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Lesson Procedure

Part I Using Primary Sources to Interpret Life during the 1920s

History books tell the story of previous generations, but to really understand what people valued in the past, it is helpful to examine the objects that they left behind. These documents, advertisements, photographs, films, posters, and recordings tell a more vivid and personal story than paragraphs in a textbook. These objects, the remnants of every day life, offer rich insights into the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the people who produced them.

Students examine images of artifacts from the 1920s - the setting for Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Through careful observation, they construct an idea about life in the United States during the "Jazz Age."

  1. Have students select a partner.
  2. Assign each set of partners one or more artifacts from the list below.
  3. Partners analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  4. Students or teachers may wish to print the artifacts in order to get a closer look.



Part II Primary Sources from the 1920s and The Great Gatsby

Students explore Library of Congress online collections to locate primary sources that illustrate some ideas/events/details in The Great Gatsby.

Searching for primary source materials related to The Great Gatsby

  1. Keywords:
    • News - prohibition, women's suffrage, World War I, military, election, politics, trials
    • Sports - golf, golf women, polo, world series New York, yachting
    • Advertising - advertisement home, advertisement cleaning, advertisement appliances, advertisement music, advertisement film, advertisement photography, advertisement fashion, advertisement cars
    • Lifestyles - fashion, education, parties, cars, automobiles, vacations, home decorations, telephone, bar, dance club, photography, clothing
    • Entertainment - film, music jazz, dance jazz, restaurants, dining, movies, radio, yachting, musicians, records, phonograph, dance clubs
    • Editorials - editorials
    • Obituaries - obituaries, death
    • Business - stock market, Wall Street, financial investment, business, manufacturing
  2. Deselect (remove the checks) collections that do not appear helpful.
  3. Have students conduct a "keyword" search by typing a term in the box at the top of the page.
  4. To locate primary sources, students may use the suggested keywords or try some of their own. Remind students that they are searching for primary sources which reflect ideas, events, or details featured in The Great Gatsby.
  5. As students view each item, be sure that they note the time period. They are looking for items from around 1910-28.
  6. Have students keep a list of the items, including URL and caption, so they can locate them again.
  7. Once each team has located at least one primary source for each of the categories, they should analyze them using the Primary Source Analysis tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  8. Additional questions to connect the items to The Great Gatsby might include:

    Based on the evidence of this object or document, what were some of attitudes, values, and beliefs of Americans during the twenties?

    What event/idea/detail from The Great Gatsby does this object or document parallel? (include specific detail/quote and page number from the novel.)

Part III Creating a Literary Newspaper

Students use their familiarity with the Library of Congress online collections, prior knowledge of life during the 1920s, and the events of The Great Gatsby to create an eight-page literary newspaper of historically accurate events from the 1920s and parallel fictional stories based on The Great Gatsby.

Each team locates one or more primary source documents/objects from each of the following areas (documents/objects from Part II may be used): Review Newspaper Directions with students, adapting as appropriate.

To help students understand the types of articles found in different sections of the newspaper, you may want to pass out copies of local newspapers to use as examples.