Teaching with the Library of Congress

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Bringing the power of primary sources into the classroom.
Updated: 21 hours 30 min ago

Five Questions with Educational Consultant Mary Johnson

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 9:00am

Mary Johnson

What do you teach, and where?

Even after thirty-three years as a teacher and librarian in Iowa, Germany, and Colorado, I must confess that I failed retirement! Through my work with the Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region program and the TPS Teachers Network, I have remained deeply involved in professional development. I also “teach” through Twitter and my Primary Source Librarian blog, seizing every opportunity to share Library of Congress primary sources and teaching ideas. Because so much of my work is online, my computer and I have become inseparable, but I still relish the occasional face-to-face teaching gig.

How do you use Library of Congress materials with your students or colleagues?

Lately I have been championing Library of Congress materials as a vehicle for helping students develop the skills to ask their own questions. I have long believed that student questioning is essential to creating lifelong learners. Transferring the power of the question to students requires a conscious change in school cultures – a real shift in practice – and one that primary sources support quite effectively.

Tell us about an item from the Library’s online collections that you love to show to students.

Like many teachers and students, I gravitate toward visual primary sources, but recently I’ve made an effort to identify short, teachable texts for a variety of reading levels. One of my all time favorite texts is a model 1857 “Dear John” letter from a dance manual with the impossibly long title of The lady’s guide to perfect gentility, in manners, dress, and conversation … also a useful instructor in letter writing, toilet preparations, fancy needlework, millinery, dressmaking, care of wardrobe, the hair, teeth, hands, lips, complexion, etc. I am also anxious to explore the new Clara Barton papers, particularly her diaries and journals from the American Civil War.

Describe an “Aha!” moment for you with teaching with primary sources.

I’ve had so many “Aha!” experiences over the years! In addition to countless student light bulb moments, I would say a slightly different “Aha!” moment came with the realization that the Library’s education staff is always ready and excited to help teachers and librarians everywhere. Not only can educators take advantage of TPS regional and partner workshops across the country, but they can also apply for the Library’s prestigious Summer Teacher Institute, access professional development modules online, follow the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog, subscribe to the @TeachingLC Twitter feed, use the Ask a Librarian service, and the list goes on! You are never alone when you discover the power of primary sources.

What would you most like to tell other your fellow educators about teaching with primary sources like these?

I would advise them to make primary sources a daily habit, both as learners and as teachers. Take that first step, and connect with others so you can learn together.

August in History with the Library of Congress

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 9:00am

This post comes courtesy of Uhuru Flemming of the Library of Congress.

Many teachers like to include mini-lessons or bell-ringers about “this day in history.” The Library of Congress offers two resources that recount what happened on a particular day using the Library’s collections of digitized primary sources: Jump Back in Time (introductory) and Today in History (advanced). Choose the one that best matches your students’ reading levels to build both content knowledge and research skills with primary sources in context.

August highlights include the American Broadcasting Company’s airing of Saturday morning television shows for children (introductory; advanced) and the Panic of 1857 (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:

The War of Wealth, 1895

Military History

Sports

  • August 6, 1890:  Baseball great Cy Young pitched his first professional game (introductory; advanced);

Father Reading Newspaper, two children viewing television. Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc. 7/12/1952

Women’s History Firsts

  • August 5, 1858:  Julia Archibald Holmes became the first woman to reach Pike’s Peak (introductory; advanced),
  • August 15, 1860:  Florence Kling Harding, the first American woman allowed to vote for her husband for president, was born (introductory; advanced);

Exploration

  • August 18, 1774:  Explorer Meriwether Lewis was born near Charlottesville, VA (introductory; advanced).

To engage your students immediately, distribute or display one primary source from an entry and invite them to jot down a single detail they notice and then share. To draw your students deeper into analyzing the primary sources, ask them to record observations, reflections and questions on the Library’s primary source analysis tool. Anne Savage offers tips in the Blog Round-Up: Using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.

Students can also:

  • Compare a secondary source account, such as a textbook explanation, to a primary source account. What can be learned from each? What cannot be learned from each? What questions do students have?
  • Consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic. Ask students to refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source.
  • Use the list of additional resources at the end of each Today in History entry to search for additional primary sources.

Some of our favorite ideas for using these resources came in the comments reacting to Primary Sources Every Day from the Library of Congress. Let us know how you use them!

