This is a guest post from Anne Bell and Mary Hart, of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program at the University of Northern Colorado.
How can we learn from tragedies? It’s a universal question that can engage students as they consider both contemporary and historic examples. April 15, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic, presents a timely opportunity. Help your students analyze varying perspectives on this tragic event through primary sources from the Library of Congress.
The Recommended Topics link for Chronicling America (Historic American Newspapers) offers two sets of pre-selected articles and suggested searches: “Titanic, the Building of;” and “Titanic, Sinking of.” Have your students study reports to compare and contrast the energy surrounding the building of the Titanic with the reactions to its loss, then formulate their own questions for further research.
The Library of Congress provides two lesson plans built around these newspaper resources. The Titanic: Shifting Responses to Its Sinking, for grades 6-12, sharpens critical thinking by examining various news reports of the developing event and includes analyzing a political cartoon.
Another lesson plan from the Fall 2011 TPS Quarterly, From the “Unsinkable” to the Unthinkable: Analyzing Historic News Coverage of the Titanic (grades 9-12), follows emerging coverage of the Titanic disaster from several issues of one newspaper. Students are asked to consider, “Which is more important to the Evening World in 1912: selling newspapers or reporting accurate information?”
After analyzing primary sources about the Titanic, students can:
- Analyze images related to the Titanic tragedy and connect them to the newspaper accounts.
- Compare this monument to commemorate those lost in the Titanic with memorials for the more recent 9/11 tragedy.
- Investigate the role that ocean liners played 100 years ago in transportation and the motivations for building increasingly larger vessels
- Discuss in small groups – using evidence from their newspaper investigations – “In what way could a competitive focus on greatness be related to the loss of the Titanic?”
- Analyze the Titanic-related sheet music The Band played ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ as the Ship Went Down. Use the analysis tool and select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Sheet Music and Song Sheets to help students better understand the role this medium played in cultural perspectives and interpretations.
- Listen to the National Jukebox recording of the hymn about which the sheet music was written – Nearer My God to Thee.
Have you used Titanic resources in your classroom or studied the theme of tragedies and loss? Share ideas about what tragedies like the Titanic can teach you and your students.