The Steerage en cours d'anglais

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1) Support :
Photographie d'Alfred Stieglitz : " the steerage "

2) Objectifs :

- Culturel :

a )Les immigrants aux Etats- Unis : mise en perspective avec ce que les élèves ont découvert en cours d'histoire (voir fiche historique sur les immigrants ).

b) Mise en perspective avec un travail sur l'image effectué en cours de français.

- Linguistiques :
a) Lexique lié à un document visuel, à l'immigration.
b) Moyens pour s'exprimer sur la question :
Fonctions : cause / but

3) Moyens d'accès :
Visualiser la photographie sur internet (consultation d'une page consacrée à Stieglitz) ou à défaut utilisation du rétroprojecteur pour projeter la photo .

4) Activités :

- expression orale guidée
- injection de lexique et renforcement de l'expression de la causalité et du but : mots de liaison, proposition infinitive
- travail sur le superlatif

5) Prolongements possibles :
Le poème d'Emma Lazarus et le texte de E.L Doctorow proposé à la fin du cours.


Avant de commencer la description détaillée de la photo , il importe de présenter brièvement Alfred Stieglitz : one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.
He was born in 1864 in New Jersey and died in July 1946.
He promoted photography as an art.
He exhibited the works of European artists such as Picasso or Matisse in New-York.
Et d'injecter quelques items lexicaux susceptibles de faciliter l'expression orale.
A photo(graph) - to photograph - photographer - photography
A camera - a snapshot
The photo was taken during one of his trips to Europe in 1907.

Description :

What can you see?
We can see a lot of men, women and children on the deck of a transatlantic liner. They must be immigrants.

What strikes you about this liner?
It is overcrowded
Teeming with life

So what can you guess about the social background of these people?
As they are not well-dressed, they must be from lower classes
They must have a low income that's why they are travelling in the steerage because it it is cheap.
They must have been driven out by poverty
They must have been the poorest in Europe

We can see women with a shawl at the bottom of the photo.

What are the prevailing elements of this photo?
This photo is a high-angle shot
We can notice the vertical lines of the funnel on the left and the stairway on the right and the horizontal line of the gangplank/ gangway and circular shapes first the iron machinery in the left-hand bottom corner and second the round straw hat at the top of the picture which is the brightest element in the photo and so attracts the viewers' attention immediately.

Why is it a significant picture?
It is important as a work of art because it was the first of the kind. Indeed, Stieglitz photographed the unfashionable, he turned away from the so-called artistic photography. He used a small hand-held camera and the technique of the snapshot.
It is also important as an eyewitness's account on immigration to the U.S.A

Why did these people leave Europe?
Because they met with economic and financial difficulties (potato famine in Ireland in 1840)
Since they couldn't make ends meet in their countries
As they weren't able to make a living in Europe
Because of religious persecutions, for instance Jews were victims of pogroms
Due to political oppression and a lack of freedom of speech in the Old World

What did they emigrate to the U.S. A for?
To find better living conditions
In order to find jobs, houses, a better education for their children
So as to be free and become their own masters
So that they could express themselves freely and practise their religion
For America to give them prosperity, happiness, freedom (see the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus's poem)

What does the word "steerage" mean to Americans?
Like Ellis Island, the immigration station, where all immigrants were "processed", the word "steerage" reminds them in what bad conditions their great-grandfathers travelled and how badly they were treated but for them it also meant the Promised Land, the Land of milk and honey, with streets paved with gold, the Eldorado.

Immigrants were lured by the American dream, very few of them made a fortune overnight
A lot of them were bitterly disillusioned. They ended up as poor as they had come.
See E.L Doctorow "Ragtime" (chapter 2/3). The main character, referred to as Father, is in New-York Harbour :

" A while later the Roosevelt passed an incoming transatlantic vessel packed to the railings with immigrants. Father watched the prow of the scaly broad-beamed vessel splash in the sea. Her decks were packed with people. Thousands of male heads in derbies. Thousands of female heads covered with shawls. It was a rag ship with a million dark eyes staring at him. Father, a normally resolute person, suddenly foundered in his soul. A weird despair seized him. The wind came up, the sky began to tumble and break upon itself as if made of slabs of granite and sliding terraces of slate. He watched the ship till he could see it no longer. Yet aboard her were only more customers, for the immigrant population set great store by the American flag.
Most of the immigrants came from Italy and Eastern Europe. They were taken in launches to Ellis island. There, in a curiously ornate human warehouse of red brick and gray stone, they were tagged, given showers and arranged on benches in waiting pens. They were immediately sensitive to the enormous power of the immigration officials. These officials changed names they couldn't pronounce and tore people from their families, consigning to a return voyage old folks, people with bad eyes, riffraff and also those who looked insolent. Such power was dazzling. The immigrants were reminded of home. They went into the streets and were somehow absorbed in the tenements. They were despised by New-Yorkers."


Séquence élaborée par

Annie Borde et Monique Francesh,

professeurs d'anglais au lycée Marguerite de Navarre