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April 15, 2012, marks the centennial of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, a disaster that still looms large in popular imagination. Why is the Titanic so well remembered? What sets it apart from the hundreds of disasters at sea that have happened before and after?
Use the centennial as a chance to ask your students how they know what they know about history. Do they know about the ship? Where did they learn about it? From a book or a movie? Your students can bring together the skills of historians and scientists to uncover their own answers about the disaster—from who was on the ship to why it sank to how the story of the Titanic fits into history and the present day.
Where to begin? We've gathered some ideas for places to start your search for resources:
- Research the Titanic with the Library of Congress's guide to Library resources. The Library's blog for teachers also rounds up useful primary sources and links to lesson plans.
- Discover primary sources buried in the collections of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA blog entries look at letters sent to President Taft about the sinking, one survivor's luggage ticket and coupon, and compensation claims from the widows of postal clerks. (NARA also holds a 1912 list of some of the survivors of the disaster.)
- Interested in learning more about the Titanic's postal clerks? Get to know them with the National Postal Museum's exhibit Posted Aboard RMS Titanic. All of the clerks died at sea, determined to rescue the ship's mail.
- View artifacts related to the voyage and disaster from the Smithsonian Institution.
- Read articles related to the disaster and share teaching ideas on the New York Times Learning Network feature.
- Get a UK perspective on the ship courtesy of the BBC, including survivor interviews and an interactive look at the wreck site.
- Learn about the science and history behind the story of the Titanic with resources from National Geographic Education. A lesson plan from National Geographic Xpeditions connects geography and history, and "Unseen Titanic," an interactive web feature includes zoomable images of the wreck.
- Navigate the creation and sinking of the Titanic with HISTORY.com's interactives, videos, and photos.
For more information
James Cameron's film Titanic has helped keep the disaster in public memory. But does the film say more about 1997 than it does about 1912? Historian Steven Biel shares a critical look at Titanic in a film review reprinted from the Journal of American History.