Tag Archives: national politics

Prepare for Earth Day!

Albert Bierstadt, “Valley of the Yosemite,” 1864


Next Monday April 22 is Earth Day! First celebrated in 1970, it marks what many consider the beginning of the modern environmental movement.  Founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin channeled decades of energy for change–Civil Rights Reform, Feminist MovementAnti-War Protest, Free Speech Movement–toward a national political agenda for the environment.  By the end of 1970, the federal government had created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Here are some great books to consult on the modern environmental movement:



Teaching the Women's Rights Movement

Women’s Rights Movement series, part 5

This past week we’ve delved into the various aspects of the early Women’s Rights Movement. Today, Debra Schneider, social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School, provides us with her expertise and hands on experience for teaching this subject in the classroom.  Click here for more from Debra Schneider.


For years, I have taught a unit on social movements of the 20th century in my 11th grade US History course, primarily focusing on the African American civil rights movement. Our focus is to explore issues at stake and strategies for gaining civil rights. This makes it easy to shift focus to any other social movement of interest to my students, such as the disability rights movement, the Chicano Youth movement, the marriage equality movement and others, continuing to explore issues and strategies. One problem: so many movements, so little time!

Then, a few years ago, after attending a fantastic Gilder-Lehrman Teacher Seminar on women’s history designed by Nancy Cott at The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, I made the commitment to always include the women’s movements of the 20th century in the social movements we study. In addition to making sure women are part of our study of the Progressive era, the Great Depression, America at war, and other time periods, I have collected and created a series of lessons to study “two waves” of feminism.

I start by accessing students’ prior knowledge of the role of women with the concept of separate spheres:  the “private sphere” of women and the “public sphere” of men. I admit I am quite dramatic and exaggerate these to set up a sharp dichotomy between the two, but later use images of women at work to show the myths in this ideology. I also introduce the idea of two waves of feminism that have tried to change this ideology, with the expectation that we’ll evaluate how far we have come at the end of the unit.

We use the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments as our baseline to see what women’s role in society was in the mid-1800s and to start our study of suffrage. We explore a set of images I have collected that show arguments for and against suffrage, including political cartoons, broadsides, and some anti-suffrage documents from the Stanford History Education Group. Students usually understand the pro-suffrage arguments easily, so we spend more time on the anti-suffrage movement. Students are shocked to learn that many anti-suffragists were women!  Students learn about the 19th Amendment, but see that there were still more rights to be gained.

Ad: Pictorial Review, “The CHANGE that has come to WOMAN” 1931.

Next we move on to the changing role of women through the 20th century. For this, I use a great set of resources created by Carolynn Ranch for the UC Davis History Project showing women through from the 1940s to the 1990s with advertisements, song lyrics, primary source expository texts, biographical sketches, and depictions of television show characters. Groups of students study and discuss each decades’ sources and use them to decide: How are women depicted in this decade? Before the lesson, they usually hypothesize that women will have more and more freedom and rights over time. After the lesson, they are surprised to find that women’s rights and freedoms seemed higher in the 1940s than in the 1950s, for example.  Here’s where they come to see that gender roles are often constructed by the nation to fill its changing needs.

Next we study the women’s liberation movement of the mid-century, starting with excerpts from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Many students are aware of this wave of feminism and hope to enjoy its benefits, but there is often a lot of nostalgia for “the good old days,” so I also introduce the ideas of Stephanie Coontz’s The Way We Never Were.

Most of my students think that the goal of the mid-century women’s movement was to encourage all women to move into the world of paid work, and perhaps with some parity with men (because this is the observed experience of many of them). My purpose in this lesson is to have them discover the complexity of the feminist movements, their intersectionality, and to see that women had conflicting and multiple ideas about what women’s problems were and how best to address them. I use documents expressing differences among racial/ethnic groups to illustrate the conflicts.

The last activity is a scored class discussion that asks, “How fair and equal is life for women in America today?” We discuss three topics: employment and wages, education, and political participation. Students use the Seneca Falls Declaration, everything we’ve learned so far, and a fact sheet on women in the US today as their sources. This has never failed to create a lively discussion with well-supported arguments that usually lasts two class periods.


The complete Women’s Rights Movement series includes posts on: the early movement, bloomers, anti-suffrage cartoons, and the 19th Amendment.  Join us next week for another Women’s History series!

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.

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.

Election Countdown!

A McKinley campaign poster, 1896, depicting the lighter side of our weighty political campaigns.

With the 2012 Presidential election only a week away, our voice-mails, in-boxes, and mailboxes overflow with campaign promises.  While today candidates can communicate their message over television, the tube was not always an option.  What language did politicians in the past use, and does it differ from today?  How did politicians across the centuries attempt to sway voters?  What imagery did they use to appeal to individuals?  What were the issues at stake in a particular election?  The Marchand Archives provides a wealth of resources to help answer these important questions.

One of my favorite ways to engage with elections of the past is through campaign posters.  They provide an excellent opportunity to discuss the political process.  Helping students analyze campaign posters from past elections will allow them make sense of the political process they see on television today.  To me, campaign posters from the past are similar to TV commercial spots of today.  They communicate the message of the candidate in an at-a-glance visual manner.

