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Closer Readings

26 Posts authored by: snituama

"What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night!”

These words mark the frontispiece of  the 1899 edition of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a Halloween classic that has entertained people for over a hundred years.  Do students know Washington Irving was a beloved and influential American writer during the nineteenth century?  Irving penned one of the most popular and long-lived ghost stories in American literature as evidenced in its countless film, television and popular culture adaptations. So what is it about this author's spooky tale that continues to capture the imagination of readers and viewers today?


EDSITEment’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow explores the artistry that made Irving our nation's first literary master and ponders the mystery that now haunts every All Hallows Eve -- What happened to Ichabod Crane? 

Ichabods chase crop.jpgWashington Irving’s story about a gullible and self-centered schoolteacher was first published as part of a collection know as The Sketchbook in 1820.  The Library of Congress has named "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" one of the Books That Shaped America citing “Irving’s vivid imagery involving the wild supernatural pursuit by the Headless Horseman has sustained interest in this popular folktale through many printed editions, as well as film, stage, and musical adaptations. The bold cover art of the 1899 edition is the work of Margaret Armstrong (1867–1944), the preeminent designer of decorated cloth publishers’ bindings between 1890 and 1913.”


In our contemporary culture, place and story - literature and image often merge within motion pictures and television programs. Irving's village in Sleepy Hollow New York was one of the film sites for Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollows, a recent film interpretation. Students may be surprised to see how Burton's version chose to characterize the teacher, Ichabod Crane, and his nemesis, the Headless Horseman, differently from Irving's original conception.  And this fall there is a new incarnation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in a TV show that is quite unlike any other version of the terrifying tale. With its modern day setting in Sleepy Hollow New York, the plot twists Crane into a Revolutionary soldier who wakes up in 2013 along with the Horseman (one of the four from the Apocalypse.) The two adversaries continue their centuries old battle in contemporary America, though each episode includes historical flashbacks to life in 1776!


The New York Times Learning Network articles “Rediscovering a Giant” and  Sleepy Hollow Capitalizing on Legend” transport students back to the village where Washington Irving set his tale over 200 years ago (it has since changed its name from North Tarrytown) to rediscover this 19th-century literary "Giant"! Sometime after Washington Irving wrote his story, another little town, Milford CT, earned the nickname "Sleepy Hollow." Exactly why is something of a mystery, but students will uncover interesting connections between the story and the town in Connecticut's Sleepy Hollow in the state encyclopedia, Connecticut History.


Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31.jpgStudents who want to know how Halloween was celebrated in America in the late 19th century through turn of century may peer back in time through historic newspapers of the day.  See Chronicling America's topical essay on Halloween. One article from 1907 Los Angeles Herald, "Hallowe'en--A Holiday Tradition," highlights well-known, holiday customs still practiced nowadays like mischievous pranks and Jack-O-Lanterns.  It also includes obscure, old-fashioned rituals, like divinations to forecast the matrimonial futures of lovers. 


Originating as a blend of mythology and Christian superstitions, Halloween is celebrated on October 31st every year on the eve of All Saints’ Day (November 1) otherwise known as All Hallows Eve.  It is believed that on this night the veil between the worlds is permeable and spirits of the dead (like Irving's terrifying Headless Horseman) can cross over to the land of the living to pay a visit...or to haunt! Delve into the ancient Celtic roots and learn the Latin American traditions of this holiday in EDSITEment's feature Origins of Halloween and the Day of the Dead.


By the way, Halloween is not the only red letter calendar day to benefit from Washington Irving's fertile imagination....we also have him to thank for a certain jolly character who lands on rooftops and makes his way into many homes on Christmas eve....Yes, it was Washington Irving who penned "dreams one night that the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children..." and conjured up the image that has come to exemplify our modern day Santa Claus!  But that is another story....maybe a subject for next month's post?



Sep Civic AwarenessDale Nichols The Foundation c  1940.gif

During the national celebration of Civic Awareness Month this September and beyond, EDSITEment offers a series of student launchpads designed to guide students as they explore these civic themes within classic American short stories and speeches.


Civic Awareness is at the core of the What’s So Proudly We Hail: The Meaning of America curriculum.  An essential question facing educators:  How can we produce citizens who are attached to our country, devoted to its ideals, and eager to live an active civic life? Scholar/educators Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass  believe studying our documents and learning our history can surely help.  But American stories are even better!

What’s So Proudly We Hail: the Meaning of America Curriculum is a ten lesson topical discussion of the following: National Identity and Why It Matters, Freedom and Individuality, Equality, Enterprise and Commerce, Freedom and Religion, Law Abidingness, Self-Command, Courage and Self-Sacrifice, and Compassion.  Here the Kass's demonstrate how short stories can be used to enhance civic education and how learning though inquiry can make primary sources come alive for students of all ages.   Using the themes of American identity, American character, and American citizenship they seek to tap the hearts as well as minds, and garner the soul-shaping powers of story, speech, and song.  EDSITEment joins them in this effort to make Americans more appreciatively aware of who they are as citizens of the United States.


EDSITEment feature, The Meaning of America: A New Approach to Civic Education, introduces teachers to this civic awareness curriculum.



National identity and why it matters

Hale’s morality tale, “The Man Without A Country”, was published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly in 1863, during the dark days Civil War.  Through this story the author hoped he would contribute “towards the formation of a just and true national sentiment, or sentiment of love to the nation.”


American Character


Freedom and Individuality

"To Build a Fire" is Jack London’s unforgettable story of survival in the Alaskan wilderness.  His anonymous adventurer is forced to face the elements all alone in the dead of winter as he searches about for a profitable business opportunity.


