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The burning of San Francisco

[Detail] The burning of San Francisco

Lesson Overview

People have always tried to understand the natural world in which they live. In early times, they created myths to explain their experiences with fire, flood and other violent forces. Over the centuries, new scientific discoveries added to their knowledge. Yet, nature continues to affect human lives and people still seek to record their feelings about these uncontrollable forces.

Examine accounts by Americans from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of their life changing experiences with nature. Witness their experiments with the new technologies of motion pictures and panoramic photography to record the immensity of events with which they struggled. Read their moving personal accounts. Study the poignant lyrics of songs they wrote to memorialize each event. Use your research skills to search the American Memory collections to broaden your understanding of how people have dealt with disaster. Then share your learning by creating a presentation for others in which you assume the role of a witness to such an event and create your own personal account.


Students will be able:

  • Read and discuss literary and nonliterary texts in order to understand human experience.
  • Read to acquire information from a variety of sources.
  • Orally communicate information, opinions, and ideas effectively to an audience for a particular purpose.
  • Interpret history using a variety of sources, such as biographies, diaries, journals, artifacts, eyewitness interviews, and other primary source materials.


Time Required

  • Three to four weeks

Recommended Grade Level

  • 6-8
  • 9-12


  • Science, Technology & Business
  • Arts & Culture


  • Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929
  • Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1945


Patricia Solfest & Kimberly Wardean