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Studying Historical Disasters with Primary Sources: A Teaching with Primary Sources Round Up

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This is a guest post from Johnathan Abreu of the Library of Congress.

Today, we’ve collected posts from the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog discussing disasters, unexpected events in American history which had important ramifications, and how they can be approached in the classroom.

1340 Perish as Titanic Sinks – New York Tribune

Coming near the tail end of the Gilded Age, a period abundant in disasters both natural and man-made, the sinking of the passenger liner the R.M.S. Titanic was met with shock. The disaster also shook the public’s confidence in notions of material progress as the “unsinkable” ship turned out to be perhaps the largest ship ever lost during peacetime. To commemorate the Titanic’s 100th anniversary, guest writers Anne Bell and Mary Hart of the Library’s Teaching with Primary Sources Program at the University of Northern Colorado highlight digitized primary sources related to the tragedy in The Titanic: In the News and in Memory.

Long term farming patterns combined with high winds and severe drought to produce the dust storms that drove thousands of families out of the Great Plains during the 1930s. In The Dust Bowl: An Iconic Catastrophe, Stephen Wesson provides some background about the Dust Bowl while pointing to digitized primary sources in different formats including oral histories from dust bowl migrants and photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration during the period. Check out the great teaching ideas in this post.

“Rise above.” By Karen Simon, c2001.

In Pearl Harbor: The Nation’s Immediate Response, Danna Bell-Russel highlights the “Man-on-the-Street” interviews taken by Alan Lomax and his crew around the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as the “Dear Mr. President” interviews recorded shortly thereafter, in early 1942. The post includes ideas on how to incorporate these resources, which can be streamed through the Library of Congress web site, into the classroom.

Finally, Teaching About September 11 Using Primary Sources from the Library of Congress by Danna Bell-Russel touches on a more recent tragedy with implications that are still being felt today. This post highlights primary sources about September 11, 2001, including audio, video and text interviews as well as drawings and photographs. Teaching ideas include suggestions for how to approach the responses to the September 11 attacks with students. In comments from a previous post, readers share their experiences with using primary sources to teach about September 11.

Comments (2)

  1. if you want to learning all users the history,s of america please begining with:
    learning the sign (flag,national music)
    learning the biogarphy of famouse humans that important role to make america
    teaching and talking about litarture and folkoloric and fabel and history that ther are between peoples and they have believe that fable and stories
    please show the map of your country and explaine about geopolitic your country
    please sort the matter following :
    video clips
    talking about history with both film and map

  2. I bring the tragedy to the classroom but I do not allow the ugliness to become the focus. I focus on the positives that came out of each tragedy and what we learned as a nation from it. I do believe this is what is important.

    Example: We created a “A Memory Wall” of 911. Each student found someone that was alive in that time and interview them. They wrote where that person was at that time and what the one thing they remembered about that time. We then took these memories and created a Wall of Memories. It was much more meaningful to the students without the horror and ugly pictures of the day.

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