Kurt Vonnegut’s story, "Harrison Bergeron" paints a picture of a society that few of us would embrace, even those of us who care deeply about social equality.  It thus invites us to think about the society presented and its rebellious genius, as well as Vonnegut’s purpose.

Enterprise and Commerce

In "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," satirist Twain offers a biting commentary on America's "Gilded Age." Hadleyburg offends a passing stranger—how, we are not told—who, bent on revenge, devises a plan to expose the hollowness of the town’s reputed virtue.


Freedom and Religion

Consider “The May-Pole of Merry Mount,” which appeared in Hawthorne’s first collection of stories, Twice Told Tales. Hawthorne morality tale set in Puritan New England takes us deeply into the American soul, with its ulterior motives, conflicting aspirations, and moral struggles.

The virtues of civic life

Benjamin Franklin’s “The Project of Moral Perfection” is a passage taken from his Autobiography written in his 79th year.   Franklin looks back to when, at age 22, he undertook “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.”


In her story, "A Jury of Her Peers," Susan Glaspell raises questions not about the justice of the law but about its proper enforcement, not about the obligation to obey it but about how to judge those who allegedly have violated it.

Courage and Self-sacrifice (part 1.)

  • Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s speech to the troops before the Battle of Gettysburg

This chapter from Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels relays a speech of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding officer of the 20th Maine Regiment of the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg to mutineers.  It asks the question: "How do you force a man to fight- for freedom?" How, then, to persuade them to do so?

Courage and Self-sacrifice (part 2.)

  • George S. Patton’s speech to the troops before D-Day

General Patton's speech to the Third Army was given on June 5, 1944; the eve of the Allied invasion of Europe is taken from The Unknown Patton, by Charles M. Province.  How does Patton seek to spur courage while appealing to the honor of his men?  And how does he succeed?



How do we respond to those maimed in soul and spirit—the homeless, helpless, and hopeless in our midst? No story presents this problem more powerfully than Melville's “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”

Making One Out of Many

Cather's story, "The Namesake" is set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century.  In portraying the story of a great sculptor's own American homecoming it illuminates the deep sources of artistic creation,  The subject leads to reflection on the relation of the flag to our American identity.





"Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time."  E.P. Whipple

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. —Henry Ward Beecher

The lazy days of summer are here. The work of the school year lies behind.

You are about to enter another dimension … next stop, the Summer Reading Zone!


When I was a high school media specialist, each June after completing my contractual duties and putting the school library into a dormant state, I would reward myself with a sojourn from all-things-school. No lessons, no clock, just two weeks of sunning in the backyard as the trials of the school year evaporated in the summer breeze. Such blissful vegetation was short lived. Around the second week in July, an old stirring would come upon me.  While still glued to my lawn chair, I would pluck a book from atop my towering stack of summer reading and happily enter the zone.


This month, as you surface from the rigors of the past school year, dive into EDSITEment’s new portal College and Career Readiness Text Exemplars: Summer Reading for Teachers.


Enjoy a great selection of exemplary authors and texts itemized in Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy. Though a number of these exemplars will have crossed your radar at some point in your education, how refreshing it will be to discover them again! This time your encounter with great books will be as teachers with a mission to implement the Common Core. These readings form a spiral staircase for your students as they make the climb to the next level and ascend to college and career readiness.


You’ll find no dull reading here, only examples of fine stories, poetry, drama, and informational texts, including foundational documents of American history and works of great thinkers. Divided into Grades 6–8; Grades 9–10; Grades 11–CCR there are resources under each text to support your efforts to teach reading and writing, and speaking and listening across the curriculum.


Reacquaint yourself with casts of characters that never grow old—friends and favorites that inhabit these readings: High-spirited Jo March and her sidekick Laurie as they engage in adolescent antics, which later evolve into mature affection (Little Women); soft furry Aunt Beast as she extends her healing balm and song of peace to restore an injured Meg (A Wrinkle in Time); resolute Ma and Pa Joad and family as they journey along the Mother Road toward California’s golden promise (The Grapes of Wrath). Rediscover a community of fructifying ideas that still inspire—ideals and concepts that shaped our democracy and contribute to its legacy: Frederick Douglass’s oration delivered on July 5, 1854, which both praises the principles of the Founders and challenges his audience to extend them to black people;  FDR’s ambitious statement of the Four Freedoms that people of all nations ought to enjoy; silver-tongued Linda Monk’s engaging commentary on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ...


Heady stuff to while away the long summer afternoons …


And when you are ready to think about how you will teach these books come fall, EDSITEment’s portal supplements each author and exemplar on this list with a host of resources: related lesson plans; reviewed websites; NEH features; interactives; as well as entries from our Closer Readings blog. You’ll find strategies galore in support of your curriculum. Tap the lessons for challenging activities and the websites for rich resources as you consider how to apply these classic texts to the Common Core State Standards for your grade level students.


Happy Reading!





Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons File:278 Spirialling Steps of the Amedee Lighthouse

May is also the month the nation celebrates the Heritage of Jewish-Americans.


In his presidential proclamation this year, President Obama read these words:


In his second year in office, President George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island -- one of our Nation's first Jewish houses of worship -- and reaffirmed our country's commitment to religious freedom. He noted that the Government of the United States would give "to bigotry no sanction [and] to persecution no assistance," and that all Americans are entitled to "liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship." Those words ring as true today as they did then, and they speak to a principle as old as America itself: that no matter who you are, where you come from, or what faith you practice, all of us have an equal share in America's promise.

