Share “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” Using Primary Sources

Last year the Library’s education staff provided a selection of primary sources that documented what we did on our summer vacations. This was such a popular post that we decided once again to share how we spent our summer vacations using items from the Library’s online collections. We hope you enjoy this year’s adventures and get some ideas on how primary sources might help you learn more about your students and their interests.

Lee Ann Potter

My husband and I spent a long weekend in Niagara Falls.  While walking along the Canadian side, we read a historic marker that described a mid-nineteenth century suspension bridge that carried trains over the Niagara River not far from the amazing falls.  While my imagination could envision such an engineering feat, an 1856 Currier and Ives lithograph showed it to be even more remarkable. 

Meg Steele

I spent most of the summer in Washington, DC, at the Library working with teachers from across the country who came here for our Summer Teacher Institutes. Our last week was a special focus Institute on Civil Rights, in conjunction with the Library’s upcoming exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This image, “CORE members swing down Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, toward 69th St. ferry on trek to Washington” would be powerful to use with students and reminds me of the amazing 131 teachers who also came to Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, on a mission.

Vivian Awumey

This summer, three generations of my family vacationed together on the Delaware coast.  We made several trips across the bridge depicted in this planning document from the Library’s collection to travel to and from Rehoboth Beach.

Kathy McGuigan

My husband and I got married in August on our way to a camping trip to Acadia National Park.  As one of our first wedding gifts, we were given a framed map of Camden, Maine, the town we overlooked during our ceremony.  As a wedding gift to ourselves, we purchased what I call the “condo tent” for our life-long married adventures in the great outdoors.  I was amazed to find this image which I imagine to be one of the first to capture car camping. It was the best summer yet!

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Camden, Knox County, Maine, 1884.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Camden, Knox County, Maine, 1884.

Stephen Wesson

This summer my family visited New York, where we took in a retrospective on the Futurist movement at the Guggenheim Museum. It included a number of architectural drawings, including works by Antonio Sant’Elia, and it was interesting to view these plans for vast, angular towers within the organic curves of Frank Lloyd Wright’s museum building.

Cheryl Lederle

I spent a long weekend outside of Richmond, Virginia, and drove past a number of Civil War battlefields. The Library has rich collections related to the Civil War, so I had many choices. This photograph of a military balloon got me thinking about the role of technology in war, as in life.

Danna Bell

For the past year I have had the great honor of serving as president of the Society of American Archivists, North America’s oldest and largest national archival professional association. This year’s conference was held in Washington, DC, and the all-attendee reception was held in the Great Hall here at the Library. I was proud to showcase where I work and grateful to my colleagues who helped to make the reception and the entire conference a success.

Anne Savage

Travel was not in the cards for me this summer, so I “got away” by reading historical fiction. I like to delve into the actual events that inspire a book – or the life of the author – by hunting for and examining related primary sources. Viewing images of abolitionists Sarah Moore Grimké and her sister Angelina and reading what Frederick Douglass said about them brought me closer to these characters in the Sue Monk Kidd novel, The Invention of Wings.

Rebecca Newland

Maine is a beautiful state I had the good fortune to visit this August.  We spent a few days exploring Bar Harbor and its surrounding areas including Acadia National Park.  This sunset picture from the top of Cadillac Mountain captures the beauty of the area.  Our visit was a bit earlier in the evening, but accompanied by a rainbow ending an afternoon of rain.

Now it’s time for you to share your adventures using primary sources from the Library of Congress collections. Share your stories along with a link to an item from the collections, or tell us how you used primary sources to learn about your students at the start of the school year.


  1. Heidi Bamford
    September 4, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Hello and great idea! I especially liked Lee Ann Potter’s take on Niagara Falls – it is in my region for work and I have recently been helping out the Local History Room at Niagara Falls Public Library! I have also used images of Niagara Falls from the Library of Congress in a presentation for people interested in Learning about the value of primary sources for the Common Core – the images were used in an exercise to develop “Sourcing” skills and use images to help answer the question, “What has been the impact of the human footprint on the environment around Niagara Falls?” The images from my presentation are available on Slideshare.

  2. Rich Cairn
    September 5, 2014 at 7:41 am

    I love it! This would be a great professional development activity.
    My 78-year-old father-in-law recruited seven of the family to join him white water rafting on the New River. West Virginians thought enough of the bridge – 876 feet above the river – to put it on their state quarter in 2005. Rafting turned into a history lesson about the coal boom in what today is wilderness. //
    The Invention of Flying is superb!

  3. Joaquim Trindade Silva
    September 7, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Uma excelente ideia. Parabéns a todos que participaram nestas férias de Verão. Trindade-Portugal.

  4. Sandi Ames
    September 8, 2014 at 7:03 am

    What a great idea! We generally take the students birthdays and apply them to dates in history, but this would be so individual to make a postcard of their summer vacation of using the front of the card with a primary source with the connection to the back. What a great purpose for searching the Library of Congress for my fifth graders. It was easy to search and select a photo for their card. I began to model it with my swimming scene at Clear Lake, Iowa home of my husband’s grandparents and fond memories of a lazy summer day.

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