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Monday, November 9, 2015

Chronicling America and Lesson Plans

It's Natasha again, with another installment on Chronicling America (see my earlier post here).


Two weeks ago I directed you to the EDSITEment website, which has lots of lesson plans divided by subject and age, as well as lesson plans focusing specifically on Chronicling America resources. However for this post, I’d like to highlight a lesson plan that I heard about at the NDNP conference.  The presenter was a 9th grade social studies teacher from North Carolina. 


The lesson concept was simple. She took a description of an event from the textbook, and then she found several newspaper articles from across the country that described the event from different perspectives.  

She divides her class into groups. Each group gets the textbook description and one of the newspaper articles.  Then each group discusses how the textbook differs from the article, including questions like 

  • What information is missing from the textbook entry? 
  • Do you think the textbook account should be re-written? Why or why not? If so, how would you change the textbook?
After group discussion, the whole class comes together to share their conclusions. This is also an opportunity to discuss why there are often radically different accounts of the same event, which leads to a discussion about bias and attitudes.


We went through this activity ourselves with an entry on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The four articles (available here) were wildly different. One focused on the legal implications, a second on a resolution by the Women’s Trade Union League, a third on the lack of safety preparation, and a fourth on the most sensationalist details. In spite of being right after lunch, it was a really engaging activity which generated really interesting discussions.


This lesson plan could easily be changed to any event using the Montana: Stories of the Land.  As an example, Chapter 16 – Montana and World War I, 1914-1918 describes Jeannette Rankin’s vote against the US entering WWI. 

Most of Rankin’s friends supported the war, including her brother, Wellington, who was her closest advisor. Feminists wanted her to show that women could be as tough as men. Yet Rankin had run for Congress because she believed that if women gained political power, they would stop wars. She did not want to be the first woman in American history to vote for war.
When her turn came, Rankin stood up. “I want to stand by my country but I cannot vote for war,” she said. Only a few other members of Congress shared her view, and the resolution to enter World War I passed overwhelmingly.
As you can imagine there is a lot of national coverage of this vote. I did a fairly quick search on Chronicling America searching "Jeannette Rankin" as a phrase with "war" and "vote" as further search terms.  From the results, I’ve chosen a few to show the range of coverage. Some articles, describe her as "trembling, obviously badly frightened, and with a sob in her voice" or "Her evident grief and the signs of a mental struggle, brought cheers from warrior and pacifist alike". Some newspapers say very little about her in their coverage of the vote, while others focus on how Jeannette's vote will impact the suffrage movement. One of my favorite responses to the vote is a letter to the editor entitled "Good for Miss Rankin!".  In it, the writer although disagreeing with Jeannette’s position has an interesting view of how her vote disproves the anti-suffrage supporters’ views on how politics will change women.  Lastly, here is an article from the Daily Missoulian, which could be used to compare to the textbook description of Montanans' reactions.  



In an example of how looking at newspapers leads to additional ideas, I found an article from France reprinted in two different newspapers under different titles: France Chivalrously Excuses Miss Rankin and France Applauds Jeannette. It might be interesting to give some students one and some the other, have them discuss their article in a small group before bringing them all together to discuss how the headline influenced their interpretation. 

I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I hope you and your students find it a useful activity--or food for thought as you develop your own activities using ChronAm.

P.S. [Martha chiming in] A shortcut for finding multiple newspaper articles on specific Montana history topics is to visit Extra! Montana News, 1864-1922.This page has a selection of interesting topics, from Anti-Chinese DiscriminationBison Hunting and Extermination, and Barbed Wire to Extermination of Wolves, the Great Fire of 1910, and Statehood, Under each topics there are a list of newspaper articles, so you can see how the press reported on these events and issues at the time they occurred along with suggested search terms for more information. This makes it a great for resource for a teacher trying to recreate the exercise Natasha outlines above--but also a great resource for student research projects, including for National History Day!

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