American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

January 2009

Picturing United States History Forum

The American Social History Project’s latest Web resource, Picturing United States History: An Online Resource for Teaching with Visual Evidence, which debuted last October, will host an online forum in March 2009 on teaching the Great Depression with visual evidence. The forum will be guest-moderated by Professor Barbara Melosh of George Mason University, author of Engendering Culture: Manhood and Womanhood in New Deal Public Art and Theater.

To sign-up for the Great Depression forum, go to: Forums.

Representing a unique collaboration between historians and art historians, Picturing U.S. History is based on the belief that visual materials are vital to understanding the American past. Visitors to the website will find Web-based guides, essays, case studies, classroom activities, and online forums to assist high school teachers and college instructors to incorporate visual evidence into their classroom practice. The website supplements other U.S. history resources with visual materials, analysis, and activities that allow students to engage with the process of interpretation in a more robust fashion than through text alone.

Picturing U.S. History is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its We, The People initiative.

Featured Document: “Washington, District of Columbia. Crowd at President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration” (March 4, 1865)

As we prepare to witness the historic inauguration of Barack Obama this month, historical comparisons are perhaps inevitable. Indeed, the president-elect himself has encouraged them by choosing to appropriate two potent symbols of a previous inauguration, that of his presidential idol, Abraham Lincoln.

As has been widely reported, President-elect Obama will be using the burgundy velvet-covered Bible used by Lincoln at his first inauguration in 1861. In addition, the president-elect will replicate the last leg of Lincoln’s inaugural train journey to Washington from Springfield, Illinois, where Obama launched his presidential campaign almost two years ago. Lincoln’s 1861 journey took twelve days, during which time he made 101 speeches, stopping in cities as large as Philadelphia and Baltimore and as small as Peekskill, New York. While President-elect Obama’s itinerary is somewhat more modest, he will also hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls that Lincoln encountered. Arriving at Washington’s Willard Hotel, Lincoln reputedly found he had misplaced his inaugural address (other variations of the story have the document being lost in Cleveland and Indianapolis). On a more sinister note, rumors of an assassination plot circulated in Baltimore, always a hotbed of southern sympathies, and Lincoln was ridiculed by the media for “sneaking” through the city, with false reports circulating that he had disguised himself in military attire or hidden in his luggage.

Lincoln’s inauguration, March 1865
Source: Alexander Gardner, “Washington, District of Columbia. Crowd at President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration,” black and white photograph, 1865; from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

In an added note of historic poignancy, the Library of Congress recently announced that it had uncovered several photographs of Lincoln’s second inauguration in 1865. The photographs, including the one shown above, were misidentified as being from Grant’s inauguration, the confusion arising from a mislabeled date that was only recently spotted by a researcher. Of particular interest is the presence in the photo of African-American soldiers, visible in the bottom right-hand corner of both frames. African-American soldiers marched in a presidential inauguration for the first time on that mud-spattered day in March 1865.

“Public History in New York City,” ASHP/CML Public Seminar, April 6, 2009

ASHP/CML is teaming with the Gotham Center for New York City History to present a panel discussion on public history in New York City. It will be held on April 6, 2009, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the City University of New York Graduate Center (365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street, New York, NY). The evening is inspired by the career of our late colleague and collaborator, Adina Back, whose own career as a historian of New York City encompassed scholarship, teaching, political activism, museum exhibits, oral history projects, and radio documentaries. Panelists include:

  • Ruth Sergel, film maker and artist, creator of CHALK – an annual commemoration of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
  • Ron Grele, oral historian and Professor Emeritus, Columbia University
  • Brian Purnell, historian, Fordham University, and Research Director, Bronx African American History Project
  • Madhulika Khandelwal, Director, Asian/American Center, Queens College

ASHP/CML at the American Historical Association Annual Conference

On January 3, 2009, ASHP/CML presented a panel on “Many Movements: Teaching Black Freedom Struggles from World War II to the 1960s” at the American Historical Association’s (AHA) Annual Conference held in New York City. The session was part of a daylong “Teaching Workshop for the National History Education Clearinghouse,” which the AHA added to the conference as part of its broader outreach efforts to K-12 social studies teachers. ASHP staffers Ellen Noonan and Leah Potter were joined by high school teachers from one of ASHP’s Teaching American History (TAH) programs: Greg Bernardi (Franklin D. Roosevelt High School) and Beth Vershleiser (Brooklyn Studio School).

Ellen discussed how ASHP’s professional development approach to the civil rights movement has been shaped by the scholarship of Komozi Woodard, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, and other historians who have argued for taking a longer and larger look at the chronology, geography, and goals of the struggle. Leah facilitated a discussion on two primary sources of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: a photograph of women marchers carrying signs demanding decent housing, integrated schools, jobs, and voting rights (pictured) and a 1941 flier by A. Phillip Randolph calling for a mass March on Washington to protest racial discrimination and demand federal jobs. Greg and Beth shared their experiences developing a classroom lesson to teach a broader view of civil rights protest methods. The lesson, entitled “We Shall Overcome-But How? Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement,” asks students to examine photos and first-person accounts of a range of people, places, and struggles, and then to choose what strategies they would use to protest the injustice.

The audience responded to the panel presentation favorably and appreciated Beth and Greg, who spoke with tremendous candor, sincerity, and courage about the challenges and rewards of teaching history.

For more information on the panel, see the ASHP blog posting.

March on Washington, August 1963
Source: Warren K. Leffler, "Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.," photograph (U.S. News & World Report, 1963); from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,

Now and Then: An American Social History Project Blog

We are pleased to announce the launch of Now and Then: An American Social History Project Blog. Visit our blog for updates on upcoming ASHP public events, media projects, and education program work, as well as errant thoughts and musings about the past, present, and future from our diverse team.

RSS Feed Subscription

Did you know you can subscribe to select ASHP/CML websites in your RSS reader? To do so, go to the following links for:

Picturing U.S. History

Now and Then: An American Social History Project Blog

New feeds will be added in the future. Visit the USA.GOV – Government Made Easy site for more information on using RSS feeds.