The History of Still Photography

This is a sample syllabus by Michelle Pacansky-Brock. Shared with a CC-BY license.

(photograph by Lewis Hine)

Course Description

The History of Still Photography offers a comprehensive exploration of the historical progression of fixing a still image, that is to say writing with light. This course starts in ancient times with naturally occurring images, and moves through advances in optics and chemical processes. It then moves through the prolific period of traditional Black and White photography and then covers the birth and advancements of the digital light sensor and its possibilities for the future.

Student Learning Outcomes:

By the completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Explore the camera as a photographic tool over time.
  2. Map historical photographic concepts to current digital references.
  3. Identify a variety of successful photographers and examples of their work.


Class Philosophy

Some online learners start classes feeling isolated but not in this class! This class is a community. Each person in our community has the same objective: to learn. This class is designed to have you learn in community with your peers. When you're a member of a community, you can rely upon others for help and support when you need it, but you must also be willing to step up and contribute regularly, as well! Let’s work together to make this term great for everyone!

Communication Policy

Establishing regular and effective communications with me is foundational to your success in this class and is a shared responsibility of instructor and student. Email is the quickest way to reach me. I will respond to your inquiries within 24 hours Mon-Fri. If I do not reply in this time frame, please assume I did not receive your email and contact me again.

How To Reach Me:

<insert contact info here>



Your required text is:

Seizing the Light - A Social History of Photography

    Author: Robert Hirsch
    ISBN: 0073379212
    ISBN-13: 9780073379210

  • The book is available for purchase in the campus bookstore, on Amazon and other online retailers, or you may consider renting it at Chegg.

Getting Started


Student Orientation

If you are a new online student, this is for you!

Online learning is a unique opportunity to advance your education. It is also often a very different experience that many students expect. Sometimes, it is so different that students decide it isn't for them. Other times, students feel like they've finally found a way to achieve their goals!

If this is your first semester taking online classes, you are expected to complete the MSJC Online Student Orientation. Please click below to learn more.

MSJC New OL Student Orientation


Blackboard Essentials

Blackboard is the "Learning Management System" that you will log into to access our class and any other online class you take at MSJC.

  • To access our course, log into your MyMSJC account at The course will be made available to registered students 5 days prior to the first day of instruction.
  • If you are a new online student at MSJC, please visit this online student resource site for help getting started.
  • You are required to complete the mandatory MSJC Check-In procedures shared in the course by the end of day 2 of instruction or you will be dropped.
  • Have a smartphone? Download the Blackboard Mobile Learn app for $1.99 for 1-year license. Search for "Mt. San Jacinto College," log into your account, and access "most parts" of our course. Adjust your settings to be notified via mobile of updates!

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is a conversation tool we will use that creates conversations around images in voice, video, or text.

There will be activities that will require you to comment in voice, while other activities will allow you to choose how you comment. To be successful, you must have access to a computer with a microphone or webcam (see Necessary Materials area).

Click here to listen to what my past students have to say about this class -- their thoughts are shared in a VoiceThread.

Important: You will use an MSJC authenticated VoiceThread account that is integrated with Blackboard. Do not create your own VoiceThread account on the web.

Course Policies

Late Policy

In general, late work is not accepted unless a legitimate unforeseen situation arises. To receive an extension, students are responsible for notifying me of their situation prior to a due date and receiving an email from me with an agreed upon extension.

Here are a few exceptions to the late policy:

  • Late VoiceThread contributions are rarely accepted, due to the social nature of these activities.
  • Blogs are graded twice and spot checked weekly. When I identify a late blog post, I leave a "nudge" comment on a blog. Each "nudge" equates to an automatic loss of 5 points at the grading period.
  • Late Showcases are accepted for up to 48 hours for a maximum of half credit.

Participation & Drop Policies

You are expected to be present in our class activities several times throughout each week. Plan to spend 6-8 hours total each week on your class assignments. Work may be done on your own schedule, provided you meet the due dates.

  • See the "Weekly Schedule" section for an advised learning schedule. This class is designed to scaffold your skills each week. If you miss a week, you have missed a step in the ladder and you will feel it in the next unit (in other words, those points you earn really are tied to your learning!).

Students who go 2 consecutive learning units without submitting an assignment will be dropped from the class.

  • If there is a situation interfering with your progress, contact me immediately so I understand what is happening on your end. Communication is essential.

Community Ground Rules

Being a member of a learning community requires one to understand, accept, and model an important set of community groundrules. These groundrules will be in effect throughout our entire semester together. Each of us (myself included) is expected to uphold these groundrules. Please read them carefully and post any questions you have in the "Ask a Question" area of Blackboard.

Read the HOSP
Community Groundrules

Learning Units

Each week (on Tuesday morning), you will receive a new learning unit in the "Learning Units" area of Blackboard. A new announcement will be posted when a new unit is released. Each unit is organized around a particular topic.

Click the links below to preview an overview of each unit.

Unit 1: Getting Started

Unit 2: Describing & Interpreting

Unit 3: Road to Photography

Unit 4: Daguerreotypes & Calotypes

Unit 5: Wet Plate Processes

Unit 6: Art or Industry?

