Teachers

Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan:
The Unfinished Lincoln Memorial

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 7-The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
    • Standard 3D-Demonstrate understanding of politics and international affairs in the 1920s.

This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • II.B.1-Students should be able to explain how certain characteristics tend to distinguish American society from most other societies.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history, government, art, and language arts colleagues.

Activities

  1. Photographs, like all evidence, should be examined with care. Students should be aware that, like written documents, photographs reflect a point of view, may even be staged, and should be used with other sources of evidence. Before discussing this photograph with students, post it on the bulletin board for several days and direct students to look at it closely. It is useful to divide a photograph into quadrants and to look at each in turn, noting striking details.

  2. Photographs freeze events in time and evoke in the viewer a memory of the event. In this way many photographs become symbols of an event or series of events--the student kneeling by her slain classmate at Kent State, Lyndon Johnson's swearing-in as President (photo from the John F. Kennedy Library, item NLK-WHP-ST-ST1A163) aboard Air Force One, and the Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima (photo from General Records of the Department of the Navy, Record Group 80, item 80-G-413988). Discuss the photograph of Lincoln's statue as a symbol of the 1920s. Develop a list of photographic images that are symbolic for students. Consider with students how to judge the validity of a photograph as a symbol.

  3. Develop a list of students' images of President Abraham Lincoln: for example, self-taught youth, great debater, advocate of abolition of slavery, assassinated hero. Direct students to investigate these images of Lincoln to see if they stand up under scrutiny.

  4. Abraham Lincoln has been honored in many ways (Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, the Lincoln penny, Lincoln University, etc.). Assign students to survey all of the ways Lincoln has been honored. Has your own town honored Lincoln with a park, school, or street named for him? Create a bulletin board that illustrates the many ways that we honor past Presidents.

  5. Washington, DC, is the site of the memorials to many famous former Presidents and other prominent Americans. There are also memorials to those who served and died in American wars. The memorial to those who served in Vietnam was dedicated on Veterans Day in November 1982. The final design for the memorial created some controversy among veterans' groups. Assign students to investigate the areas of controversy and the compromise solution for this or other memorials including the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

  6. Citizens' groups successfully lobbied Congress to honor slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by declaring his birthdate a national holiday. Direct students to discover how national holidays are created.

  7. If you come to Washington, DC, be sure to visit the Lincoln Memorial. It is especially moving to see it at night. Or, if you find yourself in Stockbridge, MA, visit Chesterwood, the home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French.

From March 13, 1998, until January 10, 1999, as part of the Designs for Democracy: 200 Years of Drawings from the National Archives exhibit, an original design drawing of the Lincoln Memorial is displayed in the Circular Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

More information about the Lincoln Memorial is available from the National Park Service.

Some of the images included in this article and more than 50 additional photographs depicting the Lincoln Memorial are available through the Online Catalog (OPA) database. The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the online catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.

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