Features: History & Social Studies
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Slavery, the Crisis of the Union, the Civil War, and Reconstruction

Slavery and African Americans in Antebellum America

  • Taking Up Arms and the Challenge of Slavery in the Revolutionary Era
    Was the American Revolution inevitable? This lesson is designed to help students understand the transition to armed resistance and the contradiction in the Americans’ rhetoric about slavery through the examination of a series of documents. While it is designed to be conducted over a several-day period, teachers with time constraints can choose to utilize only one of the documents to illustrate the patriots’ responses to the actions of the British.
  • Slavery and the American Founding: The “Inconsistency not to be excused”
    This lesson focuses on the views of the founders as expressed in primary documents from their own time and in their own words. Students see that many of the major founders opposed slavery as contrary to the principles of the American Revolution. Students gain a better understanding of the views of many founders, even those who owned slaves – including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – who looked forward to a time when slavery would no longer mar the American Republic.
  • African-American Communities in the North Before the Civil War
    Fully one-third of Patriot soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill were African Americans. Census data also reveal that there were slaves and free Blacks living in the North in 1790 and after. What do we know about African-American communities in the North in the years after the American Revolution?
  • Families in Bondage
    Learn how slavery shattered family life through the pre-Civil War letters of those whose loved ones were taken away or left behind.
  • Perspective on the Slave Narrative
    Trace the elements of history, literature, polemic, and autobiography in the 1847 Narrative of William W. Brown, An American Slave. This Lesson Plan was revised 01/19/2006
  • Slave Narratives: Constructing U.S. History Through Analyzing Primary Sources
    The realities of slavery and Reconstruction hit home in poignant oral histories from the Library of Congress. In these activities, students research narratives from the Federal Writers' Project and describe the lives of former African slaves in the U.S. -- both before and after emancipation. From varied stories, students sample the breadth of individual experiences, make generalizations about the effects of slavery and Reconstruction on African Americans, and evaluate primary source documents.

 

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Causes of the War

 

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Abraham Lincoln and the Course of the War

  • Lincoln Goes to War
    Relive the decisions that led to the attack on Fort Sumter to determine whether Lincoln aimed to preserve peace or provoke the hostilities that led to the Civil War.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation: Freedom's First Steps
    (Formerly titled "Attitudes Toward Emancipation.") Why was the Emancipation Proclamation important? While the Civil War began as a war to restore the Union, not to end slavery, by 1862 President Abraham Lincoln came to believe that he could save the Union only by broadening the goals of the war. Students can explore the obstacles and alternatives America faced in making the journey toward "a more perfect Union."
  • Evaluating Eyewitness Reports
    Practice working with primary documents by comparing accounts of the Chicago Fire and testing the credibility of a Civil War diary.
  • Images at War
    Explore American attitudes toward conflict through Civil War photographs and World War II poster art.
  • Picture Lincoln
    In this lesson students will learn about Abraham Lincoln the individual and the President. By examining Alexander Gardner's February 5, 1865 photograph and reading a short biography of Lincoln, students will consider who the man on the other side of the lens was. Students will demonstrate their understanding by writing an "I Am" Poem and creating their own multimedia portrait of Lincoln.

 

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The Art and Literature of the Civil War

  • Homer’s Civil War Veteran: Battlefield to Wheat Field
    Students will compare and contrast Winslow Homer’s painting The Veteran in a New Field with Timothy O’Sullivan’s photograph A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, 1863. Students will imagine what a returned Civil War veteran might think and remember as he tends his wheat fields back home. Students will read a Civil War soldier’s diary excerpt prior to writing and acting out a monologue.
  • The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Courage
    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.
  • The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Realism
    The Red Badge of Courage’s success reflects the birth of a modern sensibility; today we feel something is true when it looks like the sort of thing we see in newspapers or on television news.
  • The Massachusetts 54th Regiment: Honoring the Heroes
    The focus of this lesson is the Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Students will put themselves in the shoes of the men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment as they read, write, pose, and then create a comic strip about these American heroes.
  • Walt Whitman to Langston Hughes: Poems for a Democracy
    Walt Whitman sought to create a new and distinctly American form of poetry. His efforts had a profound influence on subsequent generations of American poets. In this lesson, students will explore the historical context of Whitman's concept of "democratic poetry" by reading his poetry and prose and by examining daguerreotypes taken circa 1850. Next, students will compare the poetic concepts and techniques behind Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" and Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again," and will have an opportunity to apply similar concepts and techniques in creating a poem from their own experience.
  • Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Poetry: the Sweep of the Universe
    Clues to Walt Whitman's effort to create a new and distinctly American form of verse may be found in his Notebooks, now available online from the American Memory Collection. In an entry to be examined in this lesson, Whitman indicated that he wanted his poetry to explore important ideas of a universal scope (as in the European tradition), but in authentic American situations and settings using specific details with direct appeal to the senses.

 

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Reconstruction and After in Art and Culture

  • The Battle Over Reconstruction
    This curriculum unit of three lessons examines the social, political and economic conditions of the southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War and shows how these factors helped to shape the Reconstruction debate as well as the subsequent history of American race relations.
  • Martin Puryear’s Ladder for Booker T. Washington
    Students examine Martin Puryear’s Ladder for Booker T. Washington and consider how the title of Puryear’s sculpture is reflected in the meanings we can draw from it. They learn about Booker T. Washington’s life and legacy, and through Puryear's ladder, students explore the African American experience from Booker T.'s perspective and apply their knowledge to other groups in U.S. History. They also gain understanding on how a ladder can be a metaphor for a person’s and a group’s progress toward goals.

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