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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Teaching Lincoln with Primary Sources

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Introduction | Primary Sources and Analysis Tools 
Library of Congress Resources | Primary Source Set

Choose a link below to access printable PDF versions of these materials including additional information, color images and citations.
Teaching about President Lincoln with Primary Sources Resource Booklet 
Primary Source Set



Primary Sources and Analysis Tools

This page contains information about incorporating primary sources into learning activities and links to primary source analysis tools. Examples of primary sources relative to our topic are included in the printable version of the resource booklet and primary source set above. You are also encouraged to visit the Library of Congress Resources page above to locate collections, exhibits and more sources of digitized primary sources. Of course, you should always go to and conduct your own search for primary sources that you can use in your classroom! If you need assistance feel free to contact the EIUTPS staff or use the Library of Congress "Ask A Librarian" links.


Why teach with photographs?
Photographs are powerful tools that can activate a student’s background knowledge on a particular person, place or event and spark an interest to learn more.  Teachers may effectively use photographs to present historical events, people and places in a personal way that students can connect with.  The idea that photographs never lie has a long history, with many debates resting on photographic evidence. Some argue that photographs can indeed lie -- they can be doctored, staged, or faked in many ways. There is much more to a photo than the subject in the center.  People, places, things and conditions in a photograph may offer a more complete view than what we see in the expression of the subject. 

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
Reading photographs engages students in the processes of historical inquiry.  Students learn to move from a broad, general overview to more precise aspects and then return to the general with new perspectives or understanding. We are very fortunate that there are many photographs of President Lincoln available.  Photos of Mr. Lincoln’s family, cabinet and various sites important during his presidency offer insight not available for presidents before him.  In addition, the photographs documenting events following the assassination provide a glimpse into the reaction of the entire country. 

Analysis Sheets: The More You Look Photo Analysis Sheet| ABC Photo Analysis | Put Yourself in the Picture | Storyboard Activity


Why teach with maps?
Maps serve as representations of geographic, political or cultural features on flat surfaces. Maps are visual records of knowledge valued by people in an area and they point to belief systems as well as boundaries. Teachers may effectively use maps to illustrate concepts that may otherwise be difficult for students to understand, such as settlement patterns, trade routes, economic growth and development.  Maps can be an important source of information for investigation. A map is a visual recollection of where people lived, roads and rivers passed, and natural geographic features once stood.  A map represents a place that has been reduced in size, and chosen to focus on a particular theme. The results are then presented with symbols. The map reader, who may live in a different location and time, must decode the symbols and techniques used to understand the map. To read a map, students should have a foundation of information to place it within the correct geographical, chronological, and cultural contexts.   

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
Reading maps is a wonderful way to present information to students in a different format.  Students will look at two components: the physical qualities of the map and information that will help us understand what this map is trying to tell us and why someone felt that this information needs to be shared.  Many maps are available at the Library of Congress relative to President Lincoln.  Civil War maps offer diverse perspectives of battles, slave populations are represented in other maps and election results are available to be studied.

Analysis Sheets: Map Analysis Sheet


Why teach with audio?
A performance, speech, oral history or other information presented in an audio format is individualized in the mind of each listener who brings their unique experiences and perspectives.  Because there are a variety of types of audio, they may be used in many ways. Entertainment, news reports, speeches, commercials and more present information for a specific purpose.  Audio recordings uniquely present reactions and experiences of average Americans to significant events and to daily life creating an intimate connection with a listener. A personal connection is formed as the recipient forms mental images to go with the words and sounds heard. Recordings can provide information about everyday life and thoughts of "ordinary people" that are often not collected to share publicly. Some audio focuses on specific events rather than broad topics which can help us understand the relationship between individuals and major historical events. The personal reports, often shared through voices full of emotion draw listeners in.

Connecting to our topic of Abraham Lincoln.
Unfortunately we don’t have access to recordings of President Lincoln himself, but we can find recordings of others speaking about life during this time period and music. Reading audio requires interaction between the student and the audio before, during and after listening. Students will first consider the bibliographical information that will provide clues to the background of the recording, time period, historical events that were occurring at that time and the current situation of the United States.  While listening and completing the Sound Recording Analysis sheet students will come to conclusions regarding the type of recording and the qualities of the recording that were used for a particular purpose.  Finally, students will reflect on the recording and relate it to their predictions, what they know about the topic and what they want to learn about the topic.

Analysis Sheets: Sound Recording Analysis Sheet

Posters and Broadsides

Why teach with posters and broadsides?
Propaganda is a tool used as a weapon freely during war.  Famous images and slogans that originated on posters of past wars are still recognized today.  Some of the same techniques that were used to invoke emotion are used today in advertisements, something students will be able to understand.  Posters attract our attention and often immediately appeal to some type of emotional reaction.
When we look at posters as historical documents, we must consider what the poster implies.  In less than a single sentence, and on occasion with no words at all, posters are highly selective in the way that they depict the world. The way that a group, race, class or gender is portrayed in a poster can be very biased or skewed to fit the needs of the creator or to raise the desired reaction from viewers. 

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
Posters and broadsides are available on the several topics relative to Lincoln’s presidency.  The Emancipation Proclamation was printed in many formats.  The Wanted Poster created for the conspirators was found throughout the country.  When reading a poster, decoding and the use of context clues can be helpful.  Students must understand that although their first impression is important, they must continue to investigate the attributes of the poster to fully appreciate how the artist developed the entire finished product.  Using the Poster Analysis sheet students can deconstruct the poster to consider symbolism and messages.  As a final step, student will consider all of these features to try to understand the possible motivation and goal of the creator and possible reactions of various groups that view the poster. 

