This is a guest post by Meg Steele, who works in K-12 education at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress has just launched a new collection, The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America, which explores American history through the lens of song. Teachers looking to bring a variety of “texts” that appeal to different student learning styles have a brand new trove from which to draw.
Songs of America allows teachers and students to investigate American history as documented in the work of some of America’s greatest composers, poets, scholars, and performers. From popular, traditional, and ethnic songs to classical art songs and sacred music, the connection between songs and historical events from the nation’s founding to the present is highlighted through more than 80,000 online items. Teachers and students can listen to recordings, watch performances and lectures, view sheet music and manuscripts, and read background essays on a variety of historical and musical topics. The site also includes teaching resources that provide context and expert analysis of the songs presented.
Teachers and students can explore the Songs of America collection through:
- An interactive map of the United States, which highlights musical traditions by state and region. A second map focuses just on “Mapping the Songs of the Civil War.”
- A timeline of events that provides entry points based on eras, and illustrates the interconnectedness of culture and history. For example, 1943 offers “Roosevelt and Hitler” a blues song from Buster Ezell, an African American living in the Jim Crow south.
- Articles and essays on historical topics like Immigration, War, Conflict, Politics, and Work with context for connecting music to social studies themes. An illustrated sound recording of “Sprinkle Coal Dust on My Grave” offers insight into the coal industry, the nature of work, energy production and consumption, and industrialization through multiple perspectives.
- Biographies from colonial figures to artists of today, illuminating the people behind the music like Francis Hopkinson, Scott Joplin, Vera Hall, Aaron Copland, and Woody Guthrie.
- Essays about the history of specific songs, and the opportunity to listen to different interpretations, for example with the “Star Spangled Banner” as played by different bands in different eras.
- A key word search of the entire collection. Buffalo, railroad, train, telegraph, and Native American yielded primary sources for a study of technology and westward expansion. Narrow the search by time period, subject, and format, for example, audio or music score, to find just the right source.
The Songs of America Educator’s Guide provides even more ideas for using Songs of America in your classroom.
More Library resources:
- The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America press release
- The Library’s blog post “American History, an-NOTE-tated”
- The Library’s In the Muse blog post “The Library of Congress Presents the Songs of America: ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic‘”
- Folklife Today blog post on the Songs of America