Constitutional Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons Lesson Engages Students

Today’s post comes from Emily Worland, an intern with the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and an AP U.S. Government & Politics teacher at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas to celebrate Constitution Day on September 17.


Anyone Home? by Clifford K. Berryman, February 24, 1920; U.S. Senate Collection; NAID 60115

A critical understanding of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution is vital to the success of U.S. Government, Civics, and U.S. History students both in the classroom and as maturing citizens, but how can we, as teachers, engage students with the document? In my classroom, I’ve tried telling anecdotal stories to accompany the major provisions, highlighting Supreme Court case interpretations, and have even tried asking students to ‘translate’ the document. But no methods seem engaging enough.

The Center for Legislative Archive’s new lesson, Constitution Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons, puts an end to this struggle. Drawing on the tremendous collection of nearly 2,400 pen-and-ink drawings by cartoonists Clifford and Jim Berryman, this lesson guides students to an understanding of how the provisions of the U.S. Constitution are visually represented in popular media.


The Next Time It May be Final by Clifford K. Berryman, July 14, 1946; U.S. Senate Collection; NAID 60123

In the lesson, students will analyze 16 political cartoons drawn during the early-to mid-20th century and assign each to a provision in the U.S. Constitution. Students will search through the Constitution and associate each cartoon with a specific clause. Through networking, students will analyze all 16 cartoons and read the entire Constitution as they learn about its outline, structure, and content.

While the cartoons depict the events of the late 19th and early 20th century, the provisions of the Constitution provide students with an anchor in which to assign each cartoon regardless of historical context, making the cartoon universal. Beginning a U.S. Government course with this activity will not only enhance student knowledge of the Constitution, but allow them to build confidence in cartoon analysis which enhances social studies skills based on understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating.

I really look forward to using this lesson with my AP U.S. Government and on-level students in the first unit of the course to establish a concrete understanding of the Constitution and begin a practice of using current political cartoons to analyze the workings of American politics.

To read the full instructions for the lesson and download the material for your classroom, visit Lesson Plan: Constitutional Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons.

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A Game Board Patent

Today’s spotlight document comes in the form of a printed patent drawing.  This illustration was part of a 1904 application for an improved game board.

Gameboard Patent

Drawing for a Game Board, 1/5/1904. From the Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. National Archives Identifier: 595519

Lizzie J. Magie, a citizen of Brentwood, Maryland, submitted this familiar-looking game design as a way to demonstrate economist Henry George’s concept of a single-tax, which was a popular idea being proposed for use in the United States.  Dubbed the Landlord’s Game, the ultimate object of the game is to become the wealthiest player while accumulating as much money as possible.

And why is this so familiar?

In 1935 a game based off of Magie’s board design was patented: Monopoly.

We use it to teach about the Constitution at Work, since Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

This document is just one of many records from the Patent and Trademark Office we hold at the National Archives available for use on DocsTeach.

Today’s post came from former social media intern Holly Chisholm.

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Funding for Exploration

The famous Lewis and Clark expedition is a story of American pioneering.  This first major journey of exploration led the way for vast wilderness to eventually become the “settled” West.  Today’s spotlight document focuses on the very start of this expedition, when in 1803 President Thomas Jefferson sent this confidential letter to Congress.

For “the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States,” and “that [Congress] should incidentally advance the geographic knowledge of our own continent…” First page of the President Thomas Jefferson Confidential Message to Congress Concerning Relations with the Indians, 1/18/1803. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier: 306698

First page of the President Thomas Jefferson Confidential Message to Congress Concerning Relations with the Indians, 1/18/1803. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.
National Archives Identifier: 306698

Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson secretly wrote to Congress requesting $2,500 to send “an intelligent officer, with ten or twelve chosen men” on a mission westward.  The primary goal for what would become the 8,000 mile Lewis and Clark expedition was to seek out trade routes—all the way to the Pacific Ocean—and begin relations with the tribes of Native Americans in the West.

Secondly, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were to report back on the scientific and economic resources beyond the Mississippi River; geography, zoology, botany, and climate are just some of the subjects covered in the expedition journals and sketches.

Financial backing was the first step to taking such an extensive journey, and so President Jefferson wrapped his grand vision of western discovery in the modest aim of promoting commerce.  Congress agreed to provide the expedition’s funding, and in the end, Lewis and Clark were well prepared.  While luxuries of tobacco and whiskey did not last the entire journey, rifles were never empty of powder, and all of the expedition’s findings were able to be recorded with ink and paper.

This letter and other documents about the exploration are available online on DocsTeach.

Today’s post came from former social media intern Holly Chisholm.

