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Prologue to Studying the Emancipation Proclamation

Oil on canvas,

This website shows an 8th-grade teacher in Maryland teaching a lesson based on Civil War letters. Source Analysis, a feature created for the Montgomery County (Maryland) TAH website, has three sections focused on these primary sources: Scholar Analysis, Teacher Analysis, and Classroom Practice.

The latter two sections show a lesson that asks students to examine what a Union and a Confederate soldier thought about the Emancipation Proclamation. In order to investigate this, the teacher asks students to study two letters written by soldiers during the Civil War.

This series of videos provides examples of two promising practices:

  • Using primary sources to represent perspectives missing from the textbook and contextualize an historical event; and
  • Using focus questions to help students read primary sources purposefully.
The Lesson in Action

In the Classroom Practice section, we see the lesson in action. Students are introduced to the letters and asked to transcribe the two handwritten letters they are working with. The teacher then points out two major themes in the letters: why soldiers were fighting the war and their opinions about the Emancipation Proclamation.

Students see that the Emancipation Proclamation's significance for these soldiers was less about freeing the slaves and more about the effects it could have on the war and the safety of their families.

The teacher asks students to summarize the letters, reminding them that they have their textbooks, him, and the dictionary as resources. Students are further asked to analyze the letters for at least "five good points" made by the authors of the letters and generate questions about these sources. After students have consulted in groups, the teacher leads a discussion where they fill in a Venn diagram comparing the two letters and the soldiers' perspectives on the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Throughout this lesson, the teacher helps students think about the context within which these letters were written. Students see that the Emancipation Proclamation's significance for these soldiers was less about freeing the slaves and more about the effects it could have on the war and the safety of their families.

Also on this site is a Teacher Analysis section in which the teacher explains some of what preceded this lesson and his instructional choices—a useful complement to the classroom videos. Each of these sections presents information in a set of videos that are clearly titled and visually interesting.

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