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Today’s post comes from National Archives volunteer Cynthia Peterman.

Two new WWI-related teaching activities on introduce students to artists who were employed to show the war to Americans back home: Artists Document World War I and WWI Propaganda and Art.


Doughboy Fighting through Barbed Wire Entanglement, 12/21/1918. From the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. National Archives Identifier 12060634.

During the Great War, the government attempted to influence public opinion about the goals of military intervention in this European conflict. A large segment of the U.S. population was opposed to America’s entry into World War I. Therefore, the government attempted to influence popular opinion by sending American artists overseas to depict the conflict in ways that would remind Americans what their boys were fighting for.

Students today are buffeted by many types of media that vie for their attention. Advertisements (both physical and digital), music, and social media are all part of our media-saturated environment. They seek not only to claim the attention of young people, but attempt to influence their opinions about culture, politics, and more. In modern times, the word “propaganda” has become synonymous with falsehood, distortion and misrepresentation. As a result, many students become cynical about what they hear and see.

Before using these activities it is important to consider the following questions:

  • Is all propaganda misleading?
  • Do all forms of media create false impressions in order to influence the viewer?
  • What do we want students to know about why it is important to have a knowledgeable citizenry?

In “Artists Document World War I,” we are introduced to Walter Jack Duncan, one of eight artists who travelled to France to document the experience of U.S. troops in battle. Duncan’s drawings show both the enormity of the force sent overseas, as well as the results of war in the French countryside.

Segment of Walter Jack Duncan's drawing “Newly Arrived Troops Debarking at Brest"This activity hones students’ attention in on a single drawing, the debarkation of American troops in 1918. Students are asked to think critically about the image, to explore the mood as well as the historical reality it depicts, and to consider the role of art in interpreting a scene.

Using the zoom/crop tool, students look at a small piece of the drawing and hypothesize what the image depicts before seeing it as part of the entire drawing. The activity also asks students to consider the role of art and photography as they influence the viewer’s opinion.

General Policy Reference the Work of Official Artists inside activityWWI Propaganda and Art” presents students with five historical documents and two drawings (by WWI artists William James Aylward and Harvey Thomas Dunn) in order to consider how the military and government communicated their goals to the artists, the difference between how art and photography present a scene, as well as the dangerous conditions in which the artists were placed.

Using the Making Connections tool, students read historical documents, such as memos and letters, in order to identify the often conflicting aims of the artists, the military, civilian agencies and government agencies in depicting the war through art.

In addition, this activity compels students to ask important questions such as: Why did the military choose to send artists to the war zone when photographers could capture the same images? When the Acting Adjutant General says the “official artists [should] be employed in making pictures of subjects that cannot be adequately covered by the camera,” students need to think about how drawings and paintings create more drama and humanize the scene more than do photographs.

Finally, in our own day we expect reporters to travel to war zones (as well as scenes of disaster) to bring us our news. The World War I artists had little military training to prepare them. This activity pushes students to weigh putting people in hazardous situations in order to quench our hunger for information.

A Transcription Challenge

by on March 17, 2015

A tool in our new online catalog allows you to transcribe any of the millions of digitized primary sources in our holdings. This week in particular, we’ve set a goal to collectively transcribe 1,000 pages.1000pages


Transcription is just one part of our Citizen Archivist Dashboard — where we provide opportunities for the public to participate in projects that add value to our holdings and work at the National Archives. And citizen archivists can be any age, so students are welcome to participate!

Learn more about our Transcription Challenge and check out some of our Transcription Missions to get started:

And if you have that favorite document from the National Archives that you always share with students, but wish it was a little easier to read, this is the tool to make that happen!

  1. Create a username and password in the National Archives Catalog.
  2. Login from any transcription page or on the login page.
  3. Start a Transcription Mission, check out More Records, or create your own mission by doing a keyword search for your favorite topics.
  4. Select the “View/Add Contributions” button located below all images in the catalog.
  5. Select the “Transcribe” tab for the page of the record you would like to transcribe.
  6. Select the “Edit” button and remember to save your work frequently.

Check out this example transcription page — Harriet Tubman Davis’s widow’s pension file.

We’d love to hear what transcriptions you tackle!

