1. To prepare the class, lead a discussion about the history of tobacco in North Carolina from the colonial era to today and documentary photography. Using Rob Amberg's Jim Smyre and family planting tobacco as a primary source, have students discuss the following:
2. As a class, speculate about the subjects’ daily life. How are their lives influenced by tobacco? Have students work together to create an outline with suggestions for a narrative written by one of the people in the photograph as a companion to the image.
3. Have students pair up and have each student select a role with your guidance: writer or artist. For each pair, gather slips of paper with concise character descriptions consisting of time period and occupation, and place them in a hat or bag for students to draw assignments. Characters should represent the colonial period, late 19th or early 20th century, Depression era, post-World War II to 1980s, and the present day. Characters should come from diverse occupations, such as planter, small farmer, migrant worker, tobacco executive, cigarette factory worker, and medical researcher.
4. Have the writer and artist on each team outline their roles; each should contribute to the vision of the project, but they will split the responsibility of communicating with written and visual language. Have them research the assigned historical periods and occupations to determine how tobacco has affected the growth of agriculture as an economic industry, the evolution of technology, changes in society and the workforce, regional development, and other endeavors such as medical research. Additional primary sources the students can use include William Byrd's Westover Manuscripts and an 1896 agricultural report [links at bottom].
5. Compile the narratives and images in a class book.
Character Planning Worksheet (see download below)
In his ongoing series Vanishing Culture of Agriculture, Rob Amberg documents the effects of change and technology on small family farms. For over 25 years, Amberg has visited small farms throughout the South and captured farmers and their families at work and at play. Jim Smyre and family planting tobacco shows a family riding a tobacco setter as they transplant seedlings into the field.