Author Archives: jbcosca

Teaching Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Proclamation by William Shirley, the Royal Governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1746; broadside.

Thanksgiving is here again with all the trimmings–turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie galore. But don’t forget to add that side of historical significance!  Here are a few lesson plans and resources to help get your students thinking about the history of the holiday.

Whats Wrong With This Picture: The True Story of the First Thanksgiving” by Patricia Scott Deetz is a short, colorful, and engaging article from MUSE offering a critical explanation of the holiday using documents and historical clues.

Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth” is a study guide from the National Museum of the American Indian geared more toward High School students offers counter evidence to the traditional Thanksgiving discussion.

What Should a House Do?” is a lesson plan from EDSITEment! highlighting the differences in Native American and English settlement homes.

First Thanksgiving Meal” is a short article from the History channel that addresses whether modern Thanksgiving foods were present at that first feast.

Looking into Holidays Past: Through Primary Sources” is a document based resource from the Library of Congress.

Also be sure to check out our “Thinking Through Thanksgiving” blog post from last year. We included some resources, Toolbox Strategies, and an image to get your Thanksgiving lessons  started.


FAIR Education Act in the Classroom

With the passage of the FAIR Education Act, we would like to offer some resources, lesson plans, and ideas for incorporating these standards into the classroom.

Lesson Plans

Primary Resources

Secondary Resources


Constitution Day!

“New Constitution Sep. 17, 1787.” The Federalist banquet at ten tables, symbolizing the ten states that had ratified the new US Constitution by July 1788. Six thousand attended the New York City banquet celebrating New York’s ratification, 1788.


September 17th  is Constitution Day commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine delegates. Constitution Day provides an opportunity to revisit this important document and spark student’s interest in citizenship. And your in luck! The National Constitution Center has put together some fabulous resources designed to get students thinking about the writing and ratification of the the Constitution.

Separate lessons, documents, and online teaching tools designed for elementary, middle, and high school students provide a wealth of ways to fold Constitution Day into your lessons.  Whether it be through Town Hall Walls, Meet the Founders, Yankee Doodle, or a Constitutional Duel, there are tons of grade specific resources available to create the perfect Constitution lesson for your classroom.

Make a multimedia day of it with these online games and quizzes all about the Constitution.

  • Ever wonder how the constitution would turn out if your students had to decide, the “Which Founder Are You?” test will tell you how many Washington’s, Madison’s, or Hamilton’s you have in your class.
  • Link your immigration lesson to the Constitution with this online “Naturalization Test.” Student test their knowledge of the United States and see the types of questions new immigrants answer to gain citizenship.
  • The “Bill of Rights Game” takes a page straight from mission impossible. “Your mission…rebuild the document by finding the missing rights and freedoms in Freeville”
  • Or run for office with the “Headed to the White House” game. Students can either participate as a candidate, a campaign worker, or an active citizen.


What's The Difference?!

The Library of Congress vs. The National Archives

Back in April, the Library of Congress (LOC) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) each shared a blog post detailing the similarities and differences between the two institutions. They were such great articles we thought we would share their insights and some of our own!

Library of Congress, Main Reading Room, Washington, D.C. published between 1900 and 1910.

Since 1800, the LOC has been a part of the legislative branch of the federal government. Their mission is to collected all forms of knowledge and creativity from within the United States and around the world. They also act as the national copyright repository, holding all items registered for US copyrights.  In addition, they operate offices throughout the world and receive materials through donations from private and group donors. Their holdings are not exclusive to United States materials.

The Archives Building, 1934

Established in 1934 as an independent agency of the executive branch, the National Archives is the “nation’s record keeper.” They gather, organize, maintain, and make available federal records created as part of running the nation.  Their holdings are unique to NARA and cannot be found anywhere else.  Their materials represent only 1-3% of all government records created, and yet that equals more than 10 billion records and counting!

As the articles indicate, there are some fundamental similarities between the two institutions.  First and foremost, they make historical materials accessible to the public at large. Anyone can visit the Library of Congress and request a book from their vast selection or pursue their online database. The National Archives also offers an open online database of materials, a main research building in the heart of D.C., and satellite archives around the country. Second, both institutions store and protect historical materials. All forms of communication from photographs, moving images, posters, emails, and various written documents are properly cared for and preserved for future use.

The main difference between the two institutions boils down to this: the Library of Congress collects materials while the National Archives is a repository. Libraries create collections of materials sorted by topic and compete with other similar institutions for sources.  Archives, particularly those associated with the government, receive their materials directly from agencies and organize based on the system established by the donating agency.

What’s important to you as a researcher is how to use the archives. Sifting though the billions of items can seem daunting but there are a few strategies you can employ to make it more manageable.

Navigating the LOC

For those new to the Library of Congress, we recommend starting at the Digital Collections homepage. Here you will find a hub of sorts containing links to newspapers, sound recordings, photographs, oral histories, legislative materials, digital finding aids, and more. This is a great place to start exploring the library and will help give you a feel for how to navigate the online databases. We also recommend visiting the online websites for past and present exhibitions.  These are particularly useful as trained historians and archivists have collected LOC items into usable and searchable databases, often with overviews. If you are interested in branching out a bit and exploring all the library has to offer, visit the full Online Catalog.