Registration is now open for two programs on March 13th: “Segregation and a Controversial Tea Party at the White House” at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. CST.

In 1929, First Lady Lou Hoover invited Jessie DePriest, wife of African American Congressmen Oscar DePriest, to a White House tea party. The political and social ramifications were intense — some letters even called for the lynching and impeachment of the First Lady. This program will discuss segregation and the political ramifications of the DePriest tea.

The program will draw from Herbert and Lou Hoover’s papers, letters from the public, oral history interviews, memoirs from White House staff, newspapers, and political cartoons. All primary source materials, summative assessments, and lesson plans are available upon request.

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover, ca. 1929, photo-print by Berton Crandall Palo, Alto, California. Courtesy of the Hoover Library.

“Segregation and a Controversial Tea Party at the White House” is presented by the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and The White House Historical Association as part of the Presidential Primary Sources Project (PPSP).

The Presidential Primary Sources Project offers a series of free, 50-minute, interactive videoconferencing programs to students all over the world. PPSP is a collaboration between the National Park Service, U.S. Presidential Libraries and Museums, other cultural and historic organizations, and the Internet2 community.

Students will interact live with presidential historians at museums and Presidential Libraries and park rangers at our National Presidential Historic Sites to explore historical themes and events. This year’s PPSP theme is “Human and Civil Rights.” In addition to live interactive discussion, primary source documents will be used extensively during the presentations. Each program will also be live streamed (no registration required) and archived for on demand viewing.

You and your students can watch archived past programs, including “The Roosevelts and Race in the 1930s and 40s,” presented by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and “President Truman and Civil Rights,” from the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.”

See the list of presentations by our Presidential Libraries on and the full presentation schedule from PPSP.

You can learn more about PPSP at or on the PPSP Facebook page.

Today’s post comes from Jamie Richardson in the Department of Education and Public Programs at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

The John F. Kennedy Challenge

Last month in celebration of Presidents’ Day, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum launched a free iPad app that brings American history to life for upper elementary through early middle school students. The Library’s first-ever app release, The JFK Challenge, turns players into NASA and Peace Corps trainees ready to accept President Kennedy’s charge to accomplish great things and make a difference in the world.

Combining exciting animation with primary sources from the Kennedy Library Archives, this immersive app fosters interest in the sciences, exploration, volunteerism and cultural exchange, while providing a window into how John F. Kennedy inspired a generation. Players can personalize their Peace Corps mission in Colombia and journey into space with their own photographs that appear in the games.

Shuttle Launch in App

As virtual astronauts in the Space Race mission, players travel back in time to train for the Apollo 11 flight. They try on a spacesuit, steer the spacecraft, dodge meteors and explore the Moon’s surface while learning about NASA, space travel, and the first moon walk.

Peace Corps Screen in App

Back on Earth, the Peace Corps mission takes young volunteers on a trip to 1961 in Colombia, where they learn Spanish words, the local culture, and world geography. They use these skills and knowledge to navigate mazes and other games as they help build pathways for clean drinking water and houses in the virtual village.

With more than ten enriching games and activities in the app, players will learn about President Kennedy’s life and legacy, NASA and the first moon walk made by the Apollo 11 mission, the history of the Peace Corps, Colombian culture and world geography.

For a preview of the app, visit to view videos, learn more about the missions and challenges, or download the game in the App Store.


The JFK Challenge was made possible through a grant from Disney.

The Truman Library’s 12th annual Teachers Conference will take place this summer from July 13–17.

In June 1957, former President Truman wrote to his wife, Bess, and summed up each year of their marriage with one sentence. For the momentous year that was 1945, President Truman wrote, ” V.P. & President. War End.”

This year’s conference, “1945: V.P. & President. War End,” will fully examine the year 1945.

Presenters from various presidential libraries, scholars, and historians will look at the year from multiple perspectives. The conference will examine the roles of Franklin Roosevelt in World War II, the leadership of Winston Churchill, the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences, social issues such as the importance of baseball in postwar America, Truman’s ascent to the presidency, and the issue of ending the war in Japan.

The National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education will share resources and activities.

Teachers will have time during the week to research and develop lesson plans, which will be posted in the Truman Library’s online lesson plan database.

Find more information, the application, and lessons created at previous conferences on the Truman Library website.