Abraham Lincoln was a complex man living in difficult times. He’s been portrayed as one of our greatest presidents, a compassionate leader, a loving father, and a gifted writer. But he has also been described as slow to respond and melancholy. To historians, his life, presidency, and legacy have been a source of endless fascination.
In this month’s column, we feature a selection of books on Lincoln that employ a variety of perspectives through their textual structures: accounts that focus on photographs as evidence (Lincoln Through the Lens); explore personal relationships (Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass); imagine a memorial news tribute (Lincoln Shot); offer a scrapbook approach (The Lincolns); and collect and comment on his writings (Lincoln In His Own Words). We provide suggestions for using these books with secondary students to meet standards in social studies and English language arts, while promoting inquiry and integration across the curriculum. Above all, by incorporating a range of titles on Lincoln, we demonstrate to students that there is no one way to approach or tell a story.
Inquiry and Integration
Topic/Essential Question: How do various authors structure their approach to Lincoln’s life and legacy?
Grade Span: 6-8
Disciplinary Core Idea: Historical accounts can vary according to the questions asked and the evidence provided.
The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards:
- D2.His.3-6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.
- D2.His.4.6-8. Analyze multiple factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
- D2.His.9. 6-8. Classify the kinds of historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.
Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
- CCSS.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
- CCSS.RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
- CCSS.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
- CCSS.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Denenberg, B. (2008). Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered. Ill. by C. Bing. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Freedman, R. (2012). Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship. New York, NY: Clarion.
Fleming, C. (2008). The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Meltzer, M. (2009). Lincoln In His Own Words. Ill. by S. Alcorn. Boston, MA: Houghton.
Sandler, M. W. (2008). Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life. New York, NY: Walker.
Teaching Ideas: In the activities below, students are asked to think about what information is provided by the author and how it is presented.
- Examining Photographs of Lincoln. In Lincoln Through the Lens, author Martin Sandler employs photography to help readers build an understanding of Lincoln’s life and times. The book consists of double-page spreads arranged chronologically, beginning with “Humble Beginnings” and ending with “A Broader Legacy.” Each spread contains the following features: title, quote, written text, photograph(s), and captions.
After reading the book, focus on selected double-page spreads. Discuss how each of the elements above work together to create meaning. What information can only be found in the written text? The photograph(s)? The captions? What information is provided in both the text and the photographs? Emphasize that it’s important to integrate information from text, photographs, and captions.
- Using some of the other titles listed above, as well as Internet sources, challenge students to create original spreads about Lincoln. Suggest that they follow the same format as Lincoln Through the Lens.
- Examining Lincoln’s Personal Relationship with Frederick Douglass. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had many things in common, and a genuine friendship. Both were born into poverty and both managed to educate themselves, even studying some of the same books.
Yet Lincoln and Douglass also had significantly different life experiences and worldviews. Douglass was born into slavery, and was determined to destroy it. Lincoln, while against slavery, was determined to save the Union.
After reading Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship, consider first some of their differences. Fill in the chart below to show how each man’s experiences influenced his perspective.
What Were Lincoln and Douglass’s Views on the Following Topics?
Topic Lincoln Douglass
|Why the Civil War was being foughtx||x||x|
|How the War could be wonx||x||x|
|Treatment of black soldiers
- Despite these differences, Lincoln and Douglass had many similar experiences and views. What were these similarities? Which of these connections helped them form a friendship? Reread page 91 of the book for a summary of what the men had in common. Find evidence throughout the text that the author believes that the ideals and experiences these men shared were significant.
- Examining a Lincoln Scrapbook. In the introduction to The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, author Candace Fleming discusses the book’s thematic organization. The book includes a great deal of visual information—some accurate and some romanticized, and provides a mix of major events and small personal details. It is, in effect, a collection of what the author describes as a “mix of the mundane with the horrific.”
Have students read the introduction and make a list of the book’s organizational features. Divide the class into small groups and have each use this list to describe how one of the chapters in the book presents information. Encourage the students to use specific examples to explain to the chapter’s content and arrangement.
- Examining a Memorial Edition of a Newspaper. How can authors recount an “exemplary life?” How can they depict how a person changed over time? How can they highlight what is significant about a life? That’s the challenge presented in Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered. This book is conceived as a “Special Memorial Edition” of The National News and dated April 14,1866, exactly one year after Lincoln was shot.
Before reading Lincoln Shot, have students brainstorm a list of questions that a memorial edition of a newspaper would answer. What should people know about Lincoln? What is important to remember? The questions can address such topics as his early life, his family life, his political career, his accomplishments, and his assassination. It can also provide information about people who influenced Lincoln, and his legacy.
After reading Lincoln Shot, ask students to discuss whether the author and illustrator answered their questions. Have students write their own memorial edition of The National News. What would they include? What do they consider historically significant?
- Examining Lincoln’s Words. In Lincoln In His Own Words, author Milton Meltzer helps students understand Lincoln’s ideas by providing historical context. He offers information about the era in which the man wrote, including insight into some of the major issues of the day.
Use the table below to explore the role of background information in understanding Lincoln’s writing. As students read selected chapters of the this book, ask them to note (1) important background information, (2) the gist of Lincoln’s comments, and (3) personal perspectives on his words. A sample beginning is provided.
Chapter 1: A Passion Within Me
|Background Information That Helps You Understand Lincoln’s Words||Gist of What Lincoln Wrote||Thoughts About What Lincoln Wrote|
|Lincoln only went to school for less than one year. In spite of this, he read many good books—history, fables, and poetry. He was concerned about communicating with clarity and simplicity.||Lincoln wrote that as a child he was irritated by talk that was too complex for him to understand.||I realize that this emphasis on simplicity and clarity of language is noticeable in his speeches and other writings throughout his political career.|
Examine the Sources. Have students examine each author’s list of resources. What types of materials were used? How do these sources reflect the questions raised by each author? Why? Are certain materials better for answering specific questions? Why?
In this column we’ve highlighted five distinct accounts of Lincoln’s life. Their approaches result largely from the questions considered by each author: What do the photographs of Lincoln tell us about his life and times? How did Lincoln relate to people around him? How can Lincoln’s relationship with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, be characterized? How should Lincoln be remembered? What can we learn by examining his words? Depending on the questions authors hope to answer when exploring a life story, they may consult different sources, and, possibly, reach different conclusions. Their work may also spark other questions—one possible reason why there are approximately 15,000 books about Abraham Lincoln.
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