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“What I Did on My Summer Vacation” with a Primary Source Twist

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This guest post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

“What I did on my summer vacation” has been a favorite theme of back-to-school essays and posters for generations!  This fall, the education team at the Library of Congress approached this staple assignment with a bit of a twist.

Fisheye view of Chattanooga showing troop positions in 1863

Rather than the standard prompt, we explored the Library of Congress’s online collections and connected the places we visited—and the activities we participated in—to a primary source in the online collections of the Library.

Cheryl Lederle: I visited family in Chattanooga earlier this summer. While there are plenty of primary sources about Chattanooga in the Library’s online collections, this map struck me for its unusual point of view, inviting close observation and speculation on why the cartographer chose that perspective. The Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga campaigns of June, July, August, and September 1863 offers a more traditional map for comparison.

Highway Bridge and Interstate 395

Danna Bell-Russel: I’ve spent a lot of time driving between Baltimore and Alexandria this summer, and I’ve learned to accept that one can experience horrid traffic at any time of the day or night. I spent a part of nearly every day on some portion of I-395 and the George Washington Parkway. When I saw this aerial view of these two roads, I was struck by how empty they were.

Barcelona Pavilion study drawing


Stephen Wesson: When my family and I visited Barcelona, we sometimes felt as if we were in an open-air museum of spectacular architecture. One of our favorites was Mies van der Rohe’s sleek, minimalist Barcelona Pavilion. I like this study drawing of the Pavilion by the American architect Paul Rudolph because it lets us see one architect’s work through the eyes of another.

Bird’s eye view of Santa Fé, N.M. 1882.

Lee Ann Potter: My family and I spent a bit of time in Santa Fe, NM.  Comparing the city of today with the city as it was represented on this Bird’s eye view map from 1882, quite a bit is familiar.  I appreciate the fact that the Palace of the Governors and the Cathedral are still there, just as prominent today as they were more than 130 years ago.

Graves(?) Hall, Morehouse College

Vivian Awumey: I spent time in Atlanta picking up and dropping off my son who is a junior at Morehouse College, the only all male, historically black college in the country. This photograph, taken by W.E.B. DuBois, shows the Morehouse campus as it looked in 1899 or 1890, about 30 years after its founding.  



Coronado Tent City

Meg Steele: My family spent a week in San Diego. We took a boat tour of the bay and learned about the historic Hotel del Coronado–still attracting vacationers and tourists to the area. This panoramic photo from the Library’s collections shows Coronado Tent City, a lower priced option for families who wanted to visit the beach, but couldn’t afford a hotel. The name doesn’t make it sound too attractive today, but it was taken in 1912, when a growing middle class and popularity of swimming as a leisure pursuit made seaside vacations more popular with more people and this image shows its many attractions.

Mr. & Mrs. Lindbergh, 9/18/29

Anne Savage: Reading is one of my greatest summer pleasures.  Whether I’m reading blogs or books, it’s a great way to travel around the globe and into the lives of others.  One book I reread every summer is Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.


New-York tribune., August 20, 1916, Page 4

Kathy McGuigan: My sister and brother-in-law kindly open their South Carolina beach house to our family each summer on the Isle of Palms near Charleston.  That area is new for us and we enjoy exploring the lowcountry and learning about its rich culture and history.  Last summer a school librarian from Charleston was attending our Summer Teacher Insitute and did her project on the Hunley Submarine from the Civil War.  I learned a ton from that educator and was inspired to unearth more about the Hunley.  This article from 1916 will help you learn more too. 

Now it’s your turn!  What items from the collection relate to your summer adventures?  Please share your stories—or share a link from the Library’s collections with us and we’ll try to guess where you went or what you did.


Comments (13)

  1. This is a wonderful way to tie in summer vacations! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Thanks for a clever variation on this assignment and the enjoyable responses! Here’s a link to a photograph reflecting a location I visited this summer on business, but with much pleasure, too:

  3. Sherry, Might that be the “Bat Man Building” in Nashville, TN?

  4. Yes! And in the foreground is the roof of the Ryman Theater.

  5. While visiting Pittsburgh this summer, my husband and I were caught up in the joy of winning baseball. Pirates, pirates, pirates! I located this photograph (glass negative) of the 1925 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates in LOC’s holdings. Guess who their opponent was? . . . the Washington Senators

  6. I admit, I mostly stayed in Asheville this summer. If you look very closely, you’ll see my lovely garden! Figs, anyone?

  7. To support the point that it is irresistible to tell summer tales through primary sources, I offer a visual of Glacier Park, Montana. Whenever, I return to my Montana home as I did this summer, I find it soul soothing to return to the heavens via the Going to the Sun Highway, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

  8. GREAT idea! Loved reading all the adventures and tying in the primary sources. Might be fun to do with my colleagues!

  9. Teresa, if you do try it with your colleagues, please let us know how it goes! (Meanwhile, how about a primary source that connects to your summer??)

  10. I enjoyed reading these. This summer I was at Disneyland for the first time. I have never been to Disney World. I was struck by how small Disneyland is and by the nostalgia for characters that I hadn’t thought about for decades, such as Mr. Toad. Some entertainment of U.S. fifties and sixties decades are preserved there such as the dinosaur exhibit that I remember from the 1964(?) World’s Fair.

  11. Primary sources are all around us! It seems like every where we go we find interesting things that we never expected. There is abundance of primary sources in our own back yards or close by! I just visited the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Some artifacts from there are in the World Digital Library!

  12. I think this is a fantastic back to school idea to do with students! It is a great way to get to know the students and have them get to know each other. The primary source twist will further engage the students in the activity because they will be interested in seeing first hand accounts of the places they visited.

  13. I love the idea of allowing students to pick a topic from their summer to discuss with the class and their friends. This concept is very innovative and a great idea to use in the classroom. I have found that kids love to talk about what they got to do over the summer with their friends. This concept allows students to not only discuss their summer fun but also hone in on some historically important concepts.

    For instance, if I were to do this project I would take about Erie, PA. The city recently had a Tall Ships Festival to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. Ships from all over the Great Lakes sailed into the bay in Erie, Pennsylvania to highlight a battle in the War of 1812. The link below is an image from the Library of Congress, that relates to my experience. I selected this particular image because I think it requires the mind to think and allows for more opportunities to analyze and interpret not only the War of 1812 but also the Tall Ships Festival and the Battle of Lake Erie.

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