Exploring the Legacy of Magna Carta with Students through Historic Images

The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, 1215. Courtesy of Lincoln Cathedral

The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, 1215. Courtesy of Lincoln Cathedral

In the November/December 2014 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article focused on the influence of Magna Carta on early American political culture. We focused on two portraits of the lawyer and writer John Dickinson that reflect this influence.

(The Library of Congress is celebrating the 800th anniversary of the creation of Magna Carta with an exhibition, “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.”)

The medieval English charter known as Magna Carta was intended as a local political document, created to make peace between England’s King John and his barons in the early thirteenth century. However, it carried within it powerful ideas about the limits of government and the importance of individual liberty, and its influence has spread across the centuries and around the globe.

Portrait of John Dickinson, 1772

Portrait of John Dickinson, 1772

These ideas found particularly fertile ground in Britain’s North American colonies. During the controversy over the Stamp Act of 1765, one writer observed that “the prevailing reason at this time is, that the act of parliament is against Magna Carta and the natural rights of Englishmen.”

In 1772, a popular almanac included a portrait of John Dickinson, whose writings defending colonists’ liberty brought him renown as the “penman of the Revolution.” The portrait is filled with details that not only allowed readers of the time to identify the subject of the portrait, but that also allow students today to speculate about the image’s creator, the context in which the image was made and published, and the connection that creator wanted to make between John Dickinson and Magna Carta.

If you’ve used these sources or others like them to discuss the influence older documents had on the people and documents of the American revolution, please let us know in the comments. What connections did your students discover?


See You at NCTE: Resources for English Teachers from the Library of Congress

This year’s NCTE conference: Story as the Landscape of Knowing will take place November 20-23 in our hometown, Washington, DC. You will find us at Booth numbers 236 and 238 in the exhibit hall Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Teachers Page from the Library of Congress offers ideas and resources for English educators. We have rounded up a few of our favorites.

Tangible and Intangible Legacies

As our fourth and final blog post this fall related to the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, it seems appropriate that its theme focus on the concept of legacy. What a singer-songwriter leaves behind, from recordings, to manuscripts, to lyrics, can be thought of as their tangible legacies. The impact of his or her work, the connections listeners and concert goers make to the music, and the emotions the music inspires–these are some of the intangible legacies.

Teacher Webinar Tuesday Nov 18: Using Library of Congress Primary Sources to Engage Students in Inquiry Learning

An inquiry approach supports students as they draw on their prior knowledge, personal experiences, and critical thinking skills to develop questions that guide their learning. The process engages students because pursuing the answers to their own questions gives them direct control as they construct meaning about topics of interest. Join us for a webinar focused on strategies for taking an inquiry approach to teaching with primary sources on Tuesday, November 18, at 4 PM ET.