Ahoy Mateys! New Whaling Documents Come to DocsTeach this Month

Today’s post comes from Chelsea Tremblay, social media intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

In the mid 1800’s, the Charles W. Morgan set sail in search of one thing: the mighty whale. The last wooden whaling ship in the United States, the Morgan braved the ocean’s rough waters for treasures such as whale bones and oils—not to mention the thousands of dollars seamen earned from these goods.

Whaling is a major part of history! The once popular practice offers numerous windows into the past in various ways: music (sea shanties), art (scrimshaw, knots), mathematics (measurement, navigation), science (whales, oceans, man’s impact on nature), and geography. 

Now you can peek into the past using DocsTeach where 19 documents about the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship were just added!

Search through these records to learn about the goods seamen brought back from their trips. In this merchandise log from 1874, the crew brought back 6,080 gallons of whale oil! Whale oil was heavily in demand at the time because it was used to light lamps and make candles. Sperm whale candles (or spermaceti) are actually said to be to be the brightest, purest candles.

Ask your students: Can you determine how much money they earned from all of that oil?



These documents can also teach us a bit more about life at sea. Sure, the salty sea breeze rustling through your hair and having nothing but the horizon ahead seems like a dream. However, life as a whaling crew member wasn’t quite so romantic. Here you can find the names of two men who deserted the Charles W. Morgan when it made port in May of 1874.


In this collection of new records you can also find discharge certificates and even death certificates.

Some ideas for incorporating these documents in the classroom are:

  • Vocabulary lessons (“absconded”, “manifest”, “[paid] duties”)
  • Whaling math (How much did just one gallon of whale oil cost? What was the average age of a seaman?)
  • Mapping the different ports where the Charles W. Morgan landed

You can create your own activity on DocsTeach using these tools!

Comment below with your thoughts on whaling and your unique ways of incorporating these documents in your classroom, or send a tweet to @DocsTeach #whaling!

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November Education Programs

Today’s post comes from Renee Rhodes, social media intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

We have education programs coming up at our locations around the country and at the annual NCSS conference in Boston. Join us!

Participants at a National Archives Program

Our calendar of events for December is coming soon!

November Events:

(Simi Valley, CA) Lebanon, Syria and Iraq: Roots of Current Conflict – November 1, 10 am – 3:30 pm  

  • Teacher workshop hosted at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. RSVP to reaganeducation@nara.gov

(New York, NY) Navigating the Newness: Improving Content, Pedagogy and Professionalism – November 4, 7:30 am – 3 pm

  • The National Archives at New York City and partner presents on DocsTeach and professional development activities. Register.

(Washington, DC) Making Their Mark Adult Education Workshop Series: Meet the Pen Doctor – November 5, 5:30 – 7:30 pm

  • hands-on workshop in conjunction with the “Making Their Mark” exhibit at the National Archives Museum.

(West Branch, IA) Getting Started on Research – November 7 10 am – 12 pm.

  • National History Day research with the staff at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Topics will include internet research, primary and secondary sources, process papers, researching, bibliographies, and more!

(Online & College Station, TX) “Texas A&M University Chemistry Road Show” –  Thursday, November 13, 10:30-11:30 am and 12:30- 1:30 pm

(Washington, DC) Educators’ Open House – Thursday, November 13, 5:30–7:30 pm

  • After-hours exhibits at the National Archives museum, light refreshments, and information about resources, workshops, DocsTeach, NHD, and more! Email education@nara.gov RE: “Educators’ Open House” for more info.

(Washington, DC) Facilitated Interactive Table for Teens – Friday, November 14, 4 – 4:45 pm

(Philadelphia, PA) NHD Philly Teacher Workshop “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project – Saturday, November 15, 11 am

  • At the National Museum of American Jewish History, with lunch, led by: the teacher who supervised this initial NHD Project, National Archives Education Specialist Ang Reidell, and the museum’s education outreach manager, Vera Da Vinci. Email education@nara.gov RE: “Life in a Jar” for more info.

