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History, Art, and Archives of the House of Representatives (and the Senate)

I’m a member of a semi-active Facebook group that was started several years ago following the final session of the Century of Progress TAH project. The group was an attempt by project participants to stay somewhat connected and supported after three years of working together.

We were able to develop a face-to-face PLC that meets four times a year and the Facebook group continues to act as a sort of digital conversation space. Most of us aren’t super active, simply lurking around and picking up the helpful tidbits posted by the few truly active members of the group.

One of those truly active members is Nathan McAlister, middle school teacher at Royal Valley MS. The 2010 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year, Nathan is one of those seriously gifted individuals, perfectly tuned to be a great middle school social studies teacher. And not only is he a great classroom teacher and GLI Master Teacher, he’s connected to both the state and national Councils for History Education and seems to know everybody in the social studies / history universe.

He’s one of the reasons I lurk on the Facebook. He’s got awesome teaching tips and resources to share. And last week, he did it again.

The History, Art, and Archives of the US House of Representatives.

Who knew?

Well . . . Nathan, apparently. And once he shared a quick FB post highlighting the History, Art, and Archives site, I was sidetracked for over an hour.


Designed as a collaborative project between the Office of the Historian and the Clerk of the House’s Office of Art and Archives, the site has a ton of teaching tools and resources. The two offices preserve, collect, and interpret the heritage of the U.S. House, serving as the institution’s memory and a resource for Members, staff, and the general public.

You can find a few lesson plans, heavy with primary sources. You can order free womans-placebooks documenting women and African American House members. You will find hundreds of artifacts, photos, paintings, and documents available and easily searchable. Use the helpful Fact Sheets and Online Resources linking to all sorts of information about the House to help build background knowledge and context.

One of the most powerful pieces may be the site’s collection of oral histories. Some of these histories have been collected and organized with other primary sources into special collections. One collection that seriously sidetracked me was The House and Selma: Bridging History and Memory section. It includes not just oral recollections from the Alabama delegation such as this 2012 recording of Rep. Jack Edwards:

I had only been in Washington two months when the Selma–Montgomery march occurred, and I just have to say that a lot of that just caught all of us totally by surprise. We knew the folks were milling around in Selma, and raising Cain, and making speeches, and that sort of thing. But the march itself and the result on the Pettus Bridge, and so forth—it was a shock. One of those things that just simply, obviously shouldn’t have happened.

We really were in kind of a—walking a tightrope is about the only way I think I can put it. We were not racist, and I believe that sincerely about our delegation, but we had grown up in a way of life where certain things were certain ways, and it was very difficult given the location, say, in my own district, to try to be a positive voice in a way that made sense.

but also photos, historical context, and primary source documents.

These raw pieces of history seem perfect for the type of analysis and research that we want our kids to be doing. Sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating.

  • Rep. Edwards was interviewed in 2012. How does his recollection align to what actually happened? Perhaps ask kids to track down what he said and did in the days and weeks after the 1965 Bloody Sunday attack.
  • What other documents provide context for what was happening in Alabama and around the US at the time?
  • Are there additional documents and oral histories from other members of the Alabama delegation?
  • How does the 1965 events compare and contrast with the recent 50th anniversary Selma march?
  • Was Rep. Edwards present at that march? Who was present? What does that mean?
  • How are recent civil rights protest the same and different from the protests of the 1950s and 60s?

The History, Art, and Archives people also postcardhave an excellent blog with a variety of interesting and useful stuff. We’re always looking for primary sources and teaching tools. This is your tax money at work here. So take advantage.

And, by the way, the Senate has its own Art and History home. You’ll find equally awesome resources over there. (Don’t miss the Senate Stories section, their version of oral history, or their artifacts, paintings, and exhibits.)

If you find any of this helpful, feel free to thank Nathan by sharing in the comments what you found . Or better yet, drop him an email.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Indiana Jen and commented:
    This is a wonderful resource for Social Studies teachers!

    January 19, 2017

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