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May in History with the Library of Congress

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Many teachers like to include mini-lessons or bell-ringers about “this day in history.” The Library of Congress offers two resources that recount what happened on a particular day using the Library’s collections of digitized primary sources: Jump Back in Time (introductory) and Today in History (advanced). Choose the one that best matches your students’ reading levels to build both content knowledge and research skills with primary sources in context.

May highlights include the first Mother’s Day (introductory; advanced) and the origins of Memorial Day (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:

Empire State building. From south

The Built Environment


  • May 6, 1856: Robert E. Peary, who claimed discovery of the North Pole, was born (introductory; advanced),
  • May 14, 1607:  the first permanent British settlement in North America was established at Jamestown, Virginia (introductory; advanced);


  • May 16,1868: the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson (introductory; advanced),
  • May 18,1896: The Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that separate-but-equal facilities were insufficient to satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment (introductory; advanced);

The Arts

Illustration from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”


  • May 24, 1844: Samuel F. B. Morse dispatched the first paper tape code message over an experimental telegraph line (introductoryadvanced).

To engage your students immediately,  distribute or display one primary source from an entry and invite them to jot down a single detail they notice and then share. To draw your students deeper into analyzing the primary sources, ask them to record observations, reflections and questions on the Library’s primary source analysis tool. Anne Savage offers tips in  Blog Round-Up: Using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.

Students can also:

  • Compare a secondary source account, such as a textbook explanation, to a primary source account. What can be learned from each? What cannot be learned from each? What questions do students have?
  • Consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic. Ask students to refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source.
  • Use the bulleted list of additional resources at the end of each Today in History entry to search for additional primary sources.

Some of our favorite ideas for using these resources came in the comments reacting to Primary Sources Every Day from the Library of Congress. Let us know how you use them!





  1. Thank you for the links, this is a very easy activity to organize with all of the primary source documents in one place.

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