(Riverside, CA) National History Day Learning Lab – November 15, 9 am to 2 pm

  • The National Archives at Riverside and partners, with presentations, workshops, and archivist meetings to help with NHD projects on the CSU Fullerton Campus. Archivist appointments 10:30 am–2 pm. Registration limited to 100 students.

(Online & College Station, TX) “A Thanksgiving Parade: The Historical Tapestry of Gratitude” – November 20, 10:30-11:30 am & 12:30- 1:30 pm


(Boston, MA)
National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference
November 21-23

Pre-Conference Clinic, Thurs, 11/20, 9 am — “One Tumultuous Year! 1963: The Struggle for Civil Rights” at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Tour, Fri, 11/21, 11:30 am — Guided tour of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including special exhibit “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis”

Conference Sessions:

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National Archives’ Educators’ Open House

Announcing the first ever National Archives’ Educators’ Open House! Come spend the evening with your colleagues at the National Archives Building to find out more about what we offer for you and your classroom.

Thursday, November 13, 2014
5:30-7:30 pm
National Archives Building
Washington, D.C.

Ed Open House flyer 2014

NARA Educators’ Open House flyer 2014–Download and Print

NARA Education Specialists will be on hand all evening to answer questions, chat, and share information about National Archives resources. In addition, our Education Specialists will be conducting several short demonstrations of our online and distance learning opportunities, award winning website DocsTeach.org, professional development opportunities, and much more.

Educators can find out about:

  • Primarily Teaching, NARA’s annual professional development workshop for teachers
  • National History Day resources
  • New NARA app and eBook on the Bill of Rights
  • Constitution in Action Learning Lab program
  • Distance learning options
  • Online resources, such as DocsTeach.org
  • And more!

Educators are welcome to visit our exhibits, including Records of Rights, Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures, and the Public Vaults. The Rotunda, which holds the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, will be open from 5:30-6:15.

No pre-registration is required. Light refreshments will be served.

Share this with your colleagues!

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Forty years ago: Desegregation in Boston Public Schools

Boston, Massachusetts, has long been a crucible for social, cultural, and political change. But Boston is also a city of contradictions.

Forty years ago, a group of parents filed a formal complaint in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts.  The case beings with this simple sentence: “This is a class action brought by black children attending the Boston public schools and their parents.”

Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al., United States District Court Civil Action Case File No. 72-911-G—known as the Boston schools desegregation case—occupies 54 large storage boxes in the National Archives at Boston.  The case was presented over a period of two years, and on June 21, 1974, Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that the School Committee of the City of Boston had “intentionally brought about and maintained racial segregation” in the Boston public schools.

The response to the implementation was protest, at times violent, but eventually the Boston Public Schools would change.

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During the summer of 2014, a group of educators from across the country—elementary through college—spent a week at the National Archives at Boston and Chicago studying issues of civil rights.

They scanned documents like the above letter from Mrs. Sumner Bernstein. She wrote to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Leary explaining how, though she initially “went along with the plan,” she became angry and fearful after her daughter’s experiences at her new school (10/22/1974, from the Records of District Courts of the United States). All of the newly digitized documents are available online by entering “Primarily Teaching 2014” in the documents search box.

They also used these newly digitized primary sources to create online teaching activities related to education equality:

You can create your own activities on this subject with the tools available on DocsTeach!

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Constitution Day: Application in the Classroom

Today’s post comes from Chelsea Tremblay and Renee Rhodes, interns in our Education and Public Programs division.

On Wednesday, September 17, 2014, we celebrated the 228th anniversary of the signing of our nation’s founding document at the National Archives—the permanent home of the U.S. Constitution.

That morning of Constitution Day (commemorated on September 17th each year), we hosted a naturalization ceremony during which 35 new United States citizens swore their oaths of allegiance. Each one was so excited to become a citizen right in front of the Constitution.

We offered multiple family activities for visitors in our Boeing Learning Center. By participating in various activities, National Archives guests learned more about the Constitution’s creation and purpose.

In fact, many Constitution Day activities can be adapted to use in your classroom:

Write your own amendment to the Constitution.Board of new amendments

Students took time to document the issues they find important enough to be added to the U.S. Constitution. For example, one visitor believed every middle school student should be given free shoes.

