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New Library of Congress Primary Source Set for Teachers: American Authors in the Nineteenth Century

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Poster for the play “The Raven: The Love Story of Edgar Allan Poe”

Tell-all newspaper profiles. Political controversy. Being name-checked in popular songs. Today these are all routine experiences for movie icons and star athletes. But in the nineteenth century, they could be part of daily life for poets, playwrights, and novelists.

The Library of Congress showcases documents from the work, lives, and public images of five major writers in its newest primary source set: American Authors in the Nineteenth Century: Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, Stowe, and Poe.

Primary sources from the Library’s collections let students explore not only these major authors’ works, but the lively media landscape that they lived and worked in. Original manuscripts of their works–some with handwritten corrections–provide a close-up view of the creative process.

Meanwhile, newspaper articles, cartoons, reviews, and music let students chance to dive into the social context of nineteenth-century literary life. In a country increasingly crowded with newspapers, magazines, and sheet music, a reader might know not only an author’s work, but his or her likeness and life story, along with the melody to a song someone wrote about the latest hit poem.

Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain” with comments by author, 9 February 1888

Common Core teachers will find plenty to work with here: literary texts with illustrations for comparison. It also features informational texts in a number of different media, with plenty of chances to analyze structure and integrate information from multiple sources.

Authors in the nineteenth century were certainly not all celebrities, and some of the five in this set did not find fame in their lifetimes. But this new primary source set lets students discover some of the many different ways that these writers and their readers came together.



  1. Once again the LOC at its best doing what it does best- luring in the teacher by creating that spark
    Of initial interest. All I can say is it happens when
    I have tons of things to do but I get that LOC email
    And I say what’s that about?

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