Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chronicling America, Read All About It

It’s been a while since I’ve talked up one of my all-time favorite sites: Chronicling AmericaChronicling America is a national, ever-expanding newspaper digitization project spearheaded by the Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities.  According to “Edsitement,” the NEH’s teaching portal:
Chronicling America is a boon for teaching primary source research skills such as gathering and evaluating information, analysis, comparison and contrast, critical thinking, and the use of technology.
Through Chronicling America you can view newspaper pages from 1836 to 1922 from Arizona, the District of Columbia, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. As the project is ongoing, the greatest concentration of material that is currently available online is from 1900-1922, but Chronicling America is continuously expanding the date range and states of the newspapers in its collection.
As one of the participating states, Montana had a committee of historians help prioritize which papers and date ranges to digitize. You can find the list here.
The digitization project is great in itself. Even better is the outpouring of lesson plans for using the resource. Edsitement has descriptions and links to featured lesson plans, which include looks at women’s suffrage, immigration, the 1918 flu epidemic, famous authors like Walt Whitman and Jack London, and much more.
Montana’s contribution to Chronicling America lesson plans includes “Thinking  like a Historian: Using Digital Newspapers in the Classroom,” which asks students to explore daily life in Virginia City during the gold rush before the coming of the railroad, using the following essential questions: “How has life changed and how has it remained the same? How does transportation affect daily life? What would it have been like to live in Vir¬ginia City during the gold rush?”

If you don’t have time for a big project, consider printing out a few pages from one of the digitized newspapers that matches your larger unit (make sure to include pages with advertisements). Then have students explore the paper by playing a game of “Newspaper Bingo,” or going on a newspaper scavenger hunt. Follow the game with a discussion about what surprised, intrigued, or confused students about the newspapers themselves—and what questions they raised about life in the past. (Sample bingo cards and instructions are available through the “Thinking Like a Historian” lesson plan.

Three additional Chronicling America lesson plans are included in the new study guide for Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan. Two of them can be adapted to use without reading the anchor text and can easily be adapted to other time periods. “What Can You Buy? What Could Mary Buy?” has students looking at advertisements today and in the 1860s, and choosing presents for themselves and their family. The second, “Found Poetry,” asks students to create a found poem, based on an article from the Montana Post.

p.s. For those of you who have students participating in National History Day, NEH is offering a prize this year “for students who incorporate research using Chronicling America.”  (More on NHD here.) Chronicling America’s list of recommended topics (fascinating reading in itself) would be a great place to browse for National History Day topics, or research projects more generally.

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