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Chart with images of noble people, what appears to be waterways and land locations
Chart of the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and the coasts of western Europe and northwest Africa. Mateus Prunes, 1559

Exploring Heritage and Culture Using Library of Congress Collections

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This post was written by Isabel Sans, an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina and a Fall 2023 Teaching with Primary Sources intern.

My family is from Lleida, part of Catalonia in northeast Spain, and I was curious to see if I could find anything from my culture in Library of Congress collections. To my surprise, I discovered many items not just in Spanish, but in Catalan. My favorites included spoken poetry, a nautical chart, and the oldest surviving document written in Catalan.

As I explored sources from my family’s language and culture, I began thinking about ways to engage students in analyzing primary sources from their own cultures. Here are some suggested activities using Catalan items as examples:

  • Students can observe details in magazines and newspapers written in any language. For this comparison activity, display and invite the class to examine this front page from Puck magazine, highlighting the page’s key details (title, illustration, date, price, etc.) in different colors. Next, display the first two pages of L’Atlantida and invite students to look closely. As a class or in groups, challenge students to identify and highlight the same details. What details did students notice that appeared to be the same in both sources, even without knowing Catalan? What differences did students find between the two magazines?
  • What can national anthems tell us about culture? As a class, listen to this very early recording of “Els Segadors,” the national anthem of Catalonia. Before playing the recording a second time, distribute copies of the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool and ask students to record their observations, reflections, and questions. When the song is over, discuss students’ notes together as a class. What or who did they hear? Who might have recorded it? Together, read the translated lyrics and the item summary for historical context. Listen to the song once more and ask students to update their notes. Students might use their primary source-based evidence to write responses to prompts, such as: What story does this anthem tell? How does it portray Catalans? For further research, students might compare this Catalan recording to another early recording of America’s national anthem. What lyrics connect these anthems to their people’s history and culture?
  • How do people communicate about their cultural values? Use this book page for a thinking routine: Partners take turns identifying details and responding to the question “Why is it that way?”, referring back to their primary source observations. After one round of the game, provide students with the item record for further context and repeat the thinking routine. After this second round, facilitate a class discussion of observations, reflections, and questions about the book page. What can this image reveal about medieval Catalan culture, gender norms, and society in the 15th century? What other types of primary sources might you use to further investigate medieval Catalan culture in the 15th century?

To find materials for activities featuring many more cultures and languages, try searching Library of Congress collections like:

Students may search for items representing their heritage or culture by language, location, or subject. Please keep in mind that the Library‘s digital collections contain materials with outdated or offensive language, as well as content that may not be appropriate for all students.

How are you thinking about using the Library’s collections to connect students with world cultures?


Comments (2)

  1. Great blog post Isabel. Thank you for all your dedicated work and thoughtful research as a Teaching with Primary Sources intern during the fall of 2023!

  2. Such a wonderful set of resources! Educators often think that you can’t teach World History using the Library or that ESL students will not be able to access materials — this proves both suppositions incorrect!

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