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[Detail] Vinyl recording of President Wilson.

Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking

The war and election speeches do not present a significant temporal sequence. However, students can use the speeches to distinguish past events from contemporary ones, construct time lines, and place events in proper temporal order.

For example, several speakers refer to the conduct of Germany as a major factor forcing the United States into the war.

Listen to the excerpt:
WAV format; 49.6 sec.; 534 KB

Students can study the speeches and other sources to identify and construct a time line of German actions that led to America's entry into the war.

Search on Germany, Prussia, Kaiser, enemy. For example, search on Prussia for speeches such as:
"Call of America" by Senator James Hamilton Lewis, which includes the text;

Now sirs, true to the course of history, these United States must meet the assault from without. It comes from Prussia. Prussia -- whose people were ever received in friendship by our people, and whose children were made our children. Yet in return for our generosity, Prussian military masses, defiant to the peace loving people of Germany, and unmindful of the friendship of America, cruelly assails the United States, drowning her commerce and murdering her citizens.

Historical Comprehension

The recordings offer opportunities for students to develop and improve historical comprehension skills. To modern day students, the message of the speakers may seem vague. Students can use other sources to help illuminate the meaning of each speech.

1) Students can read and listen to General Pershing's speech "From the Battlefields of France." The content may seem mild to students -- a typical 'support our soldiers' kind of speech. Yet, in 1918, this speech had a sensational impact on the American people. Using other sources, students can look for evidence of the effect "From the Battlefields of France" had on the American public and the war effort.

Search on Pershing.

2) Before hearing the speeches, students can use outside sources to research the World War One era. After they have listened to the speeches, students can select a speech and study the issues covered. Students can prepare a brief biography for each speaker, a historical snapshot of the time period, and an analysis of the issue presented in the speech.


Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Approximately two-thirds of the speakers are partisan politicians. The remaining speakers represent business, the clergy, intellectuals, labor, and the military. While all the figures support U.S. involvement in World War One, they do so for a variety of reasons and justifications. This variety allows students to study the perspectives, objectivity, and persuasiveness of the speakers.

1) Teachers can print out the texts of a several speeches. Before copying and distributing them to students, teachers can remove the names the titles from the speeches. Using the texts alone, students can answer the following questions;

  • What is the speech about?
  • What is the speaker's point of view about the topic covered?
  • Which political party or interest group does the speaker represent?
  • Does the speaker make a convincing argument? Why or why not?

When students have answered these questions, teachers can reveal the identity of the speaker and the title of the speech. Then, students can use outside resources to research the speaker and the topic in order to defend or revise their answers to the questions.

2) Because the speakers are well-known, students can use the speeches as a spring board for biographical research. Students might use the Dictionary of American Biography, the New Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, or other sources to create a life history profile of one or more speakers.

3) Using the speeches, students can examine the use of hyperbole and rhetoric as persuasive speaking styles. For example,

a) The use of hyperbole in the World War One speeches can help students distinguish between historical fact and historical interpretation. Some speeches characterize Germany as a monster, a beast, and a threat to God. Some of the speeches are less pejorative, defending American strategic and commercial interests, defending U.S. allies, and promoting an end to the war in the interest of world peace. By studying the different approaches used in war speeches, students can compare historical views on the causes and effects of World War One.

b) The rhetoric of the speeches can help students study elections and politics. In 1920, membership in the League of Nations was a major election issue. A spectrum of views on the League controversy can be found in recordings that range from Franklin Roosevelt's strong defense of League membership to Lodge's denunciation of it.

c) The recordings provide evidence that the League was not the sole issue of the 1920 election. Students can find speeches in which the Democrats are attacked for high taxes, for government regulation, for inefficiency, and for corruption. Students also can find speeches that attack Republicans for endangering national security, trying to fool workers into believing wages depended on a high tariff, failing to reduce taxes, and trying to make the American war effort into a partisan issue. Using this material and other sources, students can discuss reasons for the Republican victory in 1920.


Historical Research Capabilities

These collections provide support for research on causes of U.S. entry into World War One and the nature of partisan debate and electioneering in 1920. For example,

1) Using other sources, students can research points of view not represented in the Nation's Forum Sound recordings. For example, students might study critics of World War One or critics of society such as Eugene Debs. Students might look for evidence of the opinions of Labor leaders (other than Gompers), or of intellectuals such as Dos Passos or W.E.B. Du Bois. Students can use the recordings to answer, "Why do you think these opinions were not included in the Nation's Forum Recordings?"

2) Students can conduct historical research using this collection and other American Memory collections. For example, students can;

Search across all American Memory collections on income tax. Students will find that income taxes have been an American political issue since the Confederation government of 1785.

Using cross collection searches and other resources, students can gain a sense of the evolution of political issues in American history over time.

Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making

1) Students can research American postwar elections throughout history. Students can make comparisons between the 1920 Nation's Forum recordings and other American postwar elections. Students might answer questions such as,

  • What recurring themes or issues do you find in American postwar elections?
  • How have the issues of American postwar elections changed over time?

Students can compare the effects of war and peacemaking on political power in this country.

2) Students can use other sources to study the League of Nations as a political issue. Students can write a retrospective analysis of the wisdom of U.S. decisions about the League. Within the collection, students can find a rich sense of nationalism, particularly in the speeches of Harding and Lodge. Fear of internationalism appears as well, both in sober speeches opposed to U.S. involvement in world conflicts and in vitriolic arguments against Bolsheviks.