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[Detail] Millions of acres, Iowa and Nebraska, 1872

Chronological Thinking: Interpreting Timelines

An American Time Capsule contains 265 advertisements, most from the second half of the nineteenth century. The advertisements are designed to sell an array of products, from the Philosophic Hat (1843)  to Dr. J. Bovee Dods' Imperial Wine Bitter for the cure of weak lungs and weak stomachs (1859),  nutritive coffee, a product made from vegetables (1862), and Gale's Horse Hay Rake (1875). 

Browse the collection by Genre, clicking on Advertisements. Browse through a number of the advertisements, choosing one from each decade from the 1830s through the 1890s. You may want to choose advertisements for similar kinds of products or simply choose ads that you like. Print out the ads and make an illustrated timeline of advertising in the nineteenth century. Examine the ads in chronological order:

  • What techniques were used to arouse interest in the products?
  • To what extent did the nineteenth-century advertisements "stretch the truth"?
  • How did advertisements change over the decades you examined? How did they remain the same?
  • How have advertisements changed since the 1890s? How have they remained the same?
  • Use the Special Presentation in The Emergence of Advertising in America to learn more about developments and trends in advertising. Does your timeline provide evidence of any of the developments noted in the Special Presentation.

Construct a similar illustrated timeline of campaign literature, searching the collection for documents on political campaigns. Analyze your campaign timeline as you analyzed the advertising timeline, looking for continuity and change in campaign literature.


Another form of poetry is the song lyric. Throughout American history, songs have been used to call attention to reforms aimed at addressing social issues, such as the abolition of slavery ("Hymns and Songs of the Anti-slavery Celebration of the Declaration of Independence") or temperance ("The Law of Maine [A Song Against Rum]"). A Keyword Search using the term song will produce a list of more than 50 songs, from comic ditties to the anti-Catholic The Convent CellTo the Arm and Hammer, a Communist song celebrating May Day; "A New National Song Under an Old Title (We're Coming Father Abraham)," a campaign song of 1864; and the popular "Battle Hymn of the Republic," written by Julia Ward Howe and published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Soldiers in 1863. Analyze several of the songs listed above to answer these questions:

  • When were these songs written? How did these popular songs reflect contemporary events?
  • Which of the songs promoted a particular point of view about the events? How did the lyricists make their points of view known?
  • What popular songs today use similar techniques to express a perspective on current events? Do you think music is an effective way to express a perspective on issues? Why or why not?