This guest post is from the Library of Congress Teacher in Residence, Earnestine Sweeting.
Throughout the school year my students would have the opportunity to meet with me one-on-one. Every year around this time during our student conference, at least one would ask, If someone were to buy you a gift, Ms. Sweeting, what would you like? I would sincerely respond, My dear student, the greatest gift to receive would be the gift of your success. Oh brother, he sighed, why do all my teachers say that?
Gift giving, a centuries-old tradition, is an important part of human interaction. It is also an important part of government diplomacy. Consider using primary sources from the Library of Congress to help students understand the historical significance of gift giving. Here are three examples of gifts given to our nation.
How many of your students know that The Resolute desk, in the Oval Office of the White House, was a gift of peace to the people of the United States? The Resolute desk, made from the oak timbers of a retired British arctic ship, the HMS Resolute, was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 by HRM Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland. Have your students trace the path of Her Majesty’s Ship Resolute, from the arctic seas to the White House.
How familiar are your students with The Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States? I recently learned that this collection, comprising 111 volumes of greetings and signatures, was given to the American people in 1926 to honor the 150th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence. Each set of signatures is on letterhead which, in English, reads: The Polish Educational System in Tribute to the American Nation on the Occasion of the 150th Year of American Independence. The greetings and signatures include those of five and a half million school children, and many of the pages include richly decorated designs. Have your students explore the collection and discuss reasons why the people of Poland decided to honor the United States in this way.
Many of my students knew that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom, but I remembered their reaction when they learned that the statue was a gift of France to the American people. Captured in this official presentation of “Liberty Enlightening the World”, she commemorates the friendship between the United States and France that began during the American Revolution. Students can read more in newspaper articles from Chronicling America.
Visit the online exhibit on The Cherry Blossoms, a gift of friendship from Japan, to learn more about another expression of appreciation to the United States.
Have your students think about how these and other gifts to the United States have improved the relationships with the countries involved. Are there times where these gifts may not have improved relations?
Tell us how you might use primary sources to examine the historical significance of gift giving between countries.