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Documentary Photography: Jacob Riis, University of Nottingham

Introduction and Context

Screenshot from Documentary Photography: Jacob Riis

This Computer Assisted Learning program was funded by the HEFCE Teaching and Learning Technology Program which produced a series of materials for teaching and learning based on new technology. Subsequent funding was provided by the University of Nottingham. It is one of the packages produced by the CAL Group* at University of Nottingham. The original concept and script for the application was devised by Professor Douglas Tallack also of Nottingham University. The program uses the example of Jacob Riis, the American photographer, to teach the analysis of documentary photography. The program, once installed, is entirely self contained and uses a combination of images, text and hyperlinked glossaries to lead the student through a discovery of how the process of analysing documentary photography may be constructed from first principles. The student is encouraged to interact with the program by developing an analysis of Riis' work as it is presented and recording it on the Windows Notepad, which is activated by the program. This analysis may then be compared with the "lecturer's interpretation" which is presented subsequently. The program also provides a good introduction to the work of Riis and the context in which he worked. It could be used as a self study aid or within a classroom or group context. It is to be admired for its elegant design, navigability and creative yet appropriate use of technology.

*[Towards the end of 2002 the Computer Assisted Learning Group was merged with the Electronic Information Services Team to form the E-Learning team within Nottingham's Information Services.]

Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis was born in Denmark in 1849 and emigrated to the United States in the 1870's. He began his photographic career as a press photographer, but the cycle of boom and bust meant that his living was precarious and he passed through a number of occupations before becoming a police reporter. He wrote 15 books and many articles illustrated with his work. He is best known for his depiction of urban poverty among the tenements of New York. Riis also campaigned as social reformer under Roosevelt. He died in 1914.

How to use

The program may be installed by downloading the Setup program and Read Me file from the VADS website - see Accessing the program below.

Minimum System Requirements PC / Windows 3.1 8Mb RAM, 486 processor, 25Mb Hard disk space, 256 colour video card.

Copyright and permitted uses

The text presented in the program is copyright of Professor Douglas Tallack and Nottingham University. The copyright of the photographs is owned by the Museum of the City of New York.

This program and its contents, including textual and image based materials, may be used for educational purposes only: education, private study or research. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

Further information

For further information about Jacob Riis and examples of his work you may find the following sites of interest:

Contact Details

Address Professor Douglas Tallack
Professor of American Studies
Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of College of Arts, Humanities and Law
University of Leicester
Attenborough Building, Room 1515
University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH
Telephone +44 (0)116 252 2841

The program can be downloaded directly from VADS. Copy the files to your hard drive and activate the setup program.

To use a copy please e-mail VADS at: and request the serial number. Without the serial number you will not be able to complete installation of the program.

Download the program now >>

Image credits



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