July in History with the Library of Congress

This post comes courtesy of 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.

July highlights include the assassination of President James Garfield (introductory; advanced) and the ratification of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:


  • July 5, 1810:  Phineas Taylor Barnum, co-founder of the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, was born (introductory; advanced),
  • July 13 1939:  Frank Sinatra made his recording debut with the Harry James band (introductory; advanced);



  • July 10, 1941:  Legendary composer and jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton died (introductory; advanced),
  • July 14, 1860:  Author of The Virginians ,Owen Wister, was born (introductory; advanced),
  • July 22, 1899: Sculptor Alexander Calder, best known for his mobiles and wire structures, was born (introductory; advanced);

Early Environmentalists

  • July 12, 1817:  Naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau was born (introductory; advanced),
  • July 19, 1869:  Naturalist John Muir set pen to paper to capture his experience of awakening in the Sierra (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!

Five Questions with Chronicling America Digital Conversion Specialist Tonijala Penn

One of the most popular resources on the Library of Congress website is Chronicling America. A collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities, Chronicling America provides digital access to newspapers published in the United States of America between 1836-1922. Meet one of the people responsible for making this collection available online, Tonijala Penn.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Fugitive Slave Act

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was widely influential when it was published in 1852. The Library’s “Sources and Strategies” article in the May 2014 issue of Social Education, the journal of NCSS, discusses the influence of the novel. Perhaps just as important as its effect, however, was Stowe’s original impetus for writing it.