Natural Disasters: A New Primary Source Set from the Library of Congress

This post was written by Lesley Anderson, 2021-2022 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress.

Natural disasters can be devastating and awe-inspiring events at the same time. However they are perceived, natural disasters are fascinating to observe, not only because of the incredible impact from the force of nature, but also because of the unique opportunity to bring people together.

A house has been tipped onto its side, and an uprooted tree is protruding from one of its windows

“A slightly damaged house” after the Johnstown flood of 1889

The latest primary source set for educators from the Library of Congress, Natural Disasters, features 18 artifacts including pictures, maps, film, recordings, sheet music, and newspaper articles that document a variety of natural disasters.

There is a film that simulates the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that led to fires throughout the city. There is also an iconic image from the Johnstown flood of 1889 and an aerial map of Chicago just after the fire of 1871. The set includes a film of the town of Galveston, Texas, after the hurricane in 1900, known to date as the deadliest natural disaster in the United States, killing over 8,000 people. This set also features a stirring photograph of the dust bowl.

These natural disaster primary sources can be used in many classrooms as an entry point to impactful historical events, climate science, or even as an opportunity to discuss community response and involvement. How might you use this primary source set with your students?

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