Friday, June 22, 2012

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Using Historical Newspapers in the Classroom

New-York Tribune. (New York [N.Y.]) 1866-1924, November 24, 1918, Page 4, Image 26. (Image provided by Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers serves as a phenomenal resource for teachers and students. This database of American newspapers from includes digitized copies of hundreds of newspapers across the US from 1836-1922. Students can search by state, newspaper, and year. The keyword search, however, is a little tricky because of the abundance of search results, and students will most likely need a bit of guidance to narrow their searches. An archivist friend of mine suggested the importance of “pre-search” to help narrow the searches, enabling students to search for more specific matches. For example, in looking to find stories regarding anticipation and reaction to the Treaty of Versailles, Versailles was too broad of a search. Including dates and names successfully narrowed the results.  

Teachers and students can use this resource in a variety of ways. The History Connected Wiki has several resources to guide students’ inquiry with historical newspapers. One of the documents is a historical newspaper scavenger hunt, which asks students to find examples of different types of advertisements (always a favorite for students --and teachers!), news stories that address the “5W” questions, as well as essential primary source analysis questions regarding source information and bias. Another resource History Connected provides to use alongside Chronicling America is list of writing prompts, including writing to the editor, making a personal diary entry, to comparing the coverage of one news event in two different newspapers. History Connected also has a document from Tennessee State Library and Archives, titled, “Reading Historical Newspaper Articles: A Process” that gives students guiding questions that can apply to most articles.

Using an entire section of a historical newspapers -as opposed to just an article-gives students a sense of historical time and place, as all the surrounding stories and advertisements speak to the culture of the time, and that people, “just like them,” experienced these events with excitement, horror, and wonder. These events were in the headlines before they made it to students’ history books. These events were reality to an older generation, and the experience these resources provide, bring students into that reality.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lincoln's First Inaugural Address from Different Perspectives

During the school day seminar at the JFK Library we were presented with a lesson plan that viewed JFK's Inaugural Address from a multitude of perspectives. I found this lesson plan to be quite effective because it has students working with the text of a primary source, but by giving each group of students a perspective and some questions to answer based on that perspective it made the text easier to relate to and understand.

I do not not teach US History II so I decided to adapt this lesson plan to help me discuss with my students Lincoln's First Inaugural Address. I teach ninth graders so we did not look at the address in its entirety, but some key excerpts. I had four roles that each member of the class could receive. They are listed below.

Secessionist Profile

You live in South Carolina, a state that has recently seceded from the Union. You feel strongly that the election of Abraham Lincoln threatens your very way of life. You find a copy of his First Inaugural Address in the local newspaper and take care to read it closely.

What is your reaction to the speech? Is there anything in the speech that surprises you? Is Lincoln able to convince you to come back to the Union? Is there anything he says that particularly concerns you?

Unionist Profile

You are a Northerner whose primary concern is the preservation of the Union. You believe slavery is wrong, but if it means keeping the Union together, you are willing to accept it.  You find a copy of his First Inaugural Address in the local newspaper and take care to read it closely.

What is your reaction to the speech? Is there anything in the speech that surprises you? Do you feel reassured that the Union will be preserved?

Slave State that Has Not Seceded Profile

You live in Maryland, a state that relies on slavery, but has not made the decision to secede from the Union. You are nervous about the election of Lincoln and what that means for your way of life, but are not quite ready to completely cut ties with the country you’ve so long been a part of. You find a copy of his First Inaugural Address in the local newspaper and take care to read it closely.

What is your reaction to the speech? Is there anything in the speech that surprises you? Would it sway you to make a choice one way or the other? Is there anything he says that particularly concerns you?

Abolitionist Profile

You are an abolitionist who voted for Lincoln in hopes that it would help end the practice of slavery. You have no toleration for this peculiar institution and think it needs to be ended immediately. You find a copy of his First Inaugural Address in the local newspaper and take care to read it closely.

What is your reaction to the speech? Is there anything in the speech that surprises you? Are you still happy with the candidate you supported in the 1860 election?

After the students were assigned their roles they sat with two other classmates who had the same role as they did and the small group went through the Inaugural Address together. Then all the groups shared out their thoughts on Lincoln's Inaugural Address. The students were able to accurately conclude how this speech would impact a person in their role. I was pleased with how the lesson turned out and by the end of the sharing out period students were able to determine the reasons behind many of the statements made in Lincoln's address. This activity worked with both my honors and my academic level freshmen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cafe Conversation: Jefferson and Slavery

For my final project, I did a three day lesson plan about Thomas Jefferson's dual standing as an Enlightenment thinker and a slave owner, and the natural contradictions that come along with it. As part of the project, I created a Cafe Conversation about Jefferson's social circles and what they might have to say about his dual membership. I was inspired to do this from reading Friends of Liberty, and wondering to myself how he could be peer pressured into different stances on slavery depending on who he was surrounded by at that particular moment.

1.     Activity: Café Conversation about Notes on the State of Virginia
a.      Students will assume one of 5 roles: Jefferson himself, an educated free African American, a French Enlightenment thinker, a Southern Plantation owner, and a Virginia Congressman
b.     Read the quotes one at a time, and have students react to them in their characters voice. Opinions will vary about whether whites and blacks can live amongst each other, and whether slavery is harming the soul of America.
c.      One member of the group will take notes to be reported on back to the class at the end of the activity
d.     Have each group select a reporter to explain back to the rest of the class how the discussion went, and what areas of common ground, and what areas of difference arose

Rationale for a cafe conversation: 
Understanding the past requires students to develop an awareness of different perspectives. The Café Conversation teaching strategy helps students practice perspective-taking by requiring students to represent a particular point-of-view in a small group discussion.  During a conversation with people representing other backgrounds and experiences, students become more aware of the role many factors play (i.e. social class, occupation, gender, age, etc) in terms of shaping one’s attitudes and perspectives on historical events. Café Conversations can be used as an assessment tool or can prepare students to write an essay about a specific historical event.

1.     Thomas Jefferson
a.      Jefferson was born into an elite class of slave owners in Virginia
b.     2nd largest slave owner in Albermarle County, Virginia
c.      Benefitted financially from slavery
d.     Acknowledged views of African racial inferiority
e.      Authored Declaration of Independence
f.       Considers himself an Enlightenment thinker despite owning slaves

2.     Educated Free African American
a.      Born into slavery in Virginia, escaped to Boston, Massachusetts
b.     Taught to read and write by abolitionist society
c.      Published author in local abolitionist newspapers
d.     In favor of racial integration, equal rights

3.     French Enlightenment Thinker
a.      Born in Paris, well versed in schools of thought from John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau
b.     Frequent participant in anti-slavery discussions at local cafes and salons
c.      Fan of Jefferson’s work, but confused about his slave ownership
d.     Against idea of racial inferiority, but does not want French citizens to compete with freed slaves for jobs

4.     Southern Plantation Owner
a.      Born into elite class of slave owners in Virginia
b.     Economically dependent on slavery
c.      Acknowledged views of African racial inferiority
d.     Concerned about Jefferson’s wording in the Constitution of Virginia about the freedom of all men

5.     Virginia Congressman
a.      Born poor, but through small cotton farm, built way up to wealth and prominence
b.     US Congressman from Virginia
c.      Thinks that Jefferson would have lost election of 1800 if not for the slave holder’s vote
d.     Willing to vote down any measure that would ban or limit slavery. Unwilling to compromise that position