Additional proposed amendments included:

  • All Americans should pay equal taxes.
  • Every Friday and Saturday there should be free cheese.
  • “No smoking in the United States. Smoking can give you cancer and sometimes you can die. I would have smoking sensors all around the United States.”
  • “Every 4 yards there will be a Chick-Fil-A.”Mock new amendment (1)

Gander through DocsTeach.org to find examples of failed proposed amendments (there have been over 11,000!) to share with students while they learn about the amendment making process.

Build an educational and fun story.

Student doing MadLibs

Students used a fill-in-the-blank story-building activity to help them craft a silly, but educational, naturalization story about immigrants becoming United States citizens. Using this interactive method allowed them to be creative while also learning facts about the process.

This type of activity is flexible and can be adapted to any topic. Here’s an example (PDF) of how we combined humor and educational information in one activity.  (You can download the PDF worksheet for your classroom).

Constitution Day included other fun events: from building a flag for 51 states, to writing with quill pens, to unscrambling the Preamble.

Crafts and games provide a good basis for lessons and, though some that we utilized may be too messy for a classroom, they are still options to inspire other ideas. You can see more of the activities in photos on Flickr!

Girls examining documents

You can also check out some of our many student-friendly resources available online:

And if you’re in the DC area, keep an eye out for future family days, and come join the fun!


This National Archives program was supported in part by the Foundation for the National Archives through the generosity of John Hancock. The Boeing Learning Center was made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives through the support of The Boeing Company.


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Using Primary and Secondary Sources in NHD Projects

Primary sources are so important to include in National History Day (NHD) projects! Along with our partners at National History Day and the White House Historical Association, we wanted to share strategies for researching them with students.

This recorded webinar from October 7, 2014, addresses the differences in primary and secondary sources, how to use primary sources, how to find primary sources, and what judges are looking for in annotated bibliographies and process papers. David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States of America, introduces the topic.

You can watch it on the National History Day YouTube Channel.

Find even more resources for NHD research from the National Archives on our NHD Resources page and other online and in-person events on our NHD Workshops page.

NHD Web Resources

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October Education Programs

Did you know the National Archives and Presidential Libraries have locations all around the country? Join us during October at one of our upcoming education programs—either on site or in conjunction with one of our partner organizations.

Boeing Learning Center at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DCOur calendar of events for November is available at: http://blogs.archives.gov/education/2014/10/23/nov-2014-education-programs/

October Events:

(TX) Teaching the U.S. Constitution with the Center for Legislative Archives – October 9 & 10

  • One-day teacher workshops, presented by Humanities Texas in Corpus Christi, TX, on October 9 and San Antonio, TX, on October 10

(Wayne, NJ) Informational Texts, Research Skills, National History Day and the National Archives – October 9, 9 am – 12 pm

  • NHD primary source workshop with The National Archives at New York City at William Paterson University, Valley Road campus. Register: email full name and school to njhistoryday@wpunj.edu

(Dallas, TX) Educator Block Party at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra – October 9

(Dallas, TX) “Religion and the American Founding” Teacher Workshop – October 10, 9 am – 4 pm

  • Presented by SMU and hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Register for $25 per person

(Chicago, IL) The Great Depression & The Civilian Conservation Corps – October 11, 9:30 a.m. – Noon

(Edmonds, WA) Washington State Council of Social Studies Fall Inservice – October 11, 8 am – 2 pm

  • WSCSS in-service on active citizenship with the National Archives at Seattle at Edmonds-Woodway High School

(New York, NY) K-12 Archives Education Institute – October 11, 10 am – 4 pm

(New York, NY) National Archives Open House – October 11, 1 – 3 pm

  • The National Archives at New York City in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House will be viewable through Open House New York

(Louisville, KY) Teaching about the Bill of Rights, Annual Meeting of the Kentucky Association of Teachers of History – October 17

  • Workshops provided through the Center for Legislative Archives along with The Kentucky Association of Teachers of History

(Independence, MO) Student and Teacher NHD Workshop – October 18, 9 – 12:30

(Atlanta, GA) NHD Georgia Research Roundup – October 18, 9 am – 4 pm

(Independence, MO) “The First World War” Trivia Contest – October 20, 7 – 8:30 pm

