What is Decoration Day? Who was St. Patrick? How did Mother's Day or Flag Day begin? 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 this 1920 sheet music - If Baby Would Never Grow Older a Mother Would Never Be Sad. 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: Click on the sheet music cover to explore its five pages. Who wrote the lyrics and the music? Who was the publisher? Describe the illustration on the cover. Who was the artist? What are the people in the picture wearing? Read the lyrics. What is the song about? Does the image on the cover relate to the lyrics? Look at the song on the back cover. Does it have any connection to the cover song? Careful examination of each page can provide clues to the life and thought in 1920.
• Think: Draw upon students' prior knowledge. What do they already know about life in 1920? What had been happening in the world at the time this song was written? What message was the songwriter trying to get across through lyrics? Play the melody and sing the words of the song with the class. Does listening to the music set a particular mood? Who might have purchased this type of sheet music? Would this type of song be popular today? Is illustrated sheet music available in music stores today?
• 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 sheet music, its illustration and lyrics? Where can they find additional information about the time period? Did the songwriter or lyricist write other songs? Is the publishing company still in business? Where can they learn more about sheet music? What other primary source documents might help them place this document 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.