Analysis Sheets: Poster Analysis Sheet


Why teach with documents?
Diaries, journals, telegrams, and other written documents provide students with evidence of daily life during other time periods. Primary source documents include letters, journals, records or diaries that may be handwritten or typed, published or private. Documents can provide personal information about major historical events or individuals, as well as day to day life while allowing students to analyze fact versus opinion or find evidence or data not located in textbooks. These items record people’s every day lives; event and travel ticket stubs, brochures, programs, flyers and posters. These documents are printed objects intended for one time use. They tell us a great deal about the personality of a group at a particular point in time.

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress consist of approximately 20,000 documents which include incoming and outgoing correspondence and enclosures, drafts of speeches, and notes and printed material. Most of the items are from the 1850s through Lincoln's presidential years, 1860-65. As with anything we read, we use our foundation of knowledge and decoding skills to comprehend new concepts.  By putting the pieces together we are able to understand more than the words visible on a document.  Using the Document Analysis sheet students will consider the physical characteristics of a document and what they reveal about the author.  Students study the document to gain an understanding of the use of terminology, words that are crossed out or added and specific phrases or terms used. 

Analysis Sheets: Document Analysis Sheet


Why teach with letters?
Stuffed in shoeboxes and drawers are countless letters that could provide insight into our nation's past. Some include eyewitness accounts of events or descriptions of personal encounters with historical or popular figures. Many letters are intentionally or accidentally thrown away, lost, or destroyed.  Few historical items are as familiar as personal letters. They are plain-spoken and full of details that come straight from the writer. They teach us that the people in the past shared many of the same worries, hopes and day to day experiences and show us how those experiences differ from ours today. Compared to other written documents, letters are extremely personal and intimate communication. They provide a glimpse at the past from individual points of view, yet most letters resemble others from the same time and place. Letters are written to a specific person typically with a specific purpose and have an honest, casual quality that contrasts with media reports and official documents.

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
Letters written both to and by President Lincoln offer unique perspectives into topics that were important to the whole country as well as those only of interest to individuals and families. There are even letters written between Washington and Coles County, Illinois regarding the care of Lincoln’s parents.  When reading a letter a student must view the letter in the proper context.  The date that the letter was written is important for students to fully understand the purpose of the letter.  Using the Letter Analysis sheet students not only read the words on the page, but consider the relationship between the author and recipient and the perspective of each.  In addition to reading the handwritten letter, when possible transcripts or oral reading should be provided to allow students to reflect on their interpretation.

Analysis Sheets: Letter Analysis Sheet


Why teach with cartoons?
Editorial or political cartoons divulge opinions on issues, events and people in the public eye. They are present in major, local and regional papers and appeal to most readers. The people who create editorial cartoons possess an awareness of society and cultural events as well as art skills such as the use of symbolism, satire, and the use of caricatures. Editorial cartoons can be used to teach students to identify current issues or themes, analyze symbols, identify stereotypes and caricatures, think critically, recognize the use of irony and humor and understand the need for a broad knowledge base.   Cartoons are terrific tools for developing higher-level thinking skills. Students can discuss, analyze and create original works that reflect their perceptions of current events and issues. Editorial cartoons used to be utilized in language arts and social studies, but today, teachers of all subject areas can use cartoons with a wide range of topics.  

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Lincoln was the subject of many cruel cartoons based on both his personal and professional life. The extreme exaggeration of his physical appearance was common in cartoons created by those who opposed his decisions. Cartoons offer a variety of ways to reach learners. The use of language and writing skills, drawing techniques and social situations offer multiple opportunities to reach students from different backgrounds and interests.  Using the Cartoon Analysis sheet students will search for the use of each of these tools in editorial cartoons from the past and today. They will then form opinions about the purpose of the cartoon, the message the artist was trying to send and possible responses by readers.

Analysis Sheets: Cartoon Analysis Sheet

Music Sheets

Why teach with music sheets?
Songs can take a group of people and move them towards a common goal or express common emotions. There are songs that become “anthems” for events and even generations which express emotions, values or experiences that help define a group’s identity.  Song lyrics express lifestyles, values, and appearances. When looking at cultures and society, songs are sometimes considered representative of those who create it at that particular time and place. However, songs are typically open to more than one interpretation.  One of the most interesting ways to use music sheets to consider a variety of possible perspectives and uses.  Music is an open forum for a multitude of topics and styles such as children’s, military, spirituals, celebration, loss, intimately personal, reflective of society and novelty.  For each pro-war song that was written there was an anti-war song.  By looking at the music of a group of people we can learn about issues they were concerned about, what they did for pleasure, their hopes, dreams and frustrations.  

Connecting to our topic Abraham Lincoln.
"We'll Sing to Abe Our Song!": Sheet Music about Lincoln, Emancipation, and the Civil War from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana includes more than two hundred sheet-music compositions that represent Lincoln and the Civil War as reflected in popular music. It spans years from Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1859 through the 1909 centenary of Lincoln's.  Music sheets can be read from a variety of approaches.  Student will often relate to lyrics and appreciate their value when they have an affinity towards a particular style of music themselves.  Using the Sheet Music Analysis form, students will identify various qualities that will help them understand the music and the author’s purpose.  They will also look at any artwork associated with the music sheet.  All of these qualities will help them gain an understanding of individuals who either like or dislike this song. 

Analysis Sheets: Sheet Music Analysis Sheet

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