Exterior of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI

Jewish American Heritage Month

EDSITEment's feature opens with this letter from Washington which conveys the idea of America as both a haven and a home for the religious faiths of the myriad diverse groups who, over the centuries, have immigrated to the United States.  Washington's sentiments on tolerance deeply resonate with most Americans.


President Obama's 2013 proclamation goes on to say:


It was such a belief that drew generations of Jewish immigrants to our shores. It is what brought Jewish families westward when pogroms and persecution cast a shadow over Europe in the last century. It is what led Holocaust survivors and Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain to rebuild their lives across the Atlantic. And with every group that arrived here, the Jewish American community grew stronger. Our Nation grew stronger. Jewish immigrants from all over the world wove new threads into our cultural fabric with rich traditions and indomitable faith, and their descendants pioneered incredible advances in science and the arts. Teachings from the Torah lit the way toward a more perfect Union, from women's rights to workers' rights to the end of segregation.

Coming of Age in the Holocaust, Coming of Age Now

This EDSITEment resource recognizes how difficult it is for students to comprehend the enormity of the Holocaust, particularly if it is presented as a general historical event. One effective way of approaching this topic is for students to hear the testimony of individual survivors. Coming of Age in the Holocaust – Coming of Age Now is a free, interactive curriculum for middle and high-school students and their educators created by the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York in collaboration with Yad LaYeled – The Ghetto Fighters’ Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum in Israel.

The site features individual testimonies of thirteen people who were adolescents during the Holocaust and had some of the same concerns that young people today have. Students follow their stories through the survivors’ words, short video interviews, maps, pictures, a glossary, a timeline, and other instructional content. Through these survivors they will explore the diversity of experience that took place within it.

The following recent NEH funded exhibits share additional stories about the Jewish-American experience and contain teaching components:


Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity | National Endowment for the Humanities

Exploring American Jewish identity as expressed through food and culinary traditions.


A Saloon, an Auction House, an Undergarment Store: Business as Usual in New York City | National Endowment for the Humanities

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s new exhibit, Shop Life, invites visitors to explore commerce in lower Manhattan through the history of a single building. The exhibit chronicles the different uses of a commercial space located at 97 Orchard Street, on the street level of the museum’s historic tenement building, from 1863 to 1988





The Library of Congress's National Heritage Month portal About Asian Pacific American Heritage Month points to the two reasons Asian Pacific Heritage Month is celebrated in the month of May:


Do your students know who was the first Japanese immigrant to set foot on the soil of continental America?  His name is a household word in Japan and his legendary life story is known to every child there. For the Japanese this man is a folk hero, yet fame eludes him this side of the Pacific where he remains but a footnote in American maritime history!

[Meet this "First Ambassador" to Japan. Follow the timeline to trace his extraordinary life journey! Engage students with this interactive.]

Do your students know why the Transcontinental Railroad was built? Who built it? Who used the railroads, and why? What effects the Transcontinental Railroad had on the U.S.?

[Listen for the "Train a-Comin'!" in I Hear the Locomotives: The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad and relay this American story.]





  Look at the cherry blossoms!

  Their color and scent fall with them,

  Are gone forever,

  Yet mindless

  The spring comes again.


  Japanese poet, Ikkyū (休宗純1394–1481)

  Touring the Capital


Planning to visit the Capital in person this spring?  If so, there's a new official National Park Service app for the National Mall and Memorial Parks that can be used to explore many of the most cherished cultural and historical sites in the United States—from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House. The app includes a total of 70 sites.

Not traveling this year, but interested in taking your students on a virtual tour of the Capital sites from home? Here are a few digital resources to help.  The National Park Service’s resources include Icons of the Nation’s Capital with details about visiting the National Mall and Memorial Parks including the A Gift of Beauty and Friendship and History and Culture.  A map of the National Mall and Memorial Park can be found on the NPS teachers’ page. An EDSITEment Tour of the National Mall provides additional background for armchair travelers.


The Architect of the Capitol building offers an interactive through the Architect’s Virtual Capitol where students can Discover, Explore, and Learn.  A Landmark Lesson: The United States Capitol Building asks what makes the U.S. Capitol "symbolically important" and has students investigate the Capitol's story using primary sources presented as “mysteries,” with a challenge to tie together the information through research.


While the White House in-person tours have been suspended this spring due to sequestration, students can still enjoy an interactive experience and explore: Inside the White House.  As part of President and Mrs. Obama’s commitment to open the White House to as many Americans as possible, they have partnered with the Google Art Project and allowed 360 Street View cameras to capture the rooms that are featured on the public tour. Take the virtual tour to discover the history and view the art in “the people’s house.” Picturing First Families offers students a ticket to the National Portrait Gallery, the White House, and the Library of Congress, with a side trip to the University of Virginia. This lesson has students gather clues about America's original First Families, their lives and periods in American history. Women in the White House lesson contains activities to learn about contributions to American society made by recent First Ladies.

From the White House of Yesterday to the White House of Today (3 Lessons) Students take a close look at the design of the White House and some of the changes it has undergone. They also reflect on how the “President's House” has been and continues to be used.
      Lesson 1: How Was the White House Designed?

Lesson 2: How and Why Has the White House Changed?

Lesson 3: A President's Home and the President's House


What Happens in the White House? (3 Lessons) Students take a close look at the White House in recent times and throughout our history.

Lesson 1: What Is the Purpose of the White House?

Lesson 2: What Has Happened in the White House?