Five Questions with Digital Archivist Trevor Owens

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 9:00am

The following is a guest post from Trevor Owens, former Special Curator for the Library of Congress Science Literacy Initiative and current Digital Archivist in the Office of Strategic Initiatives. You can find several Teaching with the Library of Congress posts by Trevor Owens here.

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

Trevor Owens (right) talking to Bill Nye at the opening of the Sagan Papers. Photograph by Marjee Owens

I’m a Digital Archivist with NDIIPP, the Library of Congress program focused on building national capacity for ensuring long term access to digital information. However, of more interest to readers here, last year I had the privilege to serve as the Special Curator for the online collection Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond, a collection of 327 items, 110 of them from The Seth Macfarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive, and the other 217 items from across the breadth of the Library of Congress collections. This was, unquestionably, the coolest thing I have ever had the chance to work on. In all honesty, it is likely to be the coolest thing I ever get the chance to work on.

Do you have a favorite item or two from the Finding our Place in the Cosmos collection?

The Things that Live on Mars

It is hard to choose, but I love a lot of the representations and visions of what Martians would be like. So. The Trailer for  Flight to Mars from 1951, or H.G.Wells’ 1908 story of  “The Things that Live on Mars” in Cosmopolitan Magazine. For a very long time, humans were obsessed with the idea of Martians, and I love that the collection contains Carl Sagan’s explanation of why in this draft of the voice over for an episode of his television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, Martians! draft script for Cosmos episode 5”.

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

I realize that you said curiosity, but the feeling I ran into most in working with the Sagan materials is awe. When you lay the papers out in front of you from someone’s life you see the traces of our personality and our humanity in one fell swoop. Sunrise, sunset.

I spent a day or two out of every week working behind the scenes in the Manuscript Division’s prep section. At that point, it was like being in a football field of materials from the Sagan papers as the archivists were working to arrange the collection. In my little work area I was allowed to poke around in the boxes as they had come in. It was amazing to pull out a set of folders of correspondence and literally lay out someone’s life and relationships in front of you. I’ll give one example.

David Grinspoon had been mentored by Carl Sagan. He also happened to be a scholar in residence here at the Library of Congress while I was working with the collection. When I went through David and Carl’s correspondence I found a whole series of letters of recommendation Carl had written for him. One for an undergraduate application to Brown, one recommending him for his doctoral studies at the University of Arizona, and another for his  appointment at the University of Colorado. In each letter, Carl focused on different aspects of David’s work and character. In these letters, from 1976 to 1988, you get a feel for what Sagan thought were the characteristics of a scientist that he appreciated in David. You lay these out in front of you and see someone go from a student to a colleague. I will always remember when I sat down with David and handed him copies of these letters to review. I think I saw him tear up a bit. It’s a bit of a “this is your life” moment to see yourself mature through the eyes of your mentor.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with an educator and the Library of Congress collections?

One of the most rewarding parts of working with the Carl Sagan papers is captured in the picture accompanying this post. In grade school I was inspired by Bill Nye the Science Guy’s television show. For people in my generation, his stories and visual representations of science are really iconic. While working with the Carl Sagan papers I was thrilled to be able to look through some of Nye and Sagan’s correspondence. Nye had taken a class with Sagan, and in much the same way Nye had been an inspiration to explore and communicate science to many people, he had at least in part picked up that passion and approach to the wonder of science from Sagan. So it was a lot of fun to hold and flip through some of their correspondence form when Nye was trying to get The Science Guy show off the ground. In keeping with a lot of Sagan’s feedback on things, there was a mixture of praise and excitement and critical focus on making sure that he got the science right.

Finding Nye’s papers was already a memorable interaction, but it was really hit home when I was able to meet him in person at the event for the opening of the Sagan papers. There I was, presenting items from the Sagan papers to folks at the event when Bill Nye came through. Nye ended up telling those of us presenting materials at the event about how a page we had open in Carl Sagan’s college notebooks clearly had a young Carl Sagan trying to work out a set of equations about time travel. Just meeting someone who had a show that impacted and taught you so much is memorable. Beyond that though, in keeping with the whole experience of working with Carl Sagan’s papers, the encounter hit home just how personal the tradition of science is. How one individual can find the joy and wonder of science and imagination and impart that on someone who then imparts it on others. In that vein, it’s a real testament to the power of Sagan’s legacy that his passion is carried on by science educators across the world who are running with it.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with?

Science is not a set of facts; it’s a communal process of imagination, exploration and argumentation grounded in evidence collected from the natural world. To this end, historical texts, images, models, documents and images are an amazing resource for teaching science as a process and way of knowing.