Take for example this 1896 campaign poster for the Republican ticket.  Colorful and packed with images, this poster depicts the stance of McKinley and his running mate.  While this image also includes a significant amount of text, it is not necessary to read it all.  Choice words focus the reader on the candidate’s main slogan: “Our Home Defenders.”  What stands out to you from this image?  What makes you want to know more about the views of the Republican platform?

How does it compare to the Democratic poster of William Jennings Brian from 1900?

Commentary from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

The Lincoln Douglas Debates

Lincoln Douglas Debates

Stephen A. Douglas, ca.1853

Today we feature another Civil War post from Luci Petlack, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

BACKGROUND: In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled on the infamous Dred Scott Decision. Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion claimed that people of color could never be American citizens and that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 were both unconstitutional as Congress had no right to interfere with the property of citizens, including slaves. As the ties loosely holding the country together weakened further, Americans began debating the meaning of this momentous decision. The most famous discussion occurred in a series of debates between incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas and small-town, lawyer Abraham Lincoln as they toured Illinois running for Senate in the 1858 Congressional election.

In these debates Douglas, a long-time advocate of popular sovereignty, argued that the Dred Scott decision still allowed for popular sovereignty. Douglas accused Lincoln of desiring racial equality and allowing marriage between the two races. Lincoln flubbed a response, but eventually proffered a complicated understanding of distinguishing the rights of the races. He believed that all people were created in the image of a supreme being and therefore had the same natural rights. He then explained civil rights, guaranteed by the federal government. Here, Lincoln claimed to believe that black men should have some civil rights, but not all (i.e. citizenship but not the right to vote). Lastly were states’ rights that should be determined by the individual states – pulling directly from constitution. His main example here was the right to marry. If the state of Virginia prohibits the marriage of African-Americans, then the federal government could not interfere. This delineation of rights is what brought Lincoln to the forefront of Republican politics on the eve of the Civil War.

Neither man claimed a victory in the debates. Douglas went on to win the Senate seat by a landslide, but this was not a loss for Lincoln as he had become a national figure and was available to run for president in 1860. These discussions created the leader who would take the country into and eventually win the Civil War.

How to use this image: When teaching the coming of the Civil War, the connections between the events occurring around the country and the political happenings often seem disconnected. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates provide a great way to connect the events of the 1850s with the rise and eventual victory of Abraham Lincoln. In 1858 a back country lawyer became a well-respected speaker and more firmly established his place as a Republican politician along with his stance against the expansion of slavery. From this discussion, we learn where Lincoln came from (i.e. how a black-horse candidate won the presidency) and why Southerners so immediately seceded upon his election.

Luci Petlack is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include black American history, race relations and the American Civil War. Her dissertation, “A Dilemma of Civil Liberties: Blacks under Union Military Control, 1861-1866,” looks at the effects of military occupation and martial law on black communities during the Civil War in Baltimore, Maryland; New Orleans, Louisiana and Cincinnati, Ohio.

William Jennings Bryan Beyond the Scopes Trial

William Jennings Bryan Campaign Poster

Title:  “No Crown of Thorns, No Cross of Gold…”

About the image: William Jennings Bryan on a 1900 campaign poster. Symbols of the plow and the rooster; trusts as an octopus’ tentacles over industry.

Why does Davis High School Teacher, Kevin Williams, find this image interesting?

I find this image usable in several different ways in the classroom.  First, it could be used as a warm up for the election of 1900.  From the image, students can be lead to identify three central issues:  farmers and monetary policy, American foreign policy, and the influence of trusts.  The words that appear on this document also provide fodder for discussion.  They are loaded and clearly show the biases of Bryan the candidate.  I ask students to determine Bryan’s stance on the issues using the images and words.

Second, the image is useful as part of an investigation on campaigns.  A comparison of this campaign poster and a McKinley poster shows the differences in campaigning techniques between 1900 and today.  (A great McKinley poster for comparison can be found here.) You could also ask students to compare this campaign material to the political cartoons published during the election cycle of 1900. The Harp Week website “Presidential Elections 1860-1912,” is a great resource for this.

Finally, this would be a marvelous source to bring into any discussion of the Scopes Monkey Trial.  William Jennings Bryan is possibly best remembered for his conservative role in the prosecution of John Scopes.  I want students to know that Bryan wasn’t simply a reactionary, but was considered somewhat radical and revolutionary at other points in his life. After all, he did promote government ownership of railroads in the election of 1908.  This campaign poster could create a more complete picture of a very complex and important historical man.

Related Topics/Themed Collections: National Politics, Gilded Age

Lessons in the Marchand Collection:


Resources Available in the Marchand Collection:

  • Brett Flehinger, The 1912 Election and the Power of Progressivism: A Brief History with Documents, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
  • Ellen F. Fitzpatrick, ed., Muckraking: Three Landmark Articles, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994.
  • Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, ed., Who Were the Progressives?, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
  • The Progressive Era: The Limits of Reform, Social Science Education Consortium, 1989.

Share your ideas! How would you use this image?  Click here to let us know.