In the January/February 2018 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article features an image of a Maya miniature flask. The flask, like much of the Maya civilization, remains somewhat mysterious but can offer insights into daily life in Central America.
The mysteries surrounding the flasks can be valuable tools to encourage student engagement and create an interest in Mesoamerican culture. In the article, we suggest inviting students to investigate the image of the flask in the online exhibition of the Library of Congress and craft a list of observations to share with a peer. Generally, the flasks would have been covered in a red pigment and contained various substances like medicine, ointments, or a mixture of tobacco and lime snuff.
The miniature flask featured in the article is a small, rectangular bottle with a stamped image of a Maya ballplayer on the front and back with glyphs on the sides. The image of the ballplayer is a rich depiction of various aspects of Maya life and religious beliefs. A close inspection of the flask shows not only the equipment that players would have worn but also the potential correlations between the game and Maya religious beliefs.
After a brief discussion about student findings, we suggest giving an overview of the Maya civilization and information about the flask. Important foundational information for students moving forward with this activity might include basic information about Maya geography, religion, political and social structures, and economy.
The article then suggests possible extension activities to tie the activity into a broader unit, encouraging students to use their findings to conduct more in-depth research with related items, and investigating various aspects of the flask and Maya culture such as:
Finally, the article proposes an activity that directly ties the flask to students’ daily life by creating a thorough description of an everyday item used by modern society that might mystify archaeologists 500 years from now.
The flask is part of an ongoing exhibition called Exploring the Early Americas, drawn from the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress. As the introduction to the exhibition notes, “It provides insight into indigenous cultures, the drama of the encounters between Native Americans and European explorers and settlers, and the pivotal changes caused by the meeting of the American and European worlds.”
The Kislak collection has more than 174 Mesoamerican miniature flasks, sometimes referred to as “poison bottles,” which would have served a variety of roles in daily Maya life. The article emphasizes the importance of teaching students how to investigate artifacts to build inquiry and strengthen critical thinking skills.
If you engage your students with the items in this collection, let us know what they discover!
In a previous Teaching with the Library of Congress blog post, one of our colleagues posed the question, “What can a political cartoon say that a drawing or photograph can’t?” Artists can use symbols, exaggerate or distort physical characteristics, or highlight ironic events or situations to make specific points in caricatures or political cartoons. To focus the question a bit differently as Presidents’ Day approaches, what can be learned about the artist’s perceptions of a president from the way a caricature or cartoon is drawn? What can a cartoon teach us about a wider community’s opinions?
The Library of Congress has a large collection of political cartoons as well as caricatures of presidents. Students can compare the caricatures of presidents made during their time in office, and the perspectives those images reveal, with caricatures created afterwards.
Here are some possible discussion points:
You can also use the Library’s primary source analysis tool and questions selected from the Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Political Cartoons to help students develop their skills in working with caricatures and cartoons.
Want to find more caricatures? Explore the Swann Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, the Cabinet of American Illustration, the American Cartoon Prints, and the Popular Graphic Arts collections. Search using the word “caricature,” the president’s name, or by a specific event.
How do you incorporate caricatures and political cartoons in the study of the presidency and the actions of the president during notable events in history? Let us know in the comments.
Soldiers, sailors, nurses, artisans, laborers, officers, scouts, and spies: African Americans were at the center of the Civil War from the moment it began and played many roles in the war’s conduct and resolution.
The newest primary source set for educators from the Library of Congress, “Civil War Images: Depictions of African Americans in the War Effort,” explores the myriad ways in which African Americans who participated in the conflict were portrayed visually. Photographs, newspaper and magazine illustrations, envelopes, banners, and posters show African Americans in uniform, at work, in the heat of battle, and in the years after the war, all in images from the Library’s online collections.
Highlights of the set include a previously-unknown photograph of Harriet Tubman, who worked as a Union scout and spy during the war, and a portrait of Union army recruiter Sojourner Truth holding a portrait of her grandson, James Caldwell, who served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
The set also includes a historical background essay and teaching ideas that support students as they analyze these unique images and consider the perspectives that they provide on an aspect of the Civil War that often goes unexplored.
“Civil War Images: Depictions of African Americans in the War Effort,” was developed by Devon Burger, a Library of Congress Liljenquist Family Fellow. To learn more about the Liljenquist family and the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, read this essay.