  • Trivia contest for high schoolers at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. $25 per team

(West Branch, IA) NHD Kick-Off Workshop –  October 20 & 21

  • Workshop with The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum during Iowa NHD kick-off events hosted by the State Historical Society of Iowa

(College Station, TX & Online) “Humorous Family Poet” by Wayne Edwards – October 23, 10:30 – 11:30 am & 12:30 – 1:30 pm CDT

(Online) New Online Education Materials: Native America – October 23, 8:30 PM EST

  • Webinar with the The National Archives at Seattle

(Dallas, TX) A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams – October 23, 6 – 7:30 pm

(Philadelphia, PA) Following in Their Footsteps Teacher Institute – October 25, 9 – 3:30

(Atlanta, GA) NHD Georgia Research Roundup – October 25, 9 am – 2 pm

  • Help for students picking NHD 2015 topics at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. RSVP (PDF) by October 17

(Online) National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair – October 28, 29 & 30, 10 am

  • Live broadcast with National Archives genealogy experts with session Q&As

(Philadelphia, PA) NHD Philly Kick-Off – October 28, 4:30 – 7 pm

  • Teacher workshop at the Historical Society of PA with The National Archives at Philadelphia


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Free NHD Webinar on Primary Sources on October 7th

Oct 7 NHD Webinar Flyer

Download the flyer (PDF).

UPDATE: You can watch this recorded webinar on the National History Day YouTube Channel.

Documents—diaries, letters, drawings, and memoirs—created by those who participated in or witnessed the events of the past tell us something that even the best-written article or book cannot convey (excerpt from our website).

As all National History Day (NHD) students and teachers know, nothing in history happens in a vacuum.

For a student to fully understand the connections between their topics, the past, the annual theme, and the present, they must immerse themselves in researching not just the subject, but the context set by the time period.

Understanding not just their topic but the time period allows them to answer critical questions such as:

  • Why did my topic happen at this particular time and in this particular place;
  • What were the events or the influences that came before my topic; and
  • How was my topic influenced by and how did it influence the economic, social, political, and cultural climate of the time period?

Primary sources are the best means of capturing the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.

To learn more about how primary sources can be successfully utilized, join NHD, the National Archives, and the White House Historical Association for a free webinar on October 7, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Register here.

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Poetry Slam: A Different Way to Use Primary Sources

Today’s post comes from Kris Jarosik, education specialist at the National Archives at Chicago.

How do you use primary sources with your students?

DocsTeach activities, analysis worksheets, or perhaps even grouped together as DBQs may be a few techniques you employ.

But have you tried a poetry slam?  A partner of ours in Chicago brought this technique to our attention, and we used it with much success during a professional development event.  So we just had to share.

Teachers with their poem

A Poetry Slam with Documents works best when you have multiple dense primary sources that are part of the same story.  With this technique, students are able to build their literacy skill sets by practicing their skimming/reading-for-gist technique and learning content knowledge.

How does it work?

Each group of four students receives a different “meaty” primary source that tells one part of a larger story.  In our workshop each group of teachers received a different document from the court case Gautreaux, et al. v. the Chicago Housing Authority.  You can tap into DocsTeach.org to locate these primary sources.

Share an overview of the topic or story that the documents cover and the process of the poetry slam.  In our teacher example, we provided an overview of the court case before we got started.  This case spanned over 30 years and was the nation’s first major public housing desegregation lawsuit. The Gautreaux lawsuit charged that by concentrating more than 10,000 public housing units in isolated African-American neighborhoods, the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had violated both the U.S. Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


Distribute enough copies of each document within the group so that each member of the group has their own copy of the same document.  Then, individually, students should skim and highlight key phrases and interesting sentences in their document.  Only provide students with enough time to skim the document and not completely analyze it.

Creating PoetryTeachers with their poetry strips

After time is called, each student needs to select 5 of the phrases s/he highlighted from the document and copy them directly onto large strips of paper with markers. Then, in their small groups, students should create a poem based on these exact document phrases.  Encourage students to “play around” and re-arrange the strips on the floor.  Each small group should use at least one strip from each group member.  Then the group should write out their newly created poem on one large sheet of paper.

