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The Clansman and books that shaped America

We’re in day two of a four day history geek fest. And it’s awesome.

Dr. Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize winning historian, and Bruce Lesh, teacher and author of Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer, are working with 40 middle school teachers as part of our Century of Progress TAH grant project.

Did I say that it’s awesome?

Some very interesting conversations about Reconstruction, liberty, slavery, freedom, and American citizenship. We started with the question:

What is the opposite of slavery?

Very cool stuff. But, of course, with a roomful of history teachers, the conversation has meandered quite a bit. Part of the meandering has focused on the books and writings of the period and topic.

One of the books discussed has been The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the book on which the incredibly racist movie Birth of a Nation is based.

And while the content of both book and movie has since been discredited, both had a huge impact on the country. Which raised a question in my head:

What books have had the most influence on American history?

A quick search found a very cool resource from the Library of Congress. The LOC has put together a list of books that they suggest shaped American history:

This list of “Books That Shaped America” is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books–although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.

The Clansman is not on the list but maybe it should be and the LOC is doing a cool thing by encouraging conversation about the list itself. You can view the list and comment yourself. My question?

What books would you add to the list? What books would you take off?

I think you could use this question throughout your instruction as you incorporate more fiction and non-fiction. Asking kids to rank and rate what they read seems like a great way to engage kids directly in the content.

What ya got?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joe #

    Hi Glenn,

    The Clansman was made into Birth of a Nation. EDSITEment has a lesson on the film and the protest it sparked organzied by the NAACP.

    We also have a list of the books that shaped America and which ought to shape the minds of today’s students.

    June 27, 2012
    • glennw #


      Thanks for links back to the excellent EDSITEment resources. I didn’t find your book list in my search but it looks great too!

      And I love your lesson plan!


      June 27, 2012

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