I think this point comes out across each of the previous teachers blog posts I’ve written. Whether it’s about imagining the future, or spaceships, or models of eclipses, or planets that we thought were planets that we no longer think are planets or models of the solar system, each of these explorations underscores how primary sources are invaluable at prompting the kinds of reflections in learners to help them come to see how knowledge is produced and shared thorough science.

Understanding the how of science is essential for participating in a modern democracy and I believe strongly that there is a great role for libraries, archives and museums to play in helping provide resources to support this kind of science literacy education. As such, I’m absolutely thrilled that folks here at the Library of Congress are excited about making our collections useful and used by science educators.

Our Favorite Posts: Bringing History and Dance Together

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 9:00am

Summer is a perfect time to reflect on the school year gone by. This week, Vivian Awumey of the Library of Congress showcases one of her favorite posts from 2013-2014.

Lately, a few of my colleagues and I have been thinking about teaching with fine arts-related primary sources, as we prepare a TPS Journal issue focused on this topic.  This blog gives a wonderful description of how teachers can use dance to teach non-arts subjects.  I love that it features Katherine Dunham, whose approach to cultural anthropology and artistic expression has fascinated me since I was a young girl.

Bringing History and Dance Together: The World of Katherine Dunham March 27, 2014 by

Using dance can bring history to life. Looking at dancers in photographs, films and other images, and reading about dancing and its role in celebrations, commemorations, and other events can help students learn about  issues and events that were considered important in a community, how people celebrated, what mores and values were important, and how people dressed when going to these events. Dance can help students meet Common Core State Standards, including those related to integrating visual materials to material in print and visual texts as well as those related to evaluating multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media.

Katherine Dunham by Phyllis Twachtman, 1956

One person who studied dance and how people used dance in select cultures was Katherine Dunham, a pioneer in what she called dance anthropology. After completing her studies in dance and anthropology at the University of Chicago, Dunham received a fellowship to study dance in the Caribbean. Her studies in Haiti, Jamaica, and the West Indies led to a number of publications, but also changed how Dunham viewed dance and how she choreographed and taught dance. The Library of Congress is extremely fortunate to offer online resources from the Katherine Dunham Collection to help students of dance and of history learn a different way of viewing history as well as a different way of dance.

To help students use dance  to learn about a community’s values and experiences, show the video of the dancers performing the Mazouk. Encourage them to  record their thinking on the Library’s primary source analysis tool  as they watch the dance. Ask them to think about what is happening in this dance and what they might be celebrating. Then play the recording of Dunham talking about the history of the dance. How does this change their perception of the dance? If time allows, show the video again, and ask students to update the analysis tool with additional observations, reflections, and questions.

Mazouk from L’Ag’Ya

In addition, students can watch the Eugenie to compare the Mazouk to a traditional waltz. What are the similarities and differences? Why would dancers from the African American and African Caribbean communities want to dance in the same way as the members of the Anglo community?

Show students the Trinidad Fieldwork recording and then show them the Blind Man’s Buff video. What are the similarities and differences between the two dances? What emotions does each dance evoke?

Encourage students to identify events they attend that include dancing. What role does dance play in the event? How would the event be changed without dancing?

How else can you use dance to study history? Tell us in the comments.

Uncle Sam: American Symbol, American Icon

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 9:00am

I want you by James Montgomery Flagg,1917

The United States has many symbols, including the bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Liberty Bell. However, there is one that has been featured in a recruiting poster, served as a symbol of patriotism, and is a personification of the government of the United States of America. This symbol is Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam was supposedly based on a real person, Sam Wilson, a businessman during the War of 1812. Though the image of Uncle Sam was made popular by Thomas Nast and the cartoonists of Puck Magazine, the portrait of Uncle Sam created by James Montgomery Flagg for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly soon led to Uncle Sam’s iconic status. The image was used to encourage men to enlist in the military and to encourage civilian support for the entry of the U.S. into World War I. Uncle Sam was officially adopted as a national symbol of the United States of America in 1950.

Boys and Girls: You can help Uncle Sam Win the War, 1917

The Library’s Teachers Page has a primary source set that features the symbols of the United States of America.

Here are some other activities you might try with your students:

  • Encourage your students to look at the different images of Uncle Sam provided in this post. Based on their analysis of the images, what characteristics do they think Uncle Sam represents?
  • Ask your students why they think Uncle Sam became a national symbol. Do they think he would be an effective symbol now?
  • Challenge your students to design a costume for a person that symbolizes the United States of America. What would he or she look like?