Teachers with their poems

Performing – The Slam Part

Then the group decides how to perform their poem for the Poetry Slam. Provide students time to rehearse. Each small group will be able to learn from the other groups about the other documents.  A discussion with the entire class (large group) can facilitate and ensure complete understanding, and pave the way for deeper exploration of this complex story.

If you are raring to give this a try, the supply list below can help you get started.

Poetry Slam Supply List

  • small groups of 4
  • a different document for each small group  with enough copies of that document for each group member (each document should be related to one story or concept) DocsTeach.org is a great resource to tap.
  • highlighters and markers
  • large strips of paper — 5 strips for each class member
  • 1 large sheet of sheet of paper for each group
  • tape, or provide a way to hang poems on the wall/white board when groups are performing
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“One of the coolest experiences in my life!”

Today’s post comes from eighth grader Allie Tubbs in Johnston, Iowa, who participated in the National History Day competition.

I recently competed at National History Day and was thrilled and honored to place first in the Junior Individual Performance category. In Washington, D.C., I competed against 80 other individual performers.  I believe the encouragement and helpfulness of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum staff was a critical part of my success.

Allie Performing at NHD

Allie portraying Ruth Fesler, Lou Henry Hoover’s secretary and close friend.

In January 2014, I chose my topic. I started looking for a topic by searching “2014 National History Day research topics” as a Google search.  While scrolling through the results, I found the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum website. What immediately caught my attention was the list of ideas that dealt specifically with their museum.

I clicked on this link and was searching through all the topic ideas when I found the DePriest Tea.  I was intrigued by the fact that Lou Henry Hoover was the first one to invite an African American woman to the White House and decided to make Lou Henry Hoover’s tea with Jessie DePriest my National History Day project.  The link also had ideas for the thesis and places to start researching. This gave me a path to start researching so as not to “drown” in all the research possibilities. After the initial research, I constantly had the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum website open to look for further research and thesis ideas. Using the website and tools from my teacher, I was able to construct my thesis and the very first rough draft of my script.

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover, ca. 1929, photo-print by Berton Crandall Palo, Alto, California. Courtesy of the Hoover Library.

After using all of the resources from the website, I decided to contact the library to see if they had any primary documents I could use as research. I was put in touch with archivist Craig Wright. I had many opportunities to interview Mr. Wright. He was able to provide me with so many primary documents that changed my perspective on my topic. There were so many primary documents accumulated by the library that even after six months of research I don’t think I’ve read all of them!

In February, I was able to visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Everybody I talked to was extremely accommodating and helpful. They were also a valuable resource to answer questions as I was doing my research.  Being able to read and touch documents that former First Lady, Lou Hoover, wrote was one of the coolest experiences in my life! Even after I had visited the library, Craig Wright still was very open to answering my questions. Craig Wright was very helpful and personal and helped in so many ways! I don’t think I could have gone nearly as far in the competition without his help!

All the way through my regional, state, and national competitions the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was always there to help and answer any questions I had. Many times I would call and ask if there was any document that said something about the event and they were able to find it and send it to me. My favorite resource I got from the library was Ruth Fesler’s transcribed oral interview. Ruth Fesler was Lou Henry Hoover’s secretary and close friend, whom I portrayed in my play. This gave me great insight and I was able to incorporate many of Ms. Fesler’s quotes into my play. Without this resource and many others I found through the library my play would not have been nearly as historically accurate, using these primary quotes, correspondence, and newspaper articles in my script.

Even though the National Competition is now over, I cannot thank the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum enough! I will always remember this year not only as the year I won individual junior performance but as the year I gained many amazing experiences from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The library gave me so many helpful materials and ideas. If I hadn’t contacted the museum I wouldn’t have made it to Nationals. This year has been my best year at National History Day, and I fully attribute that success to the help and resources from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum! Thank you so much!

Congratulations to Allie on placing first in the Junior Individual Performance category, and to the many other students who researched at the National Archives this past year! Find our main National History Day resource page at www.archives.gov/education/history-day

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