Why is Independence Day celebrated on July 4th? What is the origin of Labor Day? How did families celebrate summer 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 1919 advertising booklet - This Year's Summer Reading. 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 cover of the booklet to explore its 19 pages. What company published the book list? Where is this company located? Describe the illustration on the cover. What are the people wearing? What are they doing? Who was the artist? Browse through the featured titles? Do the book descriptions include content summaries or book reviews? What types of books are included? Are there photographs or other illustrations in the booklet? Does the image on the cover relate to the titles listed in the book? How much did books cost? Make sure to read the message on the back cover of the book. Careful examination of each book description can provide clues to fiction reading interests at the end of World War I.
• Think: Draw upon students' prior knowledge. What do they already know about life in 1919? What had been happening in the world at the time this booklet was published? Was leisure reading popular during this time period? What is the significance of the message on the back cover of the catalog? Are any of the featured authors well known today? Are any of the titles still in print? How do book prices compare to those of today? Who might have this catalog appealed to? Was this booklet for advertising or informational purposes? How do bookstores promote their books 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 significance of this catalog? Where can they find out additional information about popular literature of the time period? How can they find out about titles or authors featured in the booklet? Is the Old Corner Bookstore still in business? (Hint: Search the American Memory collections using this name to locate a 1900 photograph of the building?) 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.