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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Presidential Campaigns: Packaging the Presidents

Packaging Header

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.
Presidential Campaigns: Packaging the Presidents 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 Packaging Presidents.
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. Students can discuss photographs of presidential candidates on the campaign trail and the image they are trying to convey. Would these images convince a voter to support a candidate?

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

Political Posters and Broadsides

Why teach with posters?
What we see often remains in our memory for a long period of time. A print document is carefully planned and created. Propaganda is a tool used freely during election season. Famous images and slogans that originated on posters of past leaders are still recognized today. Some of the same techniques that were used to invoke emotion are used today in advertisements, something our students will be able to relate to easily. Posters attract our attention and may 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 Packaging Presidents.
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, students will consider all of these features to try and understand the possible motivation and goal of the creator and possible reactions of various groups that view the poster.

Analysis Sheets: Poster Analysis Sheet

Sheet Music and Music Sheets

Why teach with sheet music and music sheets?
Today politicians will often select a popular song to use as a theme song for their campaign. These songs are selected to give voters a glimpse into the personality of the candidate, issues he or she feels strongly about and who they hope to connect with. Early election songs were written about candidates and often reflected the feelings of the person on a particular issue that was important to voters at the time.

A song 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 is to consider a variety of possible perspectives and uses.

Connecting to our topic of Packaging Presidents.
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. Presidential candidates take advantage of this forum to sell the voters on their message. In earlier campaigns whole songs or song sheets would be composed for a candidate so their supporters could sing the praises of their candidate. Song sheets like McClellan will be President created lyrics for the candidate but put the tune to a song that was already popular. Today, candidates rarely if ever have original songs but choose to use parts of songs or song titles that most people already know. Titles such as Take a Chance on Me by Abba was one of the campaign songs used by Senator McCain while Signed, Sealed and Delivered by Aretha Franklin was a preferred theme song for President Obama. Of course neither of these songs have anything to do with politics but the title of each song seemed to fit a feeling or emotion that the candidate wanted to relay to the American people. Today you are more likely to leave a campaign rally with a song stuck in your head rather than the candidate's message.

Analysis Sheets: Music Sheet 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 Packaging Presidents.

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 pupose. 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. A recording of a speech given by President Calvin Coolidge, entitled Law and Order, can be found in the American Memory collection American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election.

Analysis Sheets: Sound Recording Analysis sheet

Political Cartoons

Why teach with cartoons?
Editorial or political cartoons divulge opinions on issues, events and people in the public eye and are present in major, local and regional papers and appeal to most readers. Artist who create editorial cartoons are intune with society and cultural events and possess art skills such as the use of symbolism, satire, and the use of caricatures. The cartoons of the past relied much more heavily on text than modern cartoons that incorporate visual cues for recognition of individuals.

Editorial cartoons can be used to help students identify current issues or themes, analyze symbols, idenitfy sterotypes and caricatures, think critically, recognize the use of irony and humor and understand the need for a broad knowledge base. Cartoons are excellent tools for developing higher-level thinking skills.

Connecting to our topic Packaging Presidents.
Students can discuss, analyze and create original works that reflect their perceptions of current events and issues. Once only utilized in language arts and social studies classes, today teachers of all subject areas can use cartoons with a wide range of topics.

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 search for the use of each tool 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


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 Packaging Presidents.
Before television and radio, campaigning for the office of President of the United States meant traveling to different events and speaking to voters. Because candidates could not be everywhere they depended upon their supporters to get their message out and relay results and feelings of the nation back to them.  The American Memory collections, especially the Lincoln Papers, hold letters to and from candidates pertaining to travel plans, local support in favor or against the candidate and even letters promising support (in exchange for $20). 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

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