Lesson 3: What Happens in the White House? A Timeline

Viewing Cherry Blossoms

digital file from originalCherry trees along the Tidal Basin with Japanese Lantern placed in the park in 1954. Washington, D.C. Photographer: Carol Highsmith [between 1980 and 2006]  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


The Japanese springtime tradition of viewing cherry blossoms (“sakura”) has been a cultural event for over a thousand years. Wonderopolis provides a helpful resource  “Did you know?” What are Sakura? explaining that Sakura is the Japanese term for flowering cherry trees…an icon of cultural identity for Japan. The Japanese celebrate the cherry blossoms for both their innate beauty and the symbolism they contain. In the Buddhist tradition, the breathtaking beauty and brevity of the blossoms symbolizes the transient nature of life.  The form and color of the blossoms reflects the cultural values of simplicity and purity. Happily the Japanese annual tradition of hanami (picnicking under the cherry trees once they come into bloom) has been adopted in America. Each year in early spring thousands converge on the nation’s capital for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This event is a spectacle providing cultural experience of the cherry blossoms for the 1.5 million visitors who make the pilgrimage to view them.

This ritual in the nation's capital was initiated one hundred years ago with the gift of 3,020 cherry blossom trees to the United States from Japan in celebration of the nations' then-growing friendship. The National Park Service provides a timeline where students can trace the fascinating history of this cultural exchange.  On March 27, 1912 the two original trees were planted by First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, on the bank of the Potomac River's Tidal Basin. The others were placed along the shoreline near the site of the future Jefferson Memorial and on the grounds of the White House. Many of these same trees have survived and may be viewed today!  In 1965, the Japanese government contributed an additional 3800 trees to the United States. On that occasion again the First Lady along with the wife of the ambassador to Japan at the time ("Lady Bird” Johnson and Mrs Ryuji Takeuchi) presided over the planting ceremony and placed the trees on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

The Library of Congress offers Selected Internet Resources — Cherry Blossoms including STEM resources along with The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration Webcast by Ann McClellan. Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers takes up this topic in "Cherry Trees" with sample articles including one published 100 years ago, "Japanese Cherries Adorn Park Drive," from The Washington Times, April 6, 1913. This story describes the cherry trees along the tidal basin as “Fragrantly beautiful and riotous with spring!”  The same description could be penned today as a reflection on the timeless quality of the sakura: “The blossoms, however, are as beautiful now as they will be in years to come and make the observer forget the shape of the tree…In appearance the blooms are a delicate pink shading almost to white in some instances, Each cluster is made up of dozens of individual blossoms which are formed somewhat like the wild rose.”

Egg-Rolling on the White House Lawn

b&w film copy neg. Mrs. Coolidge exhibits her pet raccoon [Rebecca] to crowds of children gathered for Easter egg rolling  1927 April 18 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Another unique spring ritual in the Nation’s Capital is the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. This public event is now held every year on the South Lawn of the White House on the Monday following Easter.  The origins of this event are murky - some note that Dolley Madison originated the idea of holding a public egg roll, but there is very little evidence to support that claim. What is known is that by the early 1870s, Washingtonians began to congregate on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to celebrate on the day after Easter with picnics and children rolling dyed hard-boiled eggs down the slope. A concern for the landscape being torn up by the children's games soon led  Congress to enact the “Turf Protection Law,” a bill that banned the practice.  As the story goes in 1878, the rollers who were ejected by Capitol Hill police headed up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in the hope that their egg rolling games would be permitted there. President Hayes instructed his guards to let the youngsters through the gates and thus the official egg roll was established.  By 1880, an article in the Evening Star reported that eager egg rollers had taken “absolute possession of the grounds south of the White House.”  

Learn more about the colorful history of this holiday event which continues to evolve with every Administration.  Over the years the First Ladies as well as the White House children and pets (including "Rebecca," First-racoon, pictured above) have participated and left their unique stamp on the event. On occasion over the years the egg roll has had to be suspended due to wartime or relocated due to renovations. This year despite sequestration the White House is again playing host to the 135th annual Easter Egg Roll with the theme "Be Healthy, Be Active, Be You!" The National Park Service provides an overview of the history of the White House Egg Roll and the White House offers a photo gallery retrospective illustrating “An American Tradition since 1878.”



Harriet Powers Quilt.jpg


March 16th is National Quilting Day ~ this year’s theme is “Celebrate America”


“We Americans have adopted quilts as a symbol of what we value about ourselves and our national history,” so writes Laurel Horton in special presentation “Speaking of Quilts: Voices from the Late 20th- century” available from the American Memory Project.  We refer to quilts as evidence of our nation’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. The patchwork quilt has replaced the melting pot as the metaphor for the cultural diversity of our population. However, just as our national motto, E pluribus unum, "One, from many," encompasses the collective history of individuals from many backgrounds, American quilts have many stories to tell.  Read more on Quilts and Quiltmaking in America 1978-1996 from the Library of Congress including a Gallery of Quilt photographs.


EDSITEment has resources for all grade levels using quilts as a means to tell stories. 


Geared to the K - 2 set Stories in Quilts |EDSITEment asks: How are quilts used to tell stories? What kinds of stories can be told through quilts? How are art and history connected through quilts that tell stories?  A second lesson, Family and Friendship in Quilts | EDSITEment, explains what a quilt is and describes some of the historic purposes and uses of quilts, such as friendship and family record quilts.


History in Quilts | EDSITEment contains activities designed for the elementary school set (though it can be adapted for use with older or younger students.) This lesson poses questions: What is a quilt? What elements make up a quilt? How are art and history connected through quilts? What are some of the purposes and uses that quilts have served in different places and cultures in the past? What function do quilts have today?


Picturing America: Quilts 19th through the 20th centuries is an NEH resource relating to image 10-B Quilts: 19th through 20th Centuries in the Picture gallery.


