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“You Are a Historian” – and Now So Am I: Reflections of a Library of Congress Junior Fellow

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This post is by Kelsey Hughes, a graduate student at the University of Maryland and a 2017 Library of Congress Junior Fellow

Library of Congress Junior Fellow Kelsey Hughes demonstrates her primary source analysis activity during Junior Fellows Display Day. Photo by Shawn Miller.

This summer, I had the distinct honor of being selected to be a Junior Fellow here at the Library of Congress. The Junior Fellows program brings in students from across the country to spend their summers in different divisions on different projects, doing everything from cataloging to researching and more. When I first began 10 weeks ago, I was asked to create an activity for families visiting the Library.

Three parameters guided my thinking:

  1. The resources used should be available copyright-free in the Library’s digital collections, so that teachers and parents across the country could replicate the activity if they desired.
  2. This idea should be comprehensible and engaging to all ages, even outside of traditional classroom instruction and requiring little prior knowledge.
  3. The activity should be flexible in length – easy enough for a quick visit or a more in-depth exploration.

With those criteria in mind, I set to work creating an activity centered on the bald eagle. I chose the bald eagle because I felt that both the animal itself and the concept of American symbols could be understood in some capacity by a wide age range, and because I knew it was extremely likely the Library would have some amazing resources on the subject.

On any given day in the United States, a symbolic representation of the bald eagle can likely easily be found – decorating the exterior of a building you walk past, on the money in your wallet, even tattooed on the people around you. The symbol feels omnipresent, especially here in the capital of the country. That is makes the bald eagle a perfect symbol for families to explore on a visit to Washington, D.C.

I ended up choosing just five sources for the primary source activity booklet, which I titled “You Are a Historian,” but found so many more that I wished I could have included.

Bald Eagle. Bain News Service

The Human American eagle; 12,500 officers, nurses and men; Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA. Mole & Thomas, 1918

American Bald Eagle

A bald eagle surveys its surroundings high above the northernmost Wyoming reaches of Yellowstone National Park. Carol Highsmith, 2016

Arms of the United States, James Trenchard, 1786

Students will explore this symbol through an activity book that comprises several parts. First, they will complete a primary source analysis activity, possibly in the Library’s wonderful Young Readers Center, exploring three images of the bald eagle, beginning with the most realistic and ending at the most symbolic representations of the eagle. Students are encouraged to Observe, Reflect, and Question each image and make notes or drawings to track their thoughts. The activity is designed to be open-ended and self-paced. Two additional “challenge” images will be available. Students are then asked to engage in more critical thought by completing activities like coming up with their own symbol of the United States and examining a dollar bill to see how we still symbolically represent the eagle today. Finally, students are asked to look out for eagles and other symbols all around them in the world – maybe as they visit other D.C. buildings as a tourist or in their own hometowns.

I was able to present this project at Display Day, a culminating presentation where the Library of Congress Junior Fellows get to show off all they have done all summer. People seemed to be excited about the project and many asked me when it would be put into action (hopefully soon!). I have learned so much this summer. As someone who wants to work as a youth specialist in a library setting, I have really developed a better understanding of how teachers think and how classroom teachers and librarians can work together. I also am now armed with a wide set of tools to engage students with history, encourage critical thought, and make learning fun and relevant.

Comments (6)

  1. good memory ideas too

  2. Can the pictures of eagles and other pictures located in the Library of Congress be duplicated and used for teaching or are they copyright protected?

    • All of the images included are in the Library of Congress and are considered part of the public domain. Each image is linked to the bibliographic record for the item and you can down load JPEG or TIFF images to use with your students.

  3. This sounds like it has the workings of a great analysis and activity for a variety of ages just as you were hoping. I would love to know which of the five images above are your core images and which are the two “challenge images”.

  4. Tom, thanks for your response and question! The two “challenge” images are the two in the top right – the image of the people standing in the shape of an eagle, and the what I call “meaner” eagle with lightning bolts in his feet. The idea being that once they’ve gotten a sense of the symbol itself, students can think of different ways the symbol has been enacted and adapted to convey certain messages.

  5. What a great idea! I think you have come up with a great way to make learning fun all the while using the libraries resources. Great choice of a national treasure, the Bald Eagle and from a national treasure, the Library of Congress.

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