What is Inauguration Day? Who is Martin Luther King? How did the New Year's 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 turn of the century catalog - the Christmas 1900 Gift Book. 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 catalog cover to explore its 24 pages. What kind of store produced this catalog? Where was it located? What types of items were advertised? How much did they cost? Look at the clothing styles? What personal items were being sold? What items for the home were being sold? Careful observation of each page can uncover many clues about life at the turn of the century.
• Think: Draw upon students' prior knowledge. What do they already know about this time period in America's history? What can be learned about the social and economic conditions of the times? What type of clientele might have received this catalog? How did 1900 prices compare to today's prices? How have fashions changed? How might today's consumers react to the furs being sold in image 4? Do stores still produce catalogs of this type?
• 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 catalog and its advertised products? Where can they find additional information about the time period? What other primary source documents might help them place this catalog 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.