Unit 7: Time, Motion & Kodak

Unit 8: Quiz & Photographer Showcase

Unit 9: Pictorialism

Unit 10: Modernism

Unit 11: Social Documentation

Unit 12: Visual Thinking: Part 1

Unit 13: Visual Thinking: Part 2

Unit 14: Collision of Two Worlds

Unit 15: Work Week (Photog. Showcase)

Unit 16: Photographer Showcase Due

Unit 17: Showcase Analysis, final blog post, & survey



Point Scale Used for Grades:

(subject to change)

  • 430-387 - A
  • 386-344 - B
  • 343-301 - C
  • 300-258 - D
  • 256 and below - F

Points are earned through a variety of learning activities, assigned throughout the semester. The total number of points you earn will determine your course grade. You may click on the "My Grades" button in Blackboard at any time to track your progress and you are always encouraged to contact me with questions or concerns. I will also coordinate one grade check assignment for all students around mid-semester.


210 points or 48% of your grade

Weekly Assignments for each Learning Unit will vary. The assignments will include of VoiceThread activities, quizzes, and more. The assignments are designed to promote learning through interacting with course content and your peers, as well as demonstrate to me how well you are learning the weekly material.

75 points or 17% of your grade

  • Due: Week 16

This project is designed to have you interview one contemporary art photographer. You will be independently manage this project in accordance with a detailed timeline I will provide. Your final deliverable (what you submit) is a VoiceThread with your own voice comments that showcases the work of your photographer, shares what you learned, and includes your interpretation of the work.

View the Full Project Site Including Student Samples!


150 points or 34% of your grade

  • Your blog will be graded twice: once at mid-semester (for 90 points) and once at the end of the semester (for 60 points).

Within most of your learning units, you will have an assigned blog prompt to which you will write a 500 word response. The prompts are designed to assess your understanding of our content and engage you in creative and reflective writing about the history of photography. Blogs integrate writing and images for a rich, multimedia learning experience.

Extra Credit

I offer you the opportunity to earn up to 20-points of extra credit in this class by participating in active learning experiences that support the learning objectives of our course. For example, you will have the chance to visit the UCR/CA Museum of Photography in Riverside, CA, write up a 500-word review of what you learned, and post it to your blog along with a photograph of yourself to document your visit.

I will post other opportunities in Blackboard in the Extra Credit area and I am always open to taking suggestions from students too! So if you hear of a great photography exhibition in your area, for example, let me know.

Masterpiece Blog Awards

The Masterpiece Blog Awards are granted to students who are held in highest esteem by their own peers! That's right YOU pick these winners! Blog your heart out and you may earn one of these awards, which comes along with 10 points of extra credit that do not count towards to 20-point max for the class!

Other Essentials

Necessary Materials

In addition to your textbook (see top of page), you must have the following items to be successful in this online class:

  • A USB microphone (headset recommended) Search Amazon for "USB microphone headset" and click "Under $25" to see some options. If purchasing this device creates a hardship, let me know and I will provide you with the ability to leave voice comments with your telephone (cell or landline).
  • Regular access to reliable, high speed internet access on a computer (not a mobile device). I realize mobile devices are awesome and I love to encourage you to use them! There are parts of our class that can be accessed with them. But to succeed, you must have regular access to a laptop or desktop computer with high speed internet access. Consider this the same as your transportation to class!

Technology Skills

Learning online requires you to have a basic level of computr proficiency. To assess your readiness in this area, please click the link below and take the Online Student Readiness Quiz.

OL Student Readiness Quiz

I believe that social technologies today hold potential to bring people together at a distance and build relationships. This is an important part of learning online. I also know that after you graduate from college technology will likely play an important role in your success.

I use technology in this class to improve your learning. I realize that each of you enter this class with different technological skills. Some of you are going to need my support to feel comfortable with the tools we'll use -- and that is fine. I am here for you. Others will jump right in and we'll look to you to be leaders. We are a community.

Here are some links that you may find helpful if you have trouble this semester. If they do not help you, send me an email:

VoiceThread Support

VoiceThread Printable Guides

Ning Sign-In Help

Blackboard Help

Weekly Schedule

This section explains how the course flows and will help you understand when to schedule your 3 weekly learning sessions.

  • Day 1: Tuesday
    A new learning unit opens at 6am and an
    announcement is posted. You are advised to log-in on to review the Unit's assignments and assess the workload/commitments on Tuesday (Learning Session #1).
  • Day 1-6: Tues-Sun
    These should be your active learning days! You are advised to plan at least two additional 2-hour learning sessions between Tues-Sun where you can engage in a quiet place to learn and participate in our activities. Many students like to read and watch the videos (for example) one day and then complete the VoiceThread and blog on a second day. Or just do the blog on the second day. You need to find what works for you (and remember, each unit will be a little different). Do not schedule your learning sessions on Monday (the final day of the unit). Your goal is to have everything done before Monday. You will have technical problems from time-to-time (that is the nature of online learning -- it will just happen and you must plan for it). If you wait until Monday to do your work, you are in the high risk zone!
  • Day 7: Monday
    Learning Unit assignments due at 11pm (unless otherwise noted).

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Mt. San Jacinto College abides by the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits federal and state agencies or programs from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. Students in this course who have a documented disability, that limits a major life activity which may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations should meet with a counselor in Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSP&S) as soon as possible.

Go to the MSJC DSP&S Website

Prefer a Printable Version of This Syllabus?

Just click the link above to download a simple PDF version of our course syllabus.

Enjoy your semester!

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