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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Words and Deeds in American History
Buddhist Temple of the Goddess of Mercy. Watercolor, George West

[Detail] Buddhist Temple of the Goddess of Mercy

Words and Deeds in American History can lead students into exciting exploration of events and people in our nation's past. Using the items in this collection as starting points, students can build an understanding of pivotal moments in America's past, present, and future.

1) Chronological Thinking

Revisit the four Civil War documents you examined in the U.S. History section of this Learn More About It. Place these four manuscripts on the time line found in the American Memory Selected Civil War Photographs collection. What can be inferred from ordering the documents in this fashion?

Ask students to search the collection for Frederick Douglass. Read the essay that accompanies the Chapter from Frederick Douglass's draft manuscript of his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, ca. 1880. After researching Douglass' life in other sources, have students create a poster which depicts the "most important year" for Frederick Douglass. Have students present their posters to the class and explain why they selected that year.

[Note: The National Park Service's Frederick Douglass National Historic Site will be useful in completing this assignment.]

2) Historical Comprehension

Have students review the Words and Deeds in American History Politics Item List to find material related to the Compromise of 1850. Ask students to read the essays on:

  • John C. Calhoun's speech to the United States Senate against the Compromise of 1850, 4 March 1850.
  • Daniel Webster's notes for his speech to the United States Senate favoring the Compromise of 1850, 7 March 1850.

As a class activity, use Calhoun's notes and Webster's notes to transcribe the opening paragraphs of each speech into typewritten format. Select two students to role play the dying Calhoun and the impassioned Webster and read the opening statements aloud. Have the class act as Congress and vote in favor of Calhoun or Webster.

Discuss the result of Compromise's passage (deferral of the Civil War), and why these two speeches illustrate the democratic process. For additional information, students might read the Today in History Archive on Compromise of 1850, Webster, and Calhoun.

3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Use this collection to set the stage for a research project about the influence of First Ladies on presidential administrations and/or the United States as a country. Have students search the collection to find items related to first ladies. Students may find selections such as:

  • Letter, Mary Todd Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln advising her husband to remove the hesitant Gen. George B. McClellan from command, 2 November [1862].
  • Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White detailing the First Lady's lobbying efforts for federal action against lynchings, 19 March 1936.
  • Letter, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy to Toni Frissell discussing Frissell's photographs of the Kennedys' September 1953 wedding reception in Newport, Rhode Island, [1953].

Have the class read the essays and review enlarged versions of the primary sources they find. Ask students to consider if the documents show evidence of a First Lady exerting political influence.

As a follow up project, have students research the legacy of one of the first ladies represented in Words and Deeds in American History. Compare her political and national influence to a First Lady who has served within the last 20 years. Describe the position of First Lady as you imagine it will be 20 years from now.

[Note: Students might use the National First Ladies Library to find additional sources of information.]

4) Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making

While studying World War II, have students read the essay accompanying the Memorandum from Joseph Stalin about opening a second front in Europe during World War II. Have student teams research World War II's second front in other sources. [Note: The U.S. State Department's Wartime Conferences Between the Allies may be helpful.] Ask questions such as:

  • What were conflicting concerns about timing the opening of the second front?
  • If you were President Roosevelt, how would you have responded to Stalin's memorandum?
  • Based on what you know about the course of World War II, would you have opened the second front sooner than President Roosevelt advised? Why or why not?

5) Historical Research Capabilities

Have students discuss how the Library of Congress Manuscript Division selected these core documents to comprise this American Memory collection. You can read about this in About The Selections: The Core Collection Project.

Assign groups of students to assemble a core collection of documents that describes their class or school. Ask students what primary sources would be important for providing an accurate record. Consider using The Historian's Sources lesson plan for guidance on types of primary sources to help students organize data gathering. Have the students present their "core collection" to the whole class either as a "show-and-tell" or as a virtual museum-style electronic presentation.