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Planting the Seed with Primary Sources

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This post is by Michael Apfeldorf of the Library of Congress.

Looking at primary sources related to growing plants is a great way to combine historical study with hands-on learning activities that students can accomplish at home or at school. Whether students are interested in growing one or two plants in a cup inside their house or going outside to plant a garden, these resources can be used to help them connect their work with the role of gardens and gardening in history.


Students in the Greenhouse, Tuskegee Institute, 1942

Join the United States School Garden Army. Edward Penfield, 1918.

In his blog post, “Primary Sources in Science Classrooms: Plants, Photos from Tuskegee, and Planning Investigations,” Trey Smith shares suggestions for how students can examine historic primary sources to gain insights into planning and carrying out scientific investigations. Upon closely observing this photograph of men working within a Tuskegee Institute greenhouse, students may be curious about what experiments the man on the right is running with a set of small bottles. As they grow their own plants at home, challenge students to come up with experiments they can do.  Ask them to research the historic work undertaken at the Tuskegee Institute. What experiments did Tuskegee students and faculty do with plants and for what reasons?

Danna Bell’s blog post Preparing for Spring by Celebrating School Gardens can help students place their gardening efforts in the larger historical context of school gardens that began in the late 1800s. Ask students to examine the United States School Garden Army poster and encourage them to develop questions that might be researched further within the Library’s collections. For instance, what was the “United States School Garden Army” and why were the U.S. Bureau of Education and Department of Interior marketing it? By extension, students can be encouraged to reflect on their own gardening efforts: What larger purpose might there be to pursuing this activity?

You and your students can find many more plant- and gardening-related resources in the Library’s collections, and can use these to enrich their own gardening efforts. Let us know what your students come up with!


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