This post was written by Kaleena Black of the Library of Congress.
On January 9 at the Library of Congress, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson was inaugurated as the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. As part of this exciting event, Ms. Woodson participated in a dialogue with Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden; delivered remarks to D.C. middle school students, Library of Congress staff, and other guests; and answered thought-provoking questions from the audience about her new role as ambassador, her own writing, and the creative process.
“It’s a good question, ‘Who do you show your writing to?’” she began. “I think you show it to people you trust.” She then defined constructive criticism as feedback that “makes you go running back to your work and want to make it better,” while destructive criticism “makes you just want to throw it away.”
So, what was her suggestion on how to get constructive feedback on your work? Politely request of a trusted reviewer (perhaps a friend, a teacher, or a family member): “Tell me something positive, and ask me three questions.”
Feedback can be critical in the creative and editorial processes – and not just for writers, but for painters, musicians, politicians, scientists, and creators and thinkers in many other spheres. The Library’s online collections offer primary sources that reveal fascinating feedback exchanges between some well-known figures. We selected a few examples – there are plenty more to explore.
Invite your students to explore these letters, including a 1908 letter from inventor Alexander Graham Bell to his close friend Helen Keller, in response to her book The World I Live In; an 1855 letter (transcription) from American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson to younger American author Walt Whitman, in reference to Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass; and a 1943 letter from American choreographer Martha Graham requesting feedback from her collaborator, American composer Aaron Copland.
Stimulate thought or discussion by asking:
For future writing exercises, you may pair students and ask them to exchange short writing assignments (or any other creations), and critique each other’s work, either verbally or in writing. This could offer a good opportunity for them to sharpen editorial techniques and habits, and it’ll also help them practice giving and receiving constructive criticism.
Help students reflect on their own creative process by asking:
Let us know how this works in your classroom, and feel free to share any other suggestions or insights that surface.
This post by Anne Holmes was originally posted on From the Catbird Seat: Poetry & Literature at the Library of Congress.
This month, high schools across the country celebrated the academic year’s halfway point. At the Poetry and Literature Center, we also have cause to celebrate this milestone: Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins has added 15 new poems to Poetry 180 for the second half of the school year.
To help propel us into the spring and summer, Billy Collins has this to say:
I started the Poetry 180 program after I was appointed U.S. Poet Laureate back in 2001, and I am thrilled that the people at the Library of Congress have kept the program going strong over all these years. One way we keep the program active is by replacing some poems every now and then with new poems, so the big list always stays fresh.
I’m excited about this new set of poems we just added. They include a bittersweet poem by Mark Halliday about a teacher leaving his office for the last time; a funny poem by Thomas Lux about a Christmas family photograph; a poem by Mary Oliver that is inspirational in its defiance of death; and “Aunties,” a Kevin Young poem about aunts who refuse to let go of their purses. In choosing new poems, I look for ones that reflect the rich diversity of today’s poetry scene, but one thing they all have in common is that each one arises out of common everyday experience. That’s the soil where poems like to grow.”
If the element of surprise is not your style, here are the new poems we’ve added to the mix:
Spring and summer may seem worlds away, but you’ll get there. Just let poetry be your guide.
The Library of Congress is always working to bring new collections of historical and cultural artifacts online, and to improve its current online collections. Here are just a few of the recent additions and updates that might be of use to teachers and students.
Abraham Lincoln Papers – This vast collection, which includes some of the most powerful documents in U.S. history, has been given a serious makeover. The items were rescanned to provide clearer images and include transcriptions from the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox University, each of which can be viewed side by side with the original document. There is additional information on the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation, including a timeline of events, and links to the most frequently requested documents in the collection including the “blind memorandum” and his second inaugural address.
Chronicling America – During the last two months of 2017, staff added 342,873 new pages to this searchable collection of historic American newspapers, bringing the grand total of pages available online to 12,827, 554 pages. Many new entries, including Alaska’s Gold Rush, Anarchist Incidents, Harriet Tubman, the 1883 Krakatoa Volcano Eruption, and the 16th Amendment, have been added to Topics in Chronicling America. Students can compare articles on these and other subjects with information provided in their textbooks or other books. Encourage them to consider why the event is seen and described differently through the lens of history than it was at the time.