An NEH resource which represents A Patchwork of History” is the Quilt Index. Born out of the "explosion in quilt scholarship over several decades which highlighted the need for an independent expanding bibliography," the index features thousands of historic and contemporary quilts for research and inspiration. This resource includes lesson plans for all levels such as Be A Quilt Detective (Keeping Us in Stitches Activity) which teaches students that history can be recorded in a handmade object. Quilt Around the World has students learn about a different country of their choosing and challenges them to represent the culture of this country using geometric and organic shapes out of different fabrics.  STEM applications abound in these lessons such as Quilt Dilations which uses quilts to explore Mathematics and Dye Sample Journal which teaches the arts of dyeing fabric and the chemical process of using modern dyes to imitate colors once produced from plants. 


A theme of interest to older students may be the AIDS Memorial Quilt now made up of 48,000 panels representing more than 94,000 victims.  The quilt when laid end to end would extend for 50 miles and require 33 days to view.  In late July, 2012, some 100 volunteers handled thousands of panels when laid out on the National Mall during the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C.  The AIDS Memorial Quilt has an interactive website which allows students to participate in the memorial.  Professor Anne Balsamo of the University of Southern California, starting with a grant from the NEH and then working with Microsoft Research Connections and the University of Iowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities, has made the quilt accessible on desktop, tabletop, and mobile app.


Seven Southern Quilters from UVA American Studies includes the story of Harriet Powers born into slavery in Georgia in 1837. Harriet Powers created two quilts which are the best known and well preserved examples of Southern American quilting tradition still in existence. Using the traditional African applique techniques along with European record keeping and biblical references, Harriet's quilts render local legends, Bible stories, and astronomical phenomena into physical form.

How can you use quilts with your students to learn about American stories?



A New Shakespeare Series Premiers on PBS

A play performed at Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London

The debut of a new PBS six-part series on Shakespeare, Shakespeare Uncovered will be shown on three consecutive Friday evenings starting January 25th! Check your local PBS station schedule for broadcast times.

You and your students will receive the full treatment in the NEH-funded series, as you revel in the back story of each play and the world of William Shakespeare. Tune in to explore the impact these plays, written 400 years ago, continue to have on our lives today. 

Each Friday night program features two hour-long segments focusing on one or two plays by the Bard, each with a celebrity host. Shakespeare Uncovered is a series built around interviews with actors, directors, and scholars and includes clips from screen versions of the plays and live performance segments filmed at the reconstructed Globe theatre.

January 25: Ethan Hawke explores Macbeth and Joely Richardson and her mom, Vanessa Redgrave, investigate the Comedies, Twelfth Night and As You Like It.


February 1: Derek Jacobi examines Richard II with clips from a new, upcoming PBS film of the play. Jeremy Irons leads a consideration of the History plays Henry IV and Henry V — with clips from the upcoming PBS Great Performances version.


February 8: David Tennant takes on Hamlet and Trevor Nunn focuses on The Tempest with Helen Mirren and Julie Taymor among the interviewees.

Additional Resources:

EDSITEment Shakespeare Lessons:


Folger Shakespeare Library

PBS: Shakespeare Uncovered 

               Merely Players ~ Lesson Plan

               “Speak, I Charge You”: Macbeth On Your Feet, Not In Your Seat ~ Lesson Plan

               Supernatural Shakespeare and Macbeth ~ Lesson Plan

               Women’s Roles in As You Like It ~ Lesson Plan

Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet




A Whale of a Reading!

Posted by snituama Jan 3, 2013

Pursuing Melville: "A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat"


Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete….

—Herman Melville, Moby-D ick


the_whaleman_statue_275x205.pngOn January 3, 1841, twenty-one year-old Herman Melville boarded the Acushnet, a New Bedford whaler, heading for the South Seas and the Pacific whaling grounds. He would spend 18 months on the Acushnet, learning to be a whaler. This would also be his coming-of-age passage and an education. As he later wrote about his character, Ishmael, "... a whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard." On this voyage, Melville would take part in all aspects of the hunting, harvesting, and processing of whale oil aboard the ship. He would absorb the lore of the veteran seamen who made up the Acushnet's diverse and colorful crew. His first-hand experiences on this and several subsequent voyages would percolate to become the basis for his later seafaring novels, most notably his masterpiece, Moby D ick.


Moby-D ick Marathon, the longest continually running readathon of Herman Melville’s literary masterpiece, starts Saturday, January 5 at 12 noon Eastern Time and continues through the night to Sunday, January 6 at 1:00PM.

You can follow the reading live streamed here!


EDSITEment’s own Shelley NiTuama, Program Specialist in Literature and Language, will travel up to her hometown this weekend to participate as a reader in the marathon hosted by The New Bedford Whaling Museum. (Shelley’s reading time is approx 8:40AM Sunday morning, January 6th.)


Related exhibits:


Students of all ages may enjoy taking an excursion through the museum listening to the Jacobs Family gallery Audio Tour to learn about the whale skeletons, and how Herman Melville describes them in the novel, Moby D ick.


Shelley NiTuama, Program Specialist in Literature and Language, EDSITEment



This question was posed earlier this month by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. The answer NOAA gave included a little overview of the mythological and literary significance of "those half-human, half-fish sirens of the sea" including their first appearance "in cave paintings some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and presumably, began to sail the seas."


NOAA stopped short totally denying the existence of these creatures of mystery and myth stating: "No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found." They followed it with: "Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists." NOAA's sidebar links to an animated feature on Manatees 101 your students may enjoy viewing along with this whimsical Ocean Fact page.