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You’re Invited to Our Educators’ Open House

Open House Flyer Download the 2015 Open House Invitation

Announcing our second annual open houseCome — and bring your colleagues — for an evening filled with resources and ideas for you and your students.

Thursday, September 24, 2015
5:30-7:30 pm
National Archives Museum, Washington, D.C.
Registration suggested.

Our education specialists will be on hand all evening to answer questions, chat, and share information about National Archives teaching resources. In addition, we will conduct several short demonstrations of our online and distance learning opportunities, — our online tool for teaching with documents, professional development opportunities, and more.

Following are some of the subjects and resources we will share.

Educators are welcome to visit our exhibits, including Records of Rights, Spirited Republic, The Public Vaults and the Rotunda, which holds the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

Light refreshments will be served.

Please share this invitation with your colleagues!

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Settling the West

Passed in 1862, the Homestead Act was an opportunity for the adult head of a family to gain a federal land grant.  While eligible citizens were only those who had never taken up arms against the United States government, the act still helped give many post-Civil War Americans a new life, and assisted with the country’s expansion westward.

Today, we shine a spotlight on the first claim to be filed under the Homestead Act.

Homesteading Certificate of Eligibility for Daniel Freeman, 1/1/1863. From the Records of the Bureau of Land Management. National Archives Identifier: 1656508

Daniel Freeman submitted his 160-acre claim on January 1, 1863.  In accordance with the rules of the Homestead Act, Freeman was first required to settle his plot for five years, and follow a series of steps for improving the property before he could gain full ownership of the land.  The basic requirements for the homesteaders to fulfill were to build acceptable accommodations and cultivate the land.  Daniel Freeman finished his five years and completed the necessary steps.  On January 20, 1868, he was rewarded with ownership of his claimed land.

You can find this document and other primary sources and teaching activities that deal with the Homestead Act on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

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The Purchase of Alaska

For today’s spotlight document we take a look at the treasury warrant used for the purchase of the 49th state.  On August 1, 1868, this check was issued at the Sub-Treasury Building on New York’s Wall Street.  It noted the transfer of $7,200,000.00 to the Russian Minister to the United States, Edouard de Stoeckl, who had negotiated the Alaska Purchase for the Russians.

Treasury Warrant in the Amount of $7.2 Million for the Purchase of Alaska, 8/1/1868. From the Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. National Archives Identifier: 301667

The Russian government had contacted the United States in 1866 to offer the Alaskan territories for sale.  A year later, Secretary of State William H. Seward eagerly negotiated and purchased the land for American expansion.  The agreed upon deal was that the United States would pay $7.2 million for Alaska—which for nearly 600,000 square miles, added up to only two cents an acre.  Nevertheless, many thought the Alaska Purchase was a waste of American money, and nicknamed the event “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Icebox.”

The purchase was found to be far from foolish just thirty years later though, when in 1896, gold was discovered in the American “icebox.”  The great Klondike Gold Strike proved the territory’s worth to even the harshest of the Alaska Purchase opponents.

Find this treasury warrant and use it to create a teaching activity on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

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Calling on the Vice President

John Wilkes Booth, the infamous assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was a busy man on the day of April 14, 1865.  Just hours before the tragedy at Ford’s Theatre, Booth made a visit to the Washington, D.C., hotel where Vice President Andrew Johnson was staying.  It is there that he left today’s spotlight document: a calling card.  Historians are still debating over Booth’s rationale for leaving this card for the vice president.

Calling Card of John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth’s Calling Card, 4/14/1865. From the Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Army). National Archives Identifier: 7873510

The handwritten card is signed J. Wilkes Booth, and contains the short message, “Don’t wish to disturb you.  Are you at home?”  In the original plans for April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was to be kidnapped and taken to Richmond as a means to demand resuming the prisoner exchanges between the Union and the Confederacy.  But shortly after Lincoln’s second inaugural speech, in which he hinted at granting voting rights to African-American men, Booth changed his hostage strategy to include darker and more permanent measures.

As according to this final plan, Lincoln was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth. However, Booth’s accomplice George Atzerodt lost his nerve and was unable to go through with the assassination of the vice president, leaving Andrew Johnson to become the 17th President of the United States.

You can find more documents on the Civil War and Reconstruction online at

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Newly Digitized Hoover Presidential Documents

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, IA, was the final location for this year’s Primarily Teaching summer institutes.  At the library, the workshop participants explored documents from Herbert Hoover’s time as the 31st President of the United States.

Proportion of Population Given Relief in May 1929, May 1930, and May 1931 in 13 Specified Cities (Based on Data from US Children’s Bureau), 1931. From the Collection HH-HOOVH: Herbert Hoover Papers.

