Myth of the Vanishing Race

In this lesson, students will analyze photographs and documents related to American Indian assimilation through education. By examining these primary sources, students will understand how assimilation through education contributed to the myth of the vanishing race, as well as the importance of incorporating multiple viewpoints into research. Then, students will examine the work of two photographers of American Indians, Edward Curtis and Adam Clark Vroman, to understand how photography contributed to the myth of the vanishing race.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Identify legislation and legal precedents that established rights for the disabled, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians, and other minority groups, including the...
Analyze how similarities and differences in the points of view of the audience and the characters create effects such as suspense, humor, or dramatic irony.
Evaluate the topic or subject in two diverse formats or media.
Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development; provide an objective or critical summary.
Write narrative fiction or literary nonfiction to convey experiences and/or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured...
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

The learner will:

  • Analyze primary sources to understand a specific viewpoint
  • Construct a narrative based on primary sources
  • Analyze photographs to understand intended purpose
Essential and guiding questions: 

What is the myth of the vanishing race and how was this myth perpetuated?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Print out a copy of the Cartoon Analysis Guide for each student to help them analyze political cartoons. Then, show the students the following cartoons:

  • The Indian tepee. Then and now [c.1908, see right]
  • Educating the Indians--a female pupil of the government school at Carlisle visits her home at Pine Ridge Agency [1884] 

How do the cartoons illustrate the myth of the vanishing race and the U.S. government’s policy of forced assimilation? 

Helpful Hints

Included here:

  • Lesson plan, pp. 1-5
  • Background Information sheet on Adam Clark Vroman and Edward Curtis, p. 6
  • Excerpts from “The Myth of the Vanishing Race,” by David R. M. Beck (full essay available here), pp. 7-8
  • Primary Source Set 1 with accompanying worksheet, pp. 9-10
  • Primary Source Set 2 with accompanying worksheet, pp. 11-12

Available by links:

  • “The Myth of the Vanishing Race: Adam Clark Vroman, Edward Curtis & The American Indian” PowerPoint
  • Primary Source Analysis Tool
  • Teacher's Guide, Analyzing Photographs & Prints