In this line of questioning we find a complementary intersection of the STEM and the Humanities disciplines. Here's an opportunity to provoke classroom discussion and reflection in both Science and Humanities classes. Moreover, this theme can inspire imaginative expresssion as your students transition back to school from their summertime activities including beachcombing (if your students are like my kids and still spend some of their beach time searching along the shore for shells?)


Interestingly, NOAA has a history of addressing legends relating to oceans, including Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. One part of NOAA’s mission is public outreach, and if they get enough queries on a given topic (even a mythical one) they will address it. Keeley Belva, spokesperson for NOAA, called this "a fun way to talk about it and to have information up about mermaids in different cultures and to draw people into our website and learn more about what NOAA and the National Ocean Service does. NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them."


Of course, this question also lies in the domain of the Humanities. It is the subject of many masterworks and characters in literature, folklore, art and film. We hope your students will join us in celebrating the mystery of the sea and the lure of the underwater world in the figure of the mermaid.


The following EDSITEment and NEH resources can be adapted for all ages:


Grades K - 2:

Unicorns, Dragons and other Magical Creatures takes advantage of students' interest in all things magical by helping them learn about fantastical creatures within a cultural and historical context.


Grades 3 - 5:

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairytales discusses the orginal,The Little Mermaid or `Den lille Havfrue' (1837) along with several other classic tales.


"Far out in the ocean the water is as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower, and as clear as the purest glass. But it is very deep too. It goes down deeper than any anchor rope will go, and many, many steeples would have to be stacked one on top of another to reach from the bottom to the surface of the sea. It is down there that the sea folk live."


Grades 6 - 8:

Chronicles of EDSITEment: Beyond the Wardrobe on the occasion of the release of the long-awaited episode of the C.S. Lewis saga, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  As students climb aboard to encounter a host of dragons, dwarves, merfolk, and a band of lost warriors, EDSITEment provides additional ways to engage their creative imaginations!


Grades 9 - 12:

Lesson 3: Navigating Modernism with J. Alfred Prufrock This lesson is the third part of the curriculum unit, Introduction to Modernist Poetry, and leads students through a close reading of this T.S. Eliot poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" , available from EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets. You might ask students if they identify with the speaker and no longer hear them "singing" as they consider the ending passage of the poem:


I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water and back.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

- T.S. Eliot


An NEH online exhibit Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas: Mami Wata opens a window through artistic representation into a cultural experience of the mermaid. Students will view the many faces of Mami Wata ~ Mother Water, Goddess of oceans, river and pools of West and Central Africa with manifestations throughout the African Americas. This resource is available from EDSITEment-reviewed National Museum of African Art.



But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretense; and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true.

-The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley




Image: Walt Whitman as an old man, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right 

Feinberg-Whitman Collection at the Library of Congress.  Saunders, 44a. (between 1890 and 1940)


In celebration of Walt Whitman, our beloved "national poet" (born May 31, 1819) EDSITEment highlights resources on his writing and first-hand experience of the American Civil War.


"Future years will never know the seething **** and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors (not the official surface courteousness of Generals, not the few great battles) of the Secession war, and it is best they should not - the real war will never get in the books."



No commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War would be complete without reference to Whitman's experiences and reflections of this conflict.  As he made his rounds of the army hospitals in Washington DC tending to the sick and wounded,  his poet's eye was taking in as much as he was giving out succor and support to the soldiers. In a letter to his mother dated June 1863, he wrote,

"I go every day without fail & often at night--sometimes stay very late--no one interferes with me, guards, doctors, nurses, nor any one--I am let to take my own course."



Whitman's poetry and notebooks convey the Civil War in a most direct and poignant manner. Through an examination of his writing students can gain insight into the universal human experience of suffering and grief. EDSITEment feature, Civil War in Literature, details his involvement while EDSITEment-reviewed Whitman Archive, offers this commentary by scholar James Barcus:


In the midst of suffering, agony, death, and occasional survival, Whitman captures the nobility of the human spirit, of husbands and fathers yearning for word from home and desperate to send letters, but hampered by disease and poverty. In declining health and faced with incapacity, Whitman remembers what he had discovered years before: that sudden death, even death in battle, may not be the worst ending. November Boughs [1888]


In his early writing, Walt Whitman set out to chart a new course for poetry with ideas universal in scope. EDSITEment lesson Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Poetry: the Sweep of the Universe directs students to seek clues to his effort to create a new and distinctly American form of verse. EDSITEment lesson Walt Whitman to Langston Hughes: Poems for a Democracy explores the historical context of Whitman's concept of "democratic poetry" and examines daguerreotypes taken circa 1850. (EDSITEment Closer Readings explores the Common Core State Standards applications of this lesson, Let Freedom Ring! Democracy in the Poetry of Whitman and Hughes) Both lessons illustrate how Whitman was determined to express truth through verse using authentic American situations and settings with language that appealed to the senses. The Civil War would provide him with more than ample opportunity for such expression.



Walt Whitman’s notebooks available through the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory project illustrate the Poet at Work and capture wrenching images that war evoked for him. The article, Daybreak Gray and Dim: How the Civil War Changed Walt Whitman’s Poetry from NEH Humanities magazine, characterizes Whitman’s initial response in verse to the sounds of the drums of war: “BEAT! beat! Drums! — blow! bugles! blow!” Haunting scenes of human suffering shape his maturing impressions of warfare and find their way into his tender musing upon “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim,” available at the NEH-funded Walt Whitman Archive.



Was Whitman prescient when he declared his early ideals in Democratic Vistas? (available on the EDSITEment resource American Studies at the University of Virginia)

“In the future of these States must arise poets immenser far, and make great poems of death. The poems of life are great, but there must be the poems of the purports of life, not only in itself, but beyond itself.”


