the Farm Security Administration and its photography project. Using photographs, maps, letters, reports, and other documents, the exercises help students understand the conditions in which migrant farm workers lived and how Lange, through her photographic work, tried to improve those conditions. The exercises also ask students to examine Lange’s photographic methods and why she cared so much about her photograph’s textual captions.

Sections Guide

You may use the “Sections” menu on the upper right side of each page to navigate through this installment. Provided below is a summary of each section in this installment.


The full text of the article as it appeared in the Dec. 2006 issue of the Journal of American History.

Teaching the Article

The author’s comments about using this article in the classroom. This installment includes 5 exercises:

Primary Sources

A set of primary source documents and images selected for use in teaching this article.

Further Reading

A bibliography of related secondary sources recommended by the author.


A list of links to related Web sites.