Using Primary Sources to Show Friendship Between Nations

This post features excerpts from the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center’s “Cherry Blossoms, Friendship and the National Archives.” 

First Lady Lady Bird Johnson Planting a Tree During the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival
First Lady Lady Bird Johnson Planting a Tree During the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Tidal Basin, Washington, DC, 4/6/1965. From the White House Photo Office Collection LBJ-WHPO. National Archives Identifier 5730832.

Last month, we centered several family activities around primary source documents in our “Friendship Between Nations” Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day at the National Archives.

The core ideas behind these museum-based learning experiences can be adapted for the classroom too:

Geography — A GeoFind Challenge gave visitors an opportunity to learn interesting facts related to gift giving between nations. Did you know that the King of Siam offered President Lincoln an elephant to help with farming but he graciously declined? While several participants already knew, others learned that the city of DC’s many cherry blossom trees were originally a gift from Japan. We met students from all over the world who enjoyed the geography, history and political connections tied to this mapping challenge.

Lincoln to the King of Siam
Page 2 of Lincoln’s Letter, available on DocsTeach. Click on the image for a larger version.

Your students can also learn about foreign affairs and diplomacy by discussing gifts to the United States and mapping the foreign governments from whom they came. Here are some primary sources to get you started:

Treaties — Especially meaningful was the amount of time that families took to work together to create a family treaty. Many took the task to heart as they learned that this type of agreement between two nations required conversation, cooperation and compromise. A wide variety of ideas were discussed. For example, younger family members agreed to clean up their rooms in exchange for time to play with a special toy. Teenagers agreed to balance their screen time with in person family time together. After using language from a treaty between the US and Japan and writing the document in special script, families worked together to bind them with a fabric cover.

French Exchange Copy of the Agreement to Pay France for the Louisiana Purchase
Agreement to Pay France for the Louisiana Purchase, available on DocsTeach.

You can adapt this exercise for classroom use and then introduce students to treaties such as:

You can read more about our Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day, including other family activities and our partnership with the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), in a blog post written by the Center for Innovation in Early Learning’s director, Betsy Bowers, on the SEEC blog: “Cherry Blossoms, Friendship and the National Archives.”

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