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Columbia's centennial greeting A cantata

[Detail] Columbia's centennial greeting A cantata

Lesson Overview

This lesson uses images and texts selected from the digital collections of the Library of Congress to engage students in studying the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Its central topic is the question of what items and images of the Exposition said about America. Students examine other images from the era to see the Exposition in the context of its time, and work as historians using primary source images and documents to construct museum exhibits on the issues of the Centennial Era.

America at the Centennial is about reading documents and images as primary sources in history. This lesson is an opportunity for students to strengthen their skills of close reading, collaborative hypothesizing, and conducting online searching within a library collection. It also engages students in learning history by working as historians as they select and assemble evidence to assert and support hypotheses about American life in the 1870s.

In addition to search, interpretation, and analysis, America at the Centennial poses an authentic task for students to construct historical presentations for an audience of classmates who are similarly engaged as a way of creating a classroom community of active learners.



Students will:

  • Search the Library of Congress digital collections for documents and images
  • Read and analyze texts and images as primary source documents
  • Examine primary sources of the Centennial era and hypothesize about the lives and values of Americans in 1876
  • Create an exhibit of documents (images, and texts) to tell the story of one facet of American life in 1876

Time Required

Two weeks

  • Activity 1: One to two class periods
  • Activity 2: Two to three class periods
  • Activity 3: One week

Recommended Grade Level

  • 9-12


  • Arts and Culture
  • Science, Technology & Business


  • Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877
  • Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900


Nancy Fitch and Charles Flanagan