Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lincoln: The Man and the Movie

Abraham Lincoln, 1860.

The eternal teacher question: How do we get students interested in history?  Engaging with students in diverse and creative ways is something teachers work to do on a daily basis.  Taking the (let’s face it) sometimes dry facts of our textbooks and turning them into interesting and witty lessons that will inspire students, can be tiring, challenging, and downright frustrating.  Why not take advantage of popular culture moments!

From the Official “Lincoln” Website



For example, today the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” appears in theaters and offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at the Civil War.  Connecting history with popular culture is an opportunity to open student’s eyes to the broader impact of historical events.  What better way than a new movie to get students thinking of history as exciting and relevant rather than boring and outdated.

Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the iconic role that depicts the last few months of Lincoln’s life, the decisions he made in regards to the South, and the difficulty of those decisions.  But, will our students appreciate what led to these important moments?  Will they understand the roots of the War before heading to the movie?  To help them get more out of their cinematic experience, turn to the late Roland Marchand for inspiration!  Over the years, Marchand created a variety of lessons based on primary documents for his university classes. Particularly useful to pair with “Lincoln” is Marchand’s lesson “Lincoln and the Outbreak of War, 1861.” In it, students analyze the events in the first weeks of Lincoln’s presidency to determine his role in the conflict.  The high school version provides a “Cast of Characters” and their voices to help students write a history of the Civil War.  For middle school, students examine a collection of documents designed to help them understand Lincoln’s role.

Union recruitment poster, April 1861.

Teachers can supplement this trove of written sources with images from the Marchand Archives.  Notices announcing the Union’s dissolution, recruitment posters, and paintings of important battles provide fodder for discussion.  For what reasons did individuals go to war and continue to fight? How did politicians express these ideas expressed to the nation?  What impact did battles have on local communities?  On the nation?

Together, the document based lessons and the images, provide students with a solid background to help them better understand the movie.  But more than that, analyzing historical sources helps students develop and hone the skills needed to become critical examiners of how history is interpreted through popular culture.

Thinking Through Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching and now is an ideal time to investigate how we think about the original event.  A versatile image available in our collection is the 1914 postcard by Jennie Brownscombe, “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth.”  This beautifully crafted and intricate image can serve either as an opener or final assessment.

Jennie Brownscombe, “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” 1914.

As an opener for a lesson related to the Pilgrims, establishment of Plymouth, and interactions with local Native Americans have students engage in analysis using a strategy such as “Toolbox” described on page 3 of this Colonial Diversity lesson. After examining additional sources, such as this set at the Library of Congress, students can return to the Brownscombe image to discuss “Is this a realistic interpretation of the first Thanksgiving? Why or why not?” Requiring students to provide evidence for their choice provides an opportunity to strengthen the skills described in Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects related to reading a variety of sources on a topic (Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6–12 RH1 & 9, pg. 60) and writing arguments supported by evidence (Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6–12 WHST1, pg. 64.)

What primary sources do you like to use around Thanksgiving?

It's Geography Awareness Week!

Happy Geography Awareness Week!  This week, celebrate geography in your classroom by inserting maps into your lessons.  Maps are a fantastic way to visually interest students in a topic and help them make connections they would otherwise miss.

Take for example this image of Magellan’s Route in 1544.

In early November, when this map appeared as the “Image of the Week” on our Facebook page, teacher Michelle Delgado responded to the question: How can you get students to engage with this image?

“Whoa!  Check out the shapes of the continents!  I love this map.  I’d use it as an opener and compare with a map students are more familiar with and ask what Magellan got right/wrong and why.”  -Michelle Delgado.

This is a fantastic idea Michelle!  Students would not need to know much about Magellan’s trip in order to interpret this map, and it would be a great exercise to get them excited about the Age of Exploration.  To find more maps to add to your lessons, check out the image collection page at the Marchand Archives and search under the topic “maps”.

Our thanks to Michelle for her insights, if you want to share your thoughts on our “Image of the Week” join the discussion on our Facebook page. For more information on Geography Awareness Week visit the National Geographic Education website.

Historic Campaign Posters & the Common Core

The 2012 Presidential Election day is finally here, one day to go.  But don’t fret, there is still time to get your students interested in the election!  One of the important themes in any election is that of perspective and point of view.  Developing the ability to recognize an author’s point of view helps students develop a critical eye in reading texts both historical and contemporary.  A good example of a primary source from the Marchand Archive is this poster, “The Whole Story in a Nutshell!” from the 1888 election.  It depicts both the Republican platform championed by Benjamin Harrison and the Democratic platform headed by Grover Cleveland.

Take a moment to digest each candidate’s platform as presented by this image.  Can you discern which party produced this image?  What was their motive for producing this campaign ad?  How do you know?  Asking students these and other questions related to point of view and purpose (detailed in the Common Core Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies RI6) will help them better analyze primary sources and engage with the political process today.

A Republican campaign poster contrasting Harrison’s ideas with Cleveland’s, 1888.