Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crocodiles in the Archives

Thank you to the Goffstown Historical Society for letting me copy this image
to use with my students.
This month, I spent some time helping the local historical society in the town in which I work. I surveyed their photographic collection to help them plan for future growth and exhibits. While working, this image in caught my eye. It is from a collection of images of Panama. One of the best things about survey work is discovering remarkable things in collections. One of the worst things is discovering remarkable things in collections and having no time to stop and explore their context. I think this is worth going back to because something so remarkable can spice up exhibits, programs, and education in a special way. I made a photocopy of the photograph and tucked it into my notes.

First off, is this an alligator or crocodile? With a quick Internet search I've learned that Panamanians claim that crocodiles are a major problem today. They tend to eat fishermen. I also learned that scientists recently discovered ancient alligator skulls in the Panama Canal and believe that alligators made their way to North America from the south. This is cool stuff worthy of science biology and sustainability classes.

I need to go back and learn about the person who donated the collection that contained this image. Did he visit Panama? Coincidently, this morning I was reading the biography of Betty Smith who wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The book mentioned that Smith traveled to Panama with her grandchildren to visit her daughter who was staying there. Why was she staying there? How many American ex-pats lived in Panama in the mid-twentieth century? Was it common? Did the canal give them business opportunities? Here's a good opportunity for a history lesson.

Finally, I wonder why were the gentlemen in this picture hunting the alligator/crocodile? Is the hunting of these creatures a popular past time? I can imagine my hero T.R. pushing to get the Panama Canal built and doing a little crocodile/alligator hunting while he was there. I know that I have some boys in my high school who will just love this picture and perhaps I can get them to research the context of it with me.

Mysterious pictures hidden in our archives offer lots of opportunities for questions that give us more opportunities for exploration and tracking down answers. I think this image will take us far.

No comments:

Post a Comment