Whitman was himself destined to write the nation’s quintessential poem on life, death, and rebirth. When Lilacs Last in the dooryard Bloom’d articulates America’s grief upon President Lincoln’s untimely death in this lament of a stricken nation as it watches the train with Lincoln’s body make its way across the country to its final resting place. A critical discussion of this elegy with its three archetypal symbols — the lilac, the star, and the hermit thrush — is found at the Whitman Archive.





CentralPark maypole4a05712r.jpg

"The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,


Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.


Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."
- Philip Larkin, The Trees


Maypole dance, Central Park, New York 1905 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA LC-D4-9287

As we enter the month of May, it's well to heed the advice of the poet and like the new spring-green tree canopy: "Begin afresh!"

Jennifer Cutting from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is "Bringing in the May." She shares the origins of the maypole and Morris dance along with other old world customs to celebrate this merry month. Hear her relate the folklore that surrounds May Day and narrate video clips of these customs being performed.

Engage your students in a close reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne's,“The May-pole of Merry Mount.” This short story illustrates the difficulty old world customs had finding a place in early American society. The Puritans authorities first frowned upon, then banned outright, these frivolous seasonal activities. EDSITEment Launchpad: "The May-pole of Merry Mount," by Nathaniel Hawthorne adapted from the What's so Proudly We Hail Curriculum provides a discussion guide with questions aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Framing the discussion around themes of  Freedom and Religion | What So Proudly We Hail enhances students' comprehension of the story. After considering the questions, click on the video seminar to hear editors Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass converse with guest host Yuval Levin (National Affairs.) These videos are meant to raise additional questions and augment discussion, not replace it.


Here are additional EDSITEment resources related to the Knights and Legends of King Arthur’s Court:

Exploring Arthurian Legend | EDSITEment This lesson surveys the stories surrounding Arthur from their beginnings in the oral tradition in Medieval Europe, through the Renaissance and Victorian England, and concludes with T. H. White's modern retelling The Once and Future King, which was the basis of the Lerner and Lowe musical. The story of Camelot is perhaps the most beguiling romantic dream of them all, persisting from the 5th century, when the historical Arthur may have lived, to present day stories, films, and even presidential administrations.


John Collier"s Queen Guinevre's Maying 1900 Current location Cartwright Hall Art Gallery , Bradford, England  A scene from Malory, is recast by Tennyson in his 'Idylls of the King' (1859).


Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library


Launchpad: Exploring Arthurian Legend Students resource to independently work through sources of myth and history in the world of the Round Table.

Tales of King Arthur - EDSITEment   Lesson with activities related to the stories of King Arthur and his Court that have entertained young and old alike for over a thousand years.


The Autumn of the Middle Ages: Chaucer and Dante newly refreshed feature. The opening lines of the Canterbury Tales are essentially a "reverdi," a medieval lyric that heralds the coming of spring after the long severe winter. Songs like this go back to earliest antiquity - providing assurance in the annual return of vegetation and fertility, and of the sun!

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root

And bathed each vein with liquor that has power

To generate therein and sire the flower...

Medieval Sourcebook: Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales : Prologue [ParallelTexts]

Happy May Day!




Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Tomorrow Mirror Mirror opens, the long-awaited Hollywood's revisionist take on the Snow White story.  It will be followed by several more feature films with fairytale storylines scheduled to be released later this year and early next.  Currently there are at least two weekly prime time TV shows with fairytale themes receiving high ratings.  In light of this media blitz and generational interest, we might want to ask ourselves (and explore with our students) what is the appeal of such tales - full of enchantment and magic - for young people in our technology driven 21st century?

Open this discussion and extend your students understanding of these archetypal stories with the following EDSITEment lessons and resources:

In this lesson, students meet the iconic witch-like character of Baba Yaga who inhabits several imaginative and exciting Russian fairy tales. This  old crone is both wise and cruel, lives in a house standing on chicken  legs, with servants who bring with them the day, sunset and the night.


Baba Yaga

This student interactive, from an EDSITEment lesson, invites students to use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the Russian fairy tale, "Baba Yaga.


In this unit of six lessons, students become familiar with fairy tales. They read and learn to understand  fairy tales so that they can better comprehend the structures of literature as well as for the sake of the wonder,  pleasure, and human understanding these stories can provide in their own right.


Hans Christian Andersen

Sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen in New York's Central Park.

The memorial was built primarily with funds raised by Danish and American schoolchildren in memory of the author.

Credit: Georg J. Lober, 1956


Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales note Hans Christan Andersen's Birthday is  April 2nd

The Little Mermaid, the Ugly Duckling, and the Emperor who paraded naked through his city are characters well known to most of our students. In this series of lessons, they meet the 19th-century author Hans Christian Andersen, who created these vivid characters, and hear and read the original texts of several of his stories.

Chronicles of EDSITEment: Beyond the Wardrobe      

This page features resources relating to the C.S. Lewis saga, "The Chronicles of Narnia", and provides additional ways to engage their creative imaginations!


Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Plot and Setting and Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Character

In these lessons, students compare and contrast several versions of Cinderella stories told around the world to find differences and similarities. Five hundred versions of the tale have been found in Europe alone; related stories are told in cultures all over the globe. In America as well, the classic tale, re-envisioned in print and other media, continues to be popular. What changes does the Cinderella story undergo when it's transported from one culture to another? What remains the same? Why do we love the character of Cinderella so much more than her own stepmother does?

Argentina Mundo Niños Spanish-language resource

From the Secretaría de Educación de Mendoza, a site with games, recipes, short  stories, proverbs, interactive riddles, and classic fairytales.