Sanborn Maps – Have you and your students discovered these historic fire insurance maps of U.S. cities and towns? They offer great opportunities to study a neighborhood’s history and see change over time. Maps are available for 33 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and Mexico. Students can see how their neighborhood has changed or why places such as hospitals or churches were put in certain areas. Students may also compare the Sanborn maps to Panoramic Maps or some of the plat maps or city atlases for their community.
Presidential Papers – Did you know that the Library of Congress has the papers of sixteen presidents currently available online? The most recent addition are the James K. Polk Papers. Most of the presidential collections include their diaries, speeches, correspondence, and occasionally personal notes to family and friends. Encourage students to choose one of the presidents with papers available online and read the letters relating to a specific event that took place during their presidency. What do their writings show about their thought processes and concerns? Search Chronicling America to see how the press responded to their actions.
To help students learn with primary sources, select questions from one of the Teacher’s guides.
What most excites you and your students about these new and updated collections? Let us know in the comments.
The following is a guest post by Kaleena Black of the Library of Congress.
Our previous post on a recent Mars-related program in the Young Readers Center of the Library of Congress described how students studied historical and current primary sources to prepare them to discuss whether they’d want to visit and possibly to live on Mars. As we mentioned, a critical part of the program was an expert-led imagination exercise (motivated by primary sources), which invited the students to envision a potential community on Mars and their respective roles within it. This post will explain how we supported and facilitated this discussion.
When we first asked the group to define “community,” one student said it was a “neighborhood,” while another described it simply as a “team.” To keep the students thinking about what makes a community, we supported the discussion with a set of photographs of “community helpers” from the Library’s online collections - a police officer, a painter, a teacher, musicians, and a doctor. We allowed plenty of time for students to study and analyze the pictures.
We posed these discussion questions to the students:
When brainstorming what a future community would look like, most students quickly prioritized their families, many of the aforementioned “helpers,” as well as others who could support important necessities. Interestingly, however, when we came to the topic of food on Mars, many students initially insisted that it would come from a supermarket or a restaurant. When we dug deeper about how it would get to the restaurant, for instance, then, we started getting more answers like “from farms.”
During this discussion, the students came up with many other questions about a future on Mars, as well as considerations about how life on Mars might compare to life on Earth. Students might continue to research various topics, including Mars, outer space, and elements of civic or community life.
Let us know how this works in your classroom.
The following is a guest post by Kaleena Black of the Library of Congress.
Ponder this: would you want to go to Mars? Would you want to live on Mars? What might you do there? Who would you want to go with you?
In the Library of Congress Young Readers Center, we posed these questions to student visitors during a program called “Life and Community on Mars.”
We thought our educator community (particularly those of you focused on the earlier grades) might be interested in learning more about this program and how you might repurpose it in your Pre-K or elementary science classrooms – or even in a social studies or language arts class.
We did this program in one session, but you can break it in two parts, as we’ll present it in this blog.
Our program opened with Story Time, the Library’s weekly, themed storytelling program for infants and toddlers, followed by a “See-Think-Wonder” primary source analysis activity. For this, we used two primary sources from the online collections of the Library of Congress: a newspaper article from 1907 and the colorful cover of some sheet music from 1901. We started by showing “No Use! Mars Can’t Hear…” to our group of elementary-school aged students.
We gave the students a couple of minutes to look at the image and read the headline and the first few lines of the article, reading aloud to them as needed. We then prompted them to think about and discuss these questions:
Then, we moved on to the sheet music cover. Again, students took a minute to analyze the image, and then we asked:
Once the students were thinking about historical and artistic perspectives on Mars, we introduced a lesson, discussion, and imagination exercise about living on Mars, facilitated by astronomer Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, the current Astrobiology Chair in the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. She showed current images of Mars available online from NASA. We asked the students:
Then, we got to the main question – the premise for the whole program: Would you want to go to—or possibly live on— Mars? Students paired up to discuss that central question, in light of the new details and insights from all the primary sources.
Watch this space for part 2, coming soon. In the meantime, let us know in the comments how your students reacted to these primary sources about Mars.
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Start: 03 Oct 2017 | End: 30 Apr 2018