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August in History with the Library of Congress

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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.

Houdini and Jennie, the elephant, performing at the Hippodrome, New York, 1918
Houdini and Jennie, the elephant, performing at the Hippodrome, New York, 1918

August highlights include the origins of the eight-hour workday (introductory; advanced) and George Washington recognizing the equal status of Jewish Americans (introductory; advanced), as well as milestones related to:

Alcatraz Prison

  • August 11, 1934: Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary opened for business and took in its first group of “most dangerous” prisoners (introductory; advanced);

World War II

  • August 13, 1942: Joseph Stalin drafted a memo to Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt opposing their decision not to invade Western Europe (introductory; advanced);

The Arts

  • August 16, 1939: The Hippodrome theater in New York City closed its doors for the last time (introductory; advanced);

    Police arresting party picketers outside White House. Harris and Ewing, August 1918.
    Police arresting party picketers outside White House. Harris and Ewing, August 1918.

Women’s History

  • August 28, 1917: Ten suffragist were arrested while picketing at the White House (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!

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