Teacher's Guide

Chronicling America: History's First Draft

Morris Tribune, September 14, 1901.
Photo caption

Morris Tribune, September 14, 1901.

Created through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, Chronicling America offers visitors the ability to search and view newspaper pages from 1770–1963 and to find information about American newspapers published between 1690–present using the National Digital Newspaper Program.

This Teacher's Guide includes lesson plans that incorporate Chronicling America, activity ideas that can be used across social studies and literature courses, and tips for using the millions of pages available through the Chronicling America database. 

Guiding Questions

How were events covered by the press when they happened?

How has media and media technology changed over time?

Are there limitations to the First Amendment clause regarding freedom of the press?

How do consumers of information ensure they are receiving facts and the truth about the world?

About Chronicling America and NDNP

Chronicling America

Chronicling America provides free access to millions of historical American newspaper pages. Listed at these links are topics widely covered in the American press of the time. Chronicling America will be adding more topics on a regular basis. To find out what's new, sign up for Chronicling America's weekly notification service, which highlights interesting content on the site and lets you know when new newspapers and topics are added. Users can use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America homepage to subscribe. If you would like to suggest other topics, use the Ask a Librarian contact form available on the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room site. Dates show the approximate range of sample articles.

    This video provides a brief overview of Chronicling America.


    National Digital Newspaper Program

    Since 2005, the National Endowment for the Humanities has made National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) awards to enhance the study of American history. These awards enable cultural heritage institutions to join the NDNP for the purpose of selecting, digitizing, and delivering approximately 100,000 newspaper pages per award to the Library of Congress. The National Endowment for the Humanities has solicited proposals for both initial awards to new institutions as well as continuing awards to returning partners annually since 2005. In this section, you will find resources developed by these cultural heritage institutions to help you make the most of the NDNP.

    Using Chronicling America

    This video guides users through the basics of using the Chronicling America database, including entering search terms, filtering by year and state, sorting results, and sharing and saving articles.

    View the Quick Digital Research Tip: Using Chronicling America for NHD Research media resource for connected analysis and comprehension questions.

    This follow-up video guides users through the advanced search features of the Chronicling America database, including filtering by state, newspaper title, date range, page number, and language, as well as modifying keyword search parameters or searching for an exact phrase.

    View the Quick Digital Research Tip: Using Chronicling America's Advanced Search media resource for connected analysis and comprehension questions.

    A Note on Sensitive Content—The first-hand evidence of history is not always pretty. Scattered within Chronicling America are many pages that may make your students or their parents uncomfortable. Be prepared to encounter such moments and to use them to help students understand their own beliefs and values, as well as to learn how complex history is beneath the usual textbook simplifications. Here are some examples of objectionable content and how you might respond.

    Diverse Perspectives and Chronicling America

    Chronicling America is an excellent source for newspapers published by marginalized communities and newspapers published in languages other than English. These papers can help students break through difficult research barriers in order to access the experiences and perspectives of communities not frequently included in the study of U.S. history. The closer readings commentary Diverse Perspectives and Chronicling America introduces examples of newspapers published by and for African Americans, immigrants, Francophone residents of Louisiana, Spanish-speaking residents of the Southwest, and Indigenous communities.

    The closer readings commentary Using Chronicling America to Tell a Fuller Story: How Historical Newspapers Represent Different Perspectives expands on the ways that Chronicling America can be used to access diverse perspectives. Using the examples of Hawaiian annexation and 1919's Red Summer, it prompts student researchers to identify the goals and viewpoints of newspaper staff and to consider whose perspectives are highlighted, whose perspectives are missing or obscured, and how other current events shaped opinions.

    Race and Ethnicity Keyword Searches

    The Race and Ethnicity Keyword Thesaurus for Chronicling America, created by partners in the National Digital Newspaper Program, serves researchers at all levels through demonstrations and explanations of search terms related to race and ethnicity in Chronicling America. Identifying keywords can be particularly challenging when searching for news about race and ethnicity, since much of the language describing such communities has evolved and changed throughout the centuries, and their meanings may vary depending on who is using the terms and the context in which they are using them.

    The pages in the Race and Ethnicity Keyword Thesaurus serve as a guide to searching topics of race and ethnicity in Chronicling America, including lists of words used in the past that may help produce more results, as well as strategies for navigating the database. When using this resource, keep in mind that historical newspapers, like all primary documents from the past, use the language of the time they were written, which may include terms considered offensive today. The following thesaurus pages are each organized around a broad category of race and ethnicity:

    Lesson Plans with Chronicling America

    Students can use Chronicling America in a variety of ways across humanities disciplines.

    As part of an inquiry-based approach to learning, students can:

    • construct DBQs to answer an essay or compelling question on a time or topic;
    • compare journalistic styles over time, including comparison of how news is reported in a 24-hour access culture compared to the turn of the 20th century;
    • prompt further investigation regarding events in U.S. history using the search by state feature to examine local impacts and incorporate them into the evaluation of national events; 
    • analyze artistic differences and what is conveyed in a painting compared with a photograph or cartoon produced for a newspaper;
    • analyze paintings to identify themes and social issues of the time that are being addressed;
    • engage in inquiry to find artists not included in museums or official collections from that time to expand who is included;
    • pair newspapers and paintings with literary works to examine the historical context for when these works were published, what writers and artists were responding to, and to introduce competing perspectives that place the various sources in conversation with one another about a given topic or time. 

    Lesson Plans

    Martin Puryear's Ladder for Booker T. Washington—Supplement EDSITEment's lesson plan with a full-page biographical news feature on Booker T. Washington and his achievements that shows students how he was viewed by reporters in 1903.

    Chronicling and Mapping the Women's Suffrage Movement—This lesson brings together digital mapping and the Chronicling America newspaper database as part of an inquiry into how and where the women’s suffrage movement took place in the United States.

    Thomas Edison's Inventions in the 1900s and Today: From "New" to You!—Students can trace the history of Thomas Edison's inventions through EDSITEment's lesson plan and this fascinating article on the history of the incandescent bulb from Chronicling America.

    The Industrial Age in America: Sweatshops, Steel Mills, and Factories—Technological innovation isn't always entirely beneficial. Read Upton Sinclair's first hand account of the abuse that accompanied the industrial revolution while engaging in this lesson on the era of industrialization in the U.S.

    Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage—Like Sinclair, women at the turn of the century were fighting for social change. Enhance EDSITEment's lesson plan with an article that reveals the opinions of prominent turn of the century women on suffrage.

    Remember the Ladies: The First Ladies—Use Chronicling America to find out how First Lady Edith Roosevelt was covered in the newspapers of her time. 

    Chronicling America and Literature

    Nature and Culture Detectives: Investigating Jack London's White Fang—This lesson incorporates advertisements found using Chronicling America for London's White Fang from when the novel first was published.

    Mark Twain and American Humor—This newspaper article about Mark Twain's death and legacy complements EDSITEment's lesson plan by helping students contextualize Twain in American literary history.

    Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Poetry: The Sweep of the Universe—While they study Walt Whitman's poetry in EDSITEment's lesson plan, students might also enjoy getting to know Whitman a little more personally through this article about his conservative views as described by one of his close friends.

    The World of Haiku—Have students check out this article on the haiku, or "hokku" as it was called at the turn of the century, while learning about haiku through EDSITEment's lesson plan.