 

Invest your Money with Uncle Sam, 1917

 

Uncle Sam’s Birthday July 4th 1776-1918, 1918

July in History with the Library of Congress

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 9:00am

This post comes courtesy of Uhuru Flemming of the Library of Congress.

Many teachers like to include mini-lessons or bell-ringers about “this day in history.” The Library of Congress offers two resources that recount what happened on a particular day using the Library’s collections of digitized primary sources: Jump Back in Time (introductory) and Today in History (advanced). Choose the one that best matches your students’ reading levels to build both content knowledge and research skills with primary sources in context.

July highlights include the assassination of President James Garfield (introductory; advanced) and the ratification of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:

Entertainment

P.T. Barnum & Co.’s greatest show on earth & the great London circus combined with Sanger’s Royal British menagerie & grand international shows. The Strobridge Lithograph Company, 1888.

  • July 5, 1810:  Phineas Taylor Barnum, co-founder of the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, was born (introductory; advanced),
  • July 13 1939:  Frank Sinatra made his recording debut with the Harry James band (introductory; advanced);

Sports

The Tree,” Sculpture by Alexander Calder, 1966 – Missouri Botanical Garden, 2345 Tower Grove Avenue, Saint Louis, Independent City, MO. Jet Lowe, 1983.

Arts

  • July 10, 1941:  Legendary composer and jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton died (introductory; advanced),
  • July 14, 1860:  Author of The Virginians ,Owen Wister, was born (introductory; advanced),
  • July 22, 1899: Sculptor Alexander Calder, best known for his mobiles and wire structures, was born (introductory; advanced);

Early Environmentalists

  • July 12, 1817:  Naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau was born (introductory; advanced),
  • July 19, 1869:  Naturalist John Muir set pen to paper to capture his experience of awakening in the Sierra (introductory; advanced).

To engage your students immediately, distribute or display one primary source from an entry and invite them to jot down a single detail they notice and then share. To draw your students deeper into analyzing the primary sources, ask them to record observations, reflections and questions on the Library’s primary source analysis tool. Anne Savage offers tips in the Blog Round-Up: Using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.

Students can also:

  • Compare a secondary source account, such as a textbook explanation, to a primary source account. What can be learned from each? What cannot be learned from each? What questions do students have?
  • Consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic. Ask students to refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source.
  • Use the list of additional resources at the end of each Today in History entry to search for additional primary sources.

Some of our favorite ideas for using these resources came in the comments reacting to Primary Sources Every Day from the Library of Congress. Let us know how you use them!

Five Questions with Chronicling America Digital Conversion Specialist Tonijala Penn

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 9:00am

Tonijala Penn

The following is a guest post from Tonijala Penn, Digital Conversion Specialist for Chronicling America.

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

I’m a Digital Conversion Specialist in the Serial and Government Publications Division. Primarily, I work on the Chronicling America website providing access to information about historic newspapers ranging from 1836-1922, as well as select digitized newspaper pages.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?

I wish! But, as soon as I discover one another one comes along and trumps it. Chronicling America is chock-full of good stuff, just saying….

This week my favorite happens to be an ad about Duffy Malt Whiskey, which indicates that, “All doctors agree that Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey is the greatest summer medicine for the weak, wasted and run-down in body, nerve and muscle.”

Advertisement from The Spokane press, July 28, 1905

While the ad might seem odd or hilarious to a 21st century reader, patent medicines at the time often included many unusual ingredients, including alcohol.

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

It didn’t exactly happen in that order, but curiosity was sparked nonetheless, so I think that counts, yes? I watched a documentary directed by Ken Burns titled Unforgiveable Blackness, which was about the boxer Jack Johnson. I found his story compelling, especially the part about the fight of the century between Johnson (Galveston Giant) v. James Jeffries (The Boilermaker), so I did a keyword search using his name in Chronicling America to find out more about the fight that divided a nation. My spark led me to create a Topics in Chronicling America feature on this boxing match.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.

I was promoting Chronicling America at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference with Educational Outreach when I discovered the four-letter word that makes teachers’ faces light up. Do you want to get teachers’ undivided attention and feel like a rock star?  Use the words “free” and “online primary source” in a sentence. With school budgets constantly being trimmed down coupled with the cost of online database subscriptions, the word “free” gets their attention.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with?