Proportion of Population Given Relief in May 1929, May 1930, and May 1931 in 13 Specified Cities (Based on Data from US Children’s Bureau), 1931. From the Collection HH-HOOVH: Herbert Hoover Papers.

Because the years of his presidency cover the beginning of the Great Depression, many of the documents digitized during Primarily Teaching relate to the rising unemployment rates, and the public works and relief efforts for the poor following the stock market crash of 1929.

With the onset of the Great Depression, concerned citizens from around the country sent Hoover letters on the destitution in their neighborhoods, often describing their own opinions on how America should beat the depression it faced; many asked for appropriations to be made for the homeless—especially nearing the frigid winter months.

Through the entirety of his term, President Hoover tried his best to help alleviate American poverty and unemployment without an over-reliance on federal intervention or creating situations in which fraud or special privileges could take root.  He recommended local aid through various work projects, encouraged cooperation between businesses and government, and worked to stabilize the economy.  Hoover struggled tirelessly in the fight against American poverty.

Telegram from Gustavus D. Pope of the American Red Cross to President Herbert Hoover, May 6, 1930. From the Collection HH-HOOVH: Herbert Hoover Papers.

Telegram from Gustavus D. Pope of the American Red Cross to President Herbert Hoover, May 6, 1930. From the Collection HH-HOOVH: Herbert Hoover Papers.

The classroom suitable documents that were scanned and digitized by educator and staff alike are now up and available on—our online tool for teaching with documents—for anyone looking for primary sources on relief efforts during the Great Depression.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was the last stop for the Primarily Teaching workshops this summer, but in early 2016 we will have information regarding next year’s institutes—stay tuned!

White House Statement on Emergency Appropriations for Public Works, 11/8/1930. From the Collection HH-HOOVH: Herbert Hoover Papers.

White House Statement on Emergency Appropriations for Public Works, 11/8/1930. From the Collection HH-HOOVH: Herbert Hoover Papers.

Each Primarily Teaching workshop focuses on a specific topic, but all fit into the National History Day theme—this year’s being “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.”  The research at the Hoover Presidential Library was a great success, and thanks to the effort of teachers and staff, documents on President Hoover’s role in Great Depression poverty relief and assistance can now be accessed and used for teaching and classroom activities.

We would like to thank all the teachers who participated in this year’s Primarily Teaching summer institutes!  In total, over 250 more documents are now available online through the efforts of our educators!

Hope to see you next summer!

Primarily Teaching is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation, through the support of Texas Instruments and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

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Congratulations NHD Winners!

To those students who were involved in National History Day this year, a job well done!

We are especially delighted to send our warmest congratulations to students who attended workshops or researched at our National Archives or Presidential Library locations and took their projects all the way to the national contest in College Park, MD, last month. We commend those students who worked with us at:

The National Archives at Atlanta:

  • Makena Massie, Haleigh Massie, and Isabella Rogers, of McDonough, GA, placed fifth in Junior Group Performance with their entry: “Pink Cadillacs, Diamond Bumble Bees & the Golden Rule: The Leadership and Legacy of Mary Kay Ash.”  They attend Impact Academy and studied with teacher Kelley Theodocion.
  • William Mason and Jackson Brown, Junior Group Documentary, “The Waters of Warm Springs: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Less Commonly Known Legacy”
  • Darin Momayezi and Damon Lin, Junior Group Documentary, “Iranian Democracy: Mohammad Mossadeq”
  • Susie Dorminy, Junior Individual Performance, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing for Democracy
  • Pate Williams, Walt Stewart, Pierce Skinner, and Robert Reese, Junior Group Performance, “Jackie Robinson: American Legend”
  • Jissela Flores, Giovanni Alfred, Rohan Kalvakaalva, and Jamal Faqeeri, Junior Group Exhibit, “Osama bin Laden: Legacy of Fear”
  • Nathan Wright, Senior Individual Documentary, “The Great Uncompromiser: The Leadership and Legacy of Lucius D. Clay”
  • Anthony Dukes, Senior Group Performance, “Leadership and Legacy of H.L. Hunley”
  • Thomas Dorminy, Senior Group Performance, “Leadership and Legacy of Wernher von Braun”

The National Archives at New York City:

  • Scott Leff of New York, NY, placed 13th in Senior Paper with his entry: “Bringing Ballet to the United States: The Story of George Balanchine.”  He attends Friends Seminary and studied with teacher Kristen Fairey.
  • Lily Seltz, “Your Words Are Your Monuments: Frederick Douglass’ Leadership and Legacy in Writing”

