December in History with the Library of Congress

This post was written by Uhuru Flemming of the Library of Congress.

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.

December highlights include the attack on Pearl Harbor (introductory; advanced) and the arrest of Rosa Parks for civil disobedience (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:


Washington Monument

Washington Monument

The Built Environment

U.S Presidents

  • December 28, 1856:  Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, was born (introductory; advanced),
  • December 29, 1808 :  Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, was born (introductory; advanced);


Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Military History

  • December 23, 1783:  Commander in Chief George Washington resigned (introductory; advanced),
  • December 26, 1831:  George Dewey, naval commander of the Spanish-American war,  was born (introductory; advanced).

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 the 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 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!

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: Controversy at the Heart of a Classic

The book has also appeared on the AP Literature and Composition test fifteen times between 1980 and 2013. Despite the controversies, the novel has remained a staple in high school literature study because teachers seek to engage students with texts that provoke discussion and questions. Primary sources from the Library of Congress can help deepen students’ thinking around the issues central to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other literary works.

12 Years a Slave: Primary Sources on the Kidnapping of Free African Americans

Currently 12 Years a Slave, the film version of the true story of Solomon Northup, is showing in theaters. His account is a powerful one: A free African American, Northup was kidnapped in 1841 and taken from New York to Washington, D.C., then to New Orleans, where he was sold into twelve years of slavery. A study of primary sources from the Library of Congress indicates that Northrup’s experience was far from unique. Coming to NCSS with Information That Will Amaze Your Students

The Library’s original Web site for public access to legislative data,, was launched in 1995, making it almost 19 years old! Your students may find it hard to believe that the Internet even existed that long ago. To update, and soon replace, this aging system, the Library of Congress launched in the fall of 2012.

Dedicated to the Great Task: Remembering and Studying Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, renowned orator Edward Everett spoke at the dedication of a memorial cemetery. The world has little noted nor long remembered what he said in those two hours.

Everett’s oration was upstaged by the next speaker’s concise 272 words, now familiar as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The following day, Everett himself sent Lincoln a note, complimenting him, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Broadening Student Understanding of Wartime Experience through Original Works of Art and Personal Accounts

In the October 2013 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article anticipated Veterans’ Day and suggested strategies for broadening student understanding of wartime experience through original works of art and personal accounts.