Navigating NARA

Searching the National Archives is very different from searching the LOC.  Their records are not organized by topic, but rather by federal agency. Searching their records requires a new strategy and a new way to approach online research. Think of the National Archives as a giant file cabinet. When agencies turn files over, NARA continues the agency’s organizational strategy employed for everyday use. When you are searching for a particular event, think of what federal agencies would be involved and use key word searches within those files.  To begin your search visit their Online Public Access network and don’t forget to narrow your search by using the Advanced Search options. For a more detailed walk through of how to use NARA’s database, visit this blog article.  You should also visit DocsTeach, an interactive website put together by NARA that provides document collections and lesson plan ideas for teachers.

Use these hyperlinks to read the original articles from the Library of Congress and the National Archives.  We’d love to hear about any treasures you find on your travels through the Library of Congress and the National Archives!


"Bridging The Golden Gate"

“Footbridge ropes stretch across the Golden Gate during the construction of the bridge, September, 1935”

The wonderful people over at the California Historical Society have a free eBook–Bridging the Golden Gate: A Photo Essay–that follows the creation of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  Follow this link to get your FREE copy downloadable through iTunes.

This photo essay and the digital collection at Calisphere provide amazing views of the bridge’s construction. Showing perilous catwalks workers used to navigate between towers and the enormity of the undertaking.

“Looking towards Marin County from Fort Point in San Francisco, as the floor of the Golden Gate Bridge takes shape, October, 1936”

For the elementary school classroom (or even the high schoolers to make them smile) try this great book, Pop’s Bridge by Eve Bunting.  The story follows Robert’s father and his adventures as a “skywalker” building the bridge.


This Memorial Day…

Remember those who’ve served in the US military throughout history.


Molly Pitcher (Mary Ludwig), an American Revolutionary heroine, loading a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth, NJ, June 28, 1778. Her husband has fallen from exhaustion beside the cannon. Painting by D.M. Carter, Sons of the Revolution.


“Captains of three student companies” a voluntary company at the University of Michigan trains for Civil War service, 1861.



The highly decorated 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I, an African American regiment.


Eleanor Roosevelt with soldiers on Guadalcanal in the middle of World War II.










A Horse on a Treadmill? Early Locomotives

I don’t know about your students, but mine love seeing the “other” versions of modern day technology. I just came across these early locomotives from the 1830s in the archive and thought they would be fun to share!

“The Flying Dutchman,” a Horse Power Locomotive, 1830. The horse walked on a treadmill! They were not kidding when they said horse powered.

The “Tom Thumb,” the first steam locomotive in America, reconstruction, built by Peter Cooper. Its first successful trip was made in 1830, from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills, Maryland.


“The Dewitt Clinton,” the early locomotive and coaches that initiated the New York Central System, 1831.


The “Daedalus” locomotive pulling a freight car, passenger carriage, and private carriage, 1832.


For more railroad images visit the Marchand Archive “Railroads” category.




Cycling, Walking, and Health Conscious Fashion

As May is National Bicycle Month, we thought we would offer some drop-in lesson ideas that included the bicycle!

Just as bloomers earlier in the century caused a ruckus, so to did the riding costumes of the bicycle era. Explore changes to women’s attire and how that corresponded to other movements such as the women’s rights movement, technological advancements, and efforts to improve health and wellness.  Check out these historical Fashion Magazines from the Library of Congress.

Ad for Sear’s Catalogue, Women’s bicycle suits, 1897.


Ad for Eureka Health Corset, 1880.


“Road Queen”


Leisure Time and Entertainment

As May is National Bicycle Month, we thought we would offer some drop-in lesson ideas that included the bicycle!

Wild West Shows, circus acts, and spectator sports such as baseballfootball, and tennis filled leisure time at the end of the nineteenth century. The Barnum & Bailey Shows even began to highlight cycling in their acts.

Try this lesson plan from EDSITEment! for ideas on “Having Fun” nineteenth century style. Or this issue of “Central Illinois Teaching With Primary Sources Newsletter” all about the circus.

National Bicycle Exhibition, Madison Square Garden, 1895.


Poster: Professional cycling, 1905.


Cartoon: Tennis and women in the 1870s.


Poster for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, “Annie Oakley and Johnnie Baker” 1898


Bike Your Way Through May

National Bike Month is halfway over, but there is still time to join in!  This week we bring you ideas for “drop-in” lessons or ways to incorporate this fun and approachable topic into your classroom.

Engage students in a discussion of technological advancements of the 19th century. With the communication and transportation revolution coupled with the emergence of the factory and more sophisticated farming equipment, how did these changes transform life for ordinary citizens? See this lesson from EDSITment! for suggestions on activities and documents. For more primary sources on the early bicycle visit “Gearing Up for Bike Month with Primary Sources” from the Library of Congress.

Saturday Evening Post ad for National Bicycle Week, “This is happiness week” 1921

Ad for Columbia Bicycle Co., Hi-Wheeler, 1886.

“Washington Meet of the League of American Wheelmen” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1884.