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum:

  • Jay Mehta of Kansas City, MO, placed first in Junior Individual Performance with his entry: “Victory at All Costs: The Leadership and Legacy of Winston Churchill.”  He attends Pembroke High School and studied with teacher Dan O’Connell.
  • Hannah Scott of Odessa, MO, placed ninth in Senior Individual Exhibit with her entry: “The Conscience of Kansas City: Lucile Bluford and Her Unparalleled Leadership in the Call for Change.”  She attends Odessa High School and studied with teacher Paula Hawk.
  • Grace Cogan of Weston, MO, placed fifth in Junior Individual Performance with her entry: “Paving the Moral Path – Frances Perkins’ Leadership informing a Legacy for Worker’s Rights.”  She studied with teacher Lenora Medcalf.
  • Lauren Brookins, Junior Individual Web Site, “Susan B. Anthony: Women Work, Women Vote”
  • Anna Praiswater, Junior Paper, “J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Ethical Side of Science”
  • Miles Allain, Senior Individual Performance, “Walt Disney: The Pursuit of a Dream”
  • Michaela Scarrow, Senior Individual Documentary, “Hans Berger and the Electroencephalograph: Playing with the Mind”

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum:

  • Allison Bushong, Junior Individual Documentary, “History and Cultural Significance of Seasame Street”

The William J. Clinton Library and Museum:

  • Noah Smith of Russellville, AR, placed 14th in Junior Individual Documentary with his entry: “Van Cliburn: Cross-Cultural Leadership Through Music.”  He attends Russellville Junior High and studied with teacher Aimee Mimms.
  • Jordan Isenbart, and Raegan Couch, of Springdale, AR, placed 12th in Junior Group Exhibit with their entry: “Madam C.J. Walker and Her Hair Raising Legacy.”  They attend Central Junior High School and studied with teachers Thomas Pittman, Sara Ayres, and Darren Vaughn.
  • Nicole Ursin
  • Bekki Chastain
  • Anna Eggburn
  • Ainsley Anderson
  • Samuel Lu
  • Aaron Tran
  • Anna Freyaldenhoven
  • Sydney Mulhearn
  • Claire Gillaspy
  • Vera Lambert
  • Mary Nail
  • Kennedy Reynolds
  • Connor Lichtenwalter
  • Noah Akey
  • Tia Sisemore
  • Sydni Walsworth
  • Benjamin Redmon
  • Vicente Guerro
  • Mattison Griffin

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum:

  • Cale Bowe and Brady Frank, “Herbert Hoover’s Leadership in the 1927 Flood: Building a Humanitarian Legacy”
  • We would also like to recognize Clara Sumin Yoon who placed third in the History Day Korea contest.

The National Archives in Washington, DC:

The majority of the 58 DC students who advanced to the national competition attended a workshop or help session this year!

  • Caroline Katzive of Washington, DC, placed first in Junior Paper with her entry: “Margaret Sanger.”  She attends Alice Deal Middle School and studied with teacher Yvette Simpson.

Congratulations to all! We look forward to working with students for the coming year’s NHD contest! Our National History Day resource page includes: information about researching at a National Archives facility, online tools and databases, and details on upcoming workshops and webinars.

We made every effort to include all students who researched at the National Archives and made it to the National Contest. If you know of other students who did so, please acknowledge them in the comments section!

National History Day activities at the National Archives are made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the support of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

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Fatal Crash

Just five years after their successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright had begun demonstrating their Wright Flyers in both the United States and Europe.  Today we shine a spotlight on a photograph taken during one of the darkest days of the brothers’ testing.

Wright Brothers Crash

Bystanders help extricate the mortally wounded US Army (USA) Lieutenant (LT) Thomas Selfridge from the wreck of the Wright Brothers Flyer after its crash at Fort Myer, Virginia (VA). At right, several men attend the injuries of Orville Wright, who lies on the ground at their feet, 9/17/1908. From the Records of the Department of Defense. National Archives Identifier: 6641476

While Wilbur was in Europe negotiating contracts with the French, Orville made the trip to Fort Myer, Virginia, to demonstrate the flying machine to the United States military.  On September 17, 1908, Orville and passenger Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge took to the skies.  The flyer had made three uneventful passes over the field before disaster struck.  A propeller disconnected from the machine, and with Orville unable to regain control, the Wright Flyer crashed.

In the picture, bystanders pull Lieutenant Selfridge and Orville away from the wreckage.  The Wright brother, though severely injured, survived the accident.   Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge never regained consciousness; he was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and is noted as being the first powered aircraft fatality.

You can find this photograph and use it to create a teaching activity on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

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