History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: Maya Lindberg

Selected Resources for Black History Month

It’s February—Black History Month.

The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926 when the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, as the group is known today, sponsored a week-long focus on the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history. Interestingly, the week purposely coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. In 1976, this week expanded into Black History Month and achieved the status as a federally recognized celebration. Every year, the president designates a theme for Black History Month. President Obama designated this year’s theme as “Civil Rights in America.”

The Choices Program has compiled a list of selected resources for educators. These resources touch on a range of topics that certainly deserve year-round attention, not just during the month of February.  I hope you find the list useful as your classrooms take a renewed interest in topics related to Black History Month or at a later point in time.

The Civil Rights MovementScreen Shot 2014-02-06 at 10.39.34 AM

 Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi [Curriculum]
Today, we think of the key leaders, mass demonstrations, and watershed legislation that have become synonymous with the civl rights movement. Often forgotten are the everyday people who were on the frontlines of the fight for justice and equality, working for change in their home communities.  Students read about the movement that developed in Mississippi, and the ways in which national and local forces interacted at the grass-roots level.

 “Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement” [Online Lesson]
Students hear stories from former civil rights activists about what motivated them to join the movement.

“Fifty Years after the March on Washington: 

Students in the Civil Rights Movement” [Online Lesson]
Students listen to stories from former civil rights activists, analyze what motivated students to join the movement, what their experiences were like, and consider the relevance of this history today.

Video interviews with scholars and participants in the civil rights movement

Additional Resources:

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: “The Civil Rights Movement”
Includes primary source documents and multimedia accounts of the national civil rights movement. Click on the “Freedom Riders” tab under “Interactive Features” for an in-depth look at the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum: “Integrating Ole Miss”
Provides information and primary source documents related to the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi in 1962.

The NAACP Interactive Historical Timeline
This timeline highlights key events of the NAACP’s history and includes photos, video archives, and film clips.

The Slave TradeScreen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.09.20 PM

A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England [Curriculum]
Explores the nature of the triangular trade and the extent of slavery in New England. Using readings, primary sources, and simulations, students uncover the effects of the slave trade and slavery for Americans and explore how history, and the telling of history, affects us today.

 “Slavery Connects the North and the South” [Online Lesson]
Students utilize primary source documents to reconstruct the route of an actual slave ship and explore different facets of the slave trade, such as social attitudes and financial dimensions.

Video interviews with scholars on the slave trade  

Additional Resources:

Slave Voyages
The interactive Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database contains more than 34,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866.

African-American Mosaic
A Library of Congress online exhibition with graphics, primary sources, and historical narrative.

Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice
The center’s website features a list of resources (links) to curricula and historical documents on topics including the slave trade and the emancipation proclamation.


The Haitian RevolutionScreen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.21.31 PM

The Haitian Revolution [Curriculum]
Through readings, maps, digital activities, and simulations, students consider the development of the American colonial world and the legacies of the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world.

The Haitian Revolution Today” [Online Lesson]
Students use art, music, and literature to consider how Haitians today think about the Revolution.

Video interviews with scholars on the Haitian revolution

Additional Resources: 

The John Carter Brown Library: “Remember Haiti”
A selection of primary documents organized thematically.


1890s: The United States Enters the Age of ImperialismScreen Shot 2014-02-11 at 9.49.00 AM 

African-American-Community-Age-of-Imperialism” [PDF Lesson]
Students analyze attitudes of the African-American community towards the Spanish-American War through excerpts from black-owned newspapers. The lesson is part of the curriculum unit Beyond Manifest Destiny: America Enters the Age of Imperialism.

Additional Resources:

National Endowment for the Humanities: “The Birth of an American Empire”
A set of four lessons that provide guiding questions, background information, preparation instructions, and lesson activities.


Other Resources for Black History MonthScreen Shot 2014-02-07 at 4.07.35 PM

“African American History Month”
A (fantastic!) collection of resources from the Library of Congress, National Archives, and other organizations. Be sure to click on all of the main tabs, e.g. “Exhibits and Collections,” “For Teachers,” and “Audio/Video.”

National Endowment for the Humanities: History and Social Studies Curricula
These resources are not specifically tailored for Black History Month, but the extensive list of curricula can be searched by selecting subtopics such as “African American,” “Slavery,” and “Civil Rights.”

The History Channel: “Black History Timeline”
This timeline, ranging from 1619 to 2009, provides useful, succinct descriptions of key milestones.

Scholastic: “The Spirit of Service—Student Art Contest”
Challenge your students to participate in this art contest by creating a poster that commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. Open to K-12.

National Geographic: “Black History Month”
Features a collection of  resources ranging from maps on the underground railroad to an interactive summary of the history of jazz.

Google Takes on History

On November 13, 2013, Google India released a video advertisement, Reunion, which tells the story of two fictional, elderly men—Baldev and Yusuf— who are long-lost childhood friends. Baldev lives in India, and Yusuf lives in Pakistan. Baldev’s granddaughter uses the Google search engine to track down Yusuf, and then coordinates a reunion between the two men with the help of Yusuf’s grandson.

Within twenty-four hours of its release, Reunion had well over 900,000 views. To date, the advertisement has been watched over 10.6 million times on YouTube. Why has Reunion with its simple plot, become so immensely popular?

The story is sweet, but interestingly, takes on one of the most volatile events of the twentieth century—the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into separate states, Pakistan and India. Partition coincided with the end of British colonial rule in the region, and led to the migration, often forced, of some twelve million people and the deaths of one million. Reunion does not mention partition in word, but implies that this moment had far-reaching consequences, including ripping best friends apart. One gathers that Baldev, a Hindu, left his childhood home of Lahore for India, while Yusuf, a Muslim, witnessed Lahore become the capital city of Pakistan.  Then, over six decades later, these men—separated by time, distance, and their different nationalities—embrace one another in a heartfelt reunion facilitated in part by Google’s search engine.

Why would Google take on such a sensitive topic, one of loss, hardship, and national identity? Sandeep Menon, the director of marketing at Google India, stated, “We wanted to strike up a conversation to showcase the different uses of Google, and tell magical stories that show why our users love the product.” Reunion is no doubt a “magical” story, but the history that it touches upon runs wide and deep across the Indian subcontinent and not without controversy. Partition is no lighthearted matter, and its darker sides are left untouched in Reunion.

Ultimately, Reunion can be seen as a commentary on the continued salience of the partition of 1947.  The national boundaries of India and Pakistan were created during partition, yet these physical boundaries remain contested, as many people’s identities cannot be neatly divided between the two countries. Reunion also demonstrates that the history of partition is negotiable, not