Program Specialist EDSITEment

"Silent sentinel" Alison Turnbull Hopkins at the White House on New Jersey Day. Library of Congress,

1917 Jan. 30


Summary: Photograph of Alison Turnbull Hopkins with banner, "Mr. President How long must women wait for liberty," picketing for suffrage outside White House gate. Title derived by Library of Congress staff. Photograph published in The Suffragist, 5, no. 56 (Feb. 7, 1917): 4. Caption reads: "New Jersey Day: Mrs. J.A.H. Hopkins heading the line". Photograph illustration in story "Fourth Week of the White House Guard."


Follow this Brief Timeline of the National Woman's Party 1912-1997 from EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory Project (Library of Congress) back to 1917 when this photograph was taken.  There we find on March 4th "more than 1,000 women marched around the White House in icy, driving rain on eve of President Wilson’s second inauguration." On the cusp of WWI,  EDSITEment lesson Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage directs students research in archival material from 19th and early 20th century arguments for and against women's suffrage. 


The timeline goes on to note a seminal event that occurred on April 2nd of that same year (1917) while the federal woman suffrage amendment was being reintroduced in House of Representatives, Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress, formally joined the House of Representatives.  Learn more about this trailblazing Congresswoman who took office before women even had the right the vote!! through Women in Congress website.

Move the clock forward to today to hear President Obama issue his annual proclamation officially commemorating Women's History Month 2012:


As Americans, ours is a legacy of bold independence and passionate belief in fairness and justice for all. For generations, this intrepid spirit has driven women pioneers to challenge injustices and shatter ceilings in pursuit of full and enduring equality. During Women's History Month, we commemorate their struggles, celebrate centuries of progress, and reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the rights, security, and dignity of women in America and around the world....


The president goes on to "call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, 2012, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the history, accomplishments, and contributions of American women. He "invites all Americans to visit www.WomensHistoryMonth.gov to learn more about the generations of women who have shaped our history."


The Library of Congress portal to National History Months is a partnership EDSITEment colloaborates on with several other government organizations. This March 2012 devoted to Women's History Month you'll find current resources such as NEH funded PBS educational interactive game Mission US latest episode, Flight to Freedom.

Mission US 2: Flight to Freedom


In this resource, students can become Lucy King, a 14 year old slave in Kentucky and make decisions to search for a path to freedom...also on this site students can engage in the new Think Fast! About the Past to test their speed and understanding of this historical period.  There is a helpful Mission 2 Educator Guide for teachers to go along with the game.


For a snapshot of where America is today regarding women's progress turn to data from the US Census:

US Census Bureau Facts for Features Profile for America, Women's History Month: March 2012


For a journey back through time to experience personal and public events from women's unique perspectives open:

EDSITEment's new feature Women's History Month which highlights multiple resources lessons, websites, interactives in 2012 year's theme, Women's Empowerment:








Visit Walden in Winter  

Posted by snituama Feb 3, 2012

"Weather some merry snow-storms!" This winter invite your students to explore Walden Pond and keep company with Thoreau and his literary neighbors in Concord, Massachusetts including Louisa May Alcott, of Little Women fame!

Photo: At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay deepest no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight at a time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse...But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines..."Weather some merry snow-storms!" and keep company with Thoreau this winter at Walden Pond. http://thoreau.eserver.org/walden14.html from http://edsitement.neh.gov/websites/thoreau-reader Then get to know Thoreau and his Literary Circle including Louisa May Alcott, of Little Women fame! http://edsitement.neh.gov/student-resource/thoreaus-circle-whos-who-transcendentalism


"At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay deepest no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight at a time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse...But no weather interfered fatally with my walks, or rather my going abroad, for I frequently ramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines..." Walden - Chapter 14

Join Thoreau for a winter stroll in Walden Woods“through the powdery snow, warmed by an inward heat....”   These words come from an essay he published in 1843, in the transcendentalist literary magazine the Dial, "A Winter Walk" is available from EDSITEment reviewed Library of America Story of the Week.  By that time, Thoreau had developed “his naturalistic writing in the direction it later took in Walden” according to the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Poetry Foundation’s - biographical entry on Thoreau.


Experience EDSITEment’s interactive, Thoreau’s Circle: Who’s Who in Transcendentalism, which introduces students to Henry David Thoreau, his retreat in the woods by Walden Pond and his connections with leading members of the transcendental movement. 

Thoreau Circleinteractive-base.jpg  

Friends... they cherish one another's hopes. They are kind to one another's dreams.

                                                                                               Henry David Thoreau



For more background on this seminal American poet and his influence of his writimg check out these EDSITEment-reviewed resources:


Thoreau Reader Annotated works of Henry David Thoreau and an extensive resource list on his life and works. Teaching Thoreau feature with further resources.


The Writings of Henry David Thoreau funded by NEH which provides, for the first time, accurate texts of Thoreau's complete works: his writings for publication, his Journal, his correspondence, and other uncollected papers. Reflections on Walden, written in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond. Tune into this Brief Video of Walden Pond


American Transcendentalism Web  A collection of critical essays on the principles of the American transcendentalist movement, including its roots & influences and authors & texts.


American Writers A Journey through History. For insight into Emerson and Thoreau and a first-hand look at Walden Pond tune into the C Span video, On the Writing of Emerson and Thoreau.  


The Louisa May Alcott Society ,a scholarly organization devoted to her life and works.  NEH funded PBS documentary, Louisa May Alcott, the Real Woman Who Wrote Little Women, provides a multimedia resource for students.




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