What is Armistice Day? How did the Thanksgiving tradition start? How did families celebrate holidays in times past? Reading and analyzing written documents – books, newspapers, magazines, journals, letters, diaries, advertisements and songsheets, can help students understand the origin and meaning of these special days. Holiday-related primary source documents can be found throughout the American Memory collections. Start students off by analyzing a 19th century songsheet, The Veteran's Song. Follow the three-step analysis process - observe, think and ask. Use the following guiding questions or develop your own. Use the graphic organizer to take notes.
•Observe: Have students read the text of the song. What does a careful reading actually reveal? When was it written? Who wrote it? What does the title refer to? What is the song about? What war was being fought? Where did the battles in the song take place? What was the narrator's point of view? What was he fighting for? What happened to the narrator?
• Think: Draw upon students' prior knowledge. What do they already know about this time period in America's history? What does this song mean? Why might the song have been written? Where might people have gathered to sing this song? What is the significance of the illustration that accompanies the text?
• Ask: After studying the document and making careful observations, do students have unanswered questions? What else do they need to know to help them fully understand the song. Where can they find additional information about the time period? What other primary source documents might help them place this song into historical context?
Document analysis takes practice but is a meaningful way to help students make historical connections. You can do this activity over and over using the same analysis process. Try it with different document formats. The links on the left are a sampling of the many types of documents that can be found within the American Memory collections. Once you have experimented with these, try searching for more using specific holiday names, symbols, dates, or related terms.