The digitized content in Chronicling America promotes analytical and critical thinking, which is a wonderful way to get students to form their own opinion about the written word while conducting research using primary resources. Students have the ability to research topics from newspapers throughout the nation to see how news was conveyed to the masses differently based on the geographical or political slant of the newspaper.

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Fugitive Slave Act

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 9:00am

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the Library of Congress 2013-14 Teacher in Residence.

Caution!! Colored people of Boston…1851

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was widely influential when it was published in 1852, even inspiring the apocryphal story about Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Stowe, saying : “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” The Library’s “Sources and Strategies” article in the May 2014 issue of Social Education, the journal of NCSS, discusses the influence of the novel. Perhaps just as important as its effect, however, was Stowe’s original impetus for writing.

Shortly before Stowe began writing the novel, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed. The Act was a portion of the Compromise of 1850 and caused consternation among abolitionists around the nation. This law meant that slave hunters could enter free states to retrieve people whom they believed to have escaped from enslavement. This had a number of effects, such as defiance of the law, an increase in the number of runaways moving into Canada, and kidnapping of free African Americans.

This Boston broadside offers an example of open defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act. Ask students to look closely at the broadside and consider:

  • Besides the population of “colored people of Boston,” to whom else might the creator of this broadside be sending a message?  What evidence in the poster supports that?
  • In what way is the publication and posting of this broadside a protest against the Fugitive Slave Act?

Offer students these two reviews of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, both of which specifically reference the Fugitive Slave Act and its relationship to Stowe’s novel. Note: It is important to remember that newspapers of the time may have used language readers today would consider offensive. Identifying these terms and noting them will help frame the context of such language.

Anti-slavery bugle., May 08, 1852, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Cooper’s Clarksburg register., May 04, 1853, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Consider presenting the pieces without bibliographic information, challenging students to identify the source of each piece based on a primary source analysis. Invite students to compare the reviews. Identify the writer’s tone, or attitude toward the subject in each. Provide evidence from the reviews.

Ask:

  • Who was the audience for each piece? What makes you say that?
  • What is the significance of the location of the publication?
  • What is the historical context of 1852-53 in the United States?
  • What connection does each review make between Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Fugitive Slave Act.

Viewed together, these show some of the widely varied—and sometimes even contradictory—ways in which Stowe’s work influenced public discussion. To extend this activity, encourage students to explore Chronicling America on their own to locate additional articles related to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to share with the class. Also search the Library of Congress collections for other abolitionist items.

Let us know in the comments below if you try this or the ideas in the “Sources and Strategies” article.

Summer Reading: Primary Source Teaching Ideas for the Teacher and Librarian

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 9:00am

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the Library of Congress 2013-14 Teacher in Residence.

Washington, D.C. public schools, 5th Div. – teacher showing dog, 1899?
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a46076

In many areas of the United States, schools still have an extended break in the summer time. For teachers, this time is often an opportunity to rejuvenate, attend workshops, and catch up on professional reading.

I have compiled an overview of great blog posts from Teaching with the Library of Congress about using primary sources in the classroom and library. These posts cover a wide range of topics from kindergarten historians to Huckleberry Finn, and many  include strategies that can be adapted to various grade level and subject areas.

  • If you are thinking of incorporating primary sources into your classroom, a great place to start is this post about the many tools the Library’s Teacher’s page offers to support your lessons and planning.
  • As this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, take a look at our series of posts related to various titles of that law.
  • Of interest to those in an elementary setting, Kindergarten Historians discusses how to engage even your youngest students with primary sources.
  • The school librarian can reach into classrooms by collaborating with teachers on research experiences. Inspiring Research Questions with Library of Congress Primary Sources offers suggestions for ways to include primary sources in the process.
  • Think about using primary sources to connect with literature as outlined in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: Controversy at the Heart of a Classic.
  • Perhaps a new way of thinking about primary sources is in the science classroom. The Library’s Carl Sagan collection offers a wealth of resources to engage young scientists.
  • And in case during your summer reading time you are listening to the music in your heart, take a look at another recent addition to the collections, The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America, with connections to historical topics and musical movements.

Pupil, Teachers of the Steamer Class in the Washington School. Location: Boston, Massachusetts., 1909
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/nclc.0456

Whatever your subject area, grade level, or personal interest, Teaching with the Library of Congress has ideas for you.  If you already read the blog regularly and use primary sources with your students, consider passing this post along to colleagues to get them started with primary sources.

Which ideas from one of our blog posts shaped your work this year?