• Pearl S. Buck: "On Discovering America"

    American author Pearl S. Buck spent most of her life in China. She returned to  the U.S. in 1934 and became an advocate for immigration.

    American author Pearl S. Buck spent most of her life in China. She returned to America in 1934, "an immigrant among immigrants…in my native land." In this lesson, students will explore American attitudes toward immigration in the 1930s through Pearl S. Buck's essay, "On Discovering America." They will explore the meaning of the term "American" in this context and look at how the media portrayed immigrants.

  • The Industrial Age in America: Robber Barons and Captains of Industry

    Industrial Revolution

    How shall we judge the contributions to American society of the great financiers and industrialists at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries? In this lesson, students explore a variety of primary historical sources to uncover some of the less honorable deeds as well as the shrewd business moves and highly charitable acts of the great industrialists and financiers, men such as Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

  • Jack London's The Call of the Wild: "Nature Faker"?

    Photo of the dog that inspired Jack London's Buck. Copyright Richard Bond and  Helen Abott.

    A critic of writer Jack London called his animal protagonists “men in fur,” suggesting that his literary creations flaunted the facts of natural history.  London responded to such criticism by maintaining that his own creations were based on sound science and in fact represented “…a protest against the ‘humanizing’ of animals, of which it seemed to me several ‘animal writers’ had been profoundly guilty.”  How well does London succeed in avoiding such “humanizing” in his portrayal of Buck, the hero of his novel, The Call of the Wild? 

  • The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Courage

    Civil War-era portrait of a Federal soldier.

    In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane presents war through the eyes —and thoughts —of one soldier. The narrative’s altered point of view and stylistic innovations enable a heightened sense of realism while setting the work apart from war stories written essentially as tributes or propaganda.

  • Evaluating Eyewitness Reports

    Eyewitness

    Practice working with primary documents by comparing accounts of the Chicago Fire and testing the credibility of a Civil War diary.

  • Lesson 3: From Courage to Freedom

    Frederick Douglass.

    Frederick Douglass's 1845 narrative of his life is a profile in both moral and physical courage.  In the narrative Douglass openly illustrates and attacks the misuse of Christianity as a defense of slavery.  He also reveals the turning point of his life: his spirited physical defense of himself against the blows of a white "slave-breaker."

  • Lesson 2: From Courage to Freedom: Slavery's Dehumanizing Effects

    One of Douglass's goals in his autobiography is to illustrate beyond doubt that slavery had an insidious, spirit-killing effect on the slaveholder as well as the slave.

  • Lesson 1: From Courage to Freedom: The Reality behind the Song

    Frederick Douglass.

    One myth that Southern slave owners and proponents were happy to perpetuate was that of the slave happily singing from dawn to dusk as he worked in the fields, prepared meals in the kitchen, or maintained the upkeep of the plantation.

  • Introducing the Essay: Twain, Douglass, and American Non-Fiction

    Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens).

    The essay is perhaps one of the most flexible genres: long or short, personal or analytical, exploring the extraordinary and the mundane. American essayists examine the political, the historical, and the literary; they investigate what it means to be an "American," ponder the means of creating independent and free citizens, discuss the nature of American literary form, and debate the place of religion in American society.

  • George Orwell's Essay on his Life in Burma: "Shooting An Elephant"

    George Orwell confronted an Asian elephant like this one in the story recounted  for this lesson plan.

    Eric A. Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, is today best known for his last two novels, the anti-totalitarian works Animal Farm and 1984. He was also an accomplished and experienced essayist, writing on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism in England, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali, and nationalism. Among his most powerful essays is the 1931 autobiographical essay "Shooting an Elephant," which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.