Photo Sleuths Lesson

Goal: Students will learn about how the members of the Amana Society used local resources in their daily lives and to support their economy.

Introduction

Photo Sleuths Lesson Photo Sleuths Lesson

The Amana Society relied on the natural resources of the Iowa River valley, both native and introduced, to establish the community and sustain it. In doing so, they shaped the landscape, flora, and fauna of the Amana Colonies. Historical photos give us clues to what sorts of activities they did, how they did them, and what impact they had on the environment.

On the Iowa River, Price Creek, and the Lily Lake Amana colonists fished, trapped, and gathered ice. They also built the mill race to carry water to flour, woolen, and sawmills in Middle Amana and Amana. Though work and church services filled much of their days, the colonists also played, sometimes going swimming, boating, fishing, or walking in and around local bodies of water.

The most obvious change to the landscape was its transformation from prairie to crop fields, but the Amana Society's settlement also used and altered the landscape through the planting of kitchen gardens and orchards, the location of villages, the construction of roads, and the introduction of livestock.

The Amana colonists made extensive use of the local forests. They cut trees for fuel, furniture, wagons, barrels, and construction. They also allowed livestock to graze in the forests, gathered nuts and berries, planted evergreen species for they religious and cultural significance, and visited the woods for recreation.

The colonists also made use of other natural resources on their land. They quarried limestone and sandstone from outcroppings located on the hillside along the north side of the valley. The limestone was ground into a powder and used to make mortar and the sandstone cut into blocks used to construct buildings. Clay was dug from several locations and used to make bricks.

These and other activities had profound effects on how the landscape looked and functioned. Plowing, draining, and the mill race changed how water moved through the landscape. Farming changed water quality, increased erosion, and replaced native species with introduced species. The suppression of natural and human-caused fires removed a significant force in the shaping of plant and animal communities. Logging shaped forest composition and changed animal habitat.

The photos included in this lesson are primarily from the communal era, between 1855 and 1932, when horses, oxen, wood, and people provided most of the power that fueled the community's farming and manufacturing activities. It wasn't until after the turn of the twentieth century that gasoline power began to be widely used, which amplified the changes already wrought by the Amana colonists.

Materials
  • Historical photographs »
  • White board, chalkboard or large sheet of paper for making a chart of resource use.
  • Several magnifying glasses or jeweler's loupes for examining the photographs closely.
Lesson Steps
  1. Discuss how the Amana colonists used the land and its resources. Describe how those uses changed the landscape and how it functioned.
  2. Make a chart showing each resource that was utilized in the Amana Colonies, how it was used, and what kind of impact it would have had on the local environment:

    Resource Activity Impact
    Forest Logging Changed species composition of the forest, affected animal habitat and food sources
    Limestone, Sandstone Quarrying Negligible in itself, but required the use of horses and wagons to harvest it. To feed the horses, the colonists raised forage and grain crops. To build the wagons, they harvested wood from their forests.
    Water Mill race construction Changed water movement in across the landscape because it created the Lily Lake and because it blocked movement of water toward the river and increased the amount of water flowing in Price Creek, transformed a marshy area into a lake
    Land Farming Changed species composition across large swaths of land, introduced exotic species and removed native species, changed animal habitat, increased erosion because of the removal of the sod layer that slowed water runoff
    Water Farming Increased sediment in the water because of erosion
    Water Ice harvesting Negligible in itself, but required the use of horses and wagons to harvest it. To feed the horses, the colonists raised forage and grain crops. To build the wagons, they harvested wood from their forests.
    Land Village construction Change in animal habitat, removal of native species, introduction of exotic species, fire suppression
    Land Kitchen gardens and orchards Change in animal habitat, removal of native species, introduction of exotic species, fire suppression
    Clay Brickmaking Negligible in itself, but to fuel the fires neede

  3. Give each student the title of one of the photos available online. Explain that the photos show members of the Community of True Inspiration and post-Change (1932) Amana Colonies residents at work and play.

  4. Using the chart, have students study their photos to see what clues they can find about how the Amana Society made use of natural resources and shaped the local environment.

  5. Have students write a short essay about what they see in the photo and what evidence it provides about natural resource use and environmental change in the Amana Colonies.

  6. Post the pictures and student essays on a bulletin board or online so that students can look at what their classmates found.

 

Lesson Extensions
  1. Have students take photos of current land uses in and around their town and discuss the impact they have on the environment

  2. Students can look online or at a local historical society to find photos of land use activities that shaped their community's environment.

  3. Students could discuss how things could have been done differently to protect the environment or a particular species or do research about what is being done today to address environmental concerns. The Amana Society has reserved wetlands, is restoring prairie on some of its land, is actively replanting the forests, and has been involved with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' efforts to conduct studies and reintroduce species. The methane digester in West Amana is using livestock manure to produce electricity.
Additional Resources

There are no additional resources for this lesson

Iowa CORE Standards, Essential Concepts, and Essential Skills addressed by this lesson

K-5 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


6-12 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

#4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

#10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


K-2 Geography

Understand how geographic processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.


3-5 and 6-8 Geography

Understand how physical processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.


9-12 Geography

Understand how human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand social, cultural and economic processes shape the features of places.

Understand the effects of human and physical changes in ecosystems both locally and globally.

Understand how cultural factors influence the design of human communities.


K-2 History

Understand people construct knowledge of the past from multiple and various types of sources.

Understand cause and effect relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues.

Understand relationship between geography and historical events.


3-5 History

Understand the effect of economic needs and wants on individual and group decisions

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.


6-8 History

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.


9-12 History

Understand historical patterns, periods of time, and the relationships among these elements.

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.