Analyzing primary sources: Campus protest photographs

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we talked about analyzing literature from World War I and World War II. This week we’re also talking about images in a time of strife, but instead of world war literature we’re going to look at Vietnam-era photographs.


During the late 1960s and early 1970s, students across the nation protested against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Students at the University of Maryland were no different, and they made their views known on campus and in College Park. Events came to a head between 1970 and 1972, when there were a series of violent protests on campus. At three different points Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel declared a state of emergency and sent in the National Guard to restore order. During the main conflict in May 1970 (students were protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia), students vandalized buildings on campus, set fires on campus, blocked Route 1, and threw bricks, rocks, and bottles at riot police. Police responded with teargas, riot batons, and dogs. The photographs below show some of these scenes – make sure to keep the wider student protests and national opinions regarding the military conflicts in mind as you look at these local events.


Below are several photographs taken at the riots and protests on and near campus. Think about some of these questions as you look at each image:

  • Who took these photographs? Were they involved in the riots?
  • Who is the audience? Were these meant as personal photographs, or were they made public (e.g. – published in a newspaper, book, etc.)?
  • When and where were these photographs taken?
  • What was going on locally, nationally, and internationally at the time these photographs were taken?
  • What is shown in the photographs – is it the whole picture? Are these photographs accurate representations of the events they depict?

[click for larger images]

Further Research

There are many more photographs of Vietnam-era protests in Special Collections. Find more images in University AlbUM – one of our digital collections – by searching for “Vietnam protests” or “Vietnam demonstrations.” There are also several collections of photographs that have not yet been digitized – find information about those collections here.

Learn more about Vietnam-era protests on campus by using this research guide. The guide lists all of the related materials in Special Collections – documents, publications (including student publications), photographs, and more.

Want more help analyzing and understanding primary sources? You can download our Primary Source Analysis handout or take at look at our “Research Using Primary Sources” tutorial. Need help finding primary and secondary sources to analyze? We’re always happy to help – just ask us! You can also check out our website (we recommend starting your research here).



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