WHM: Personal Exercise Question 5 - How do images function as symbols?



Be the Historian!

How does the form of the personal account influence content?

Like the apple in Western culture, images from around the world carry symbolic meaning. Often this symbolic meaning changes over time and across cultures or geographic locations. An image can mean one thing to someone in the past, but mean something different (or nothing at all) to someone in the present unfamiliar with the image’s history and the culture in which it was produced. Understanding these symbols can give historians valuable information about the culture, people, and events that produced them.

The Task:
In this exercise you will examine this portrait from China’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The portrait is full of symbols that carried meaning for the people viewing it when it was created, and for historians who have cracked the meaning of the symbols. Use a historian’s explanation of the symbols to try to determine the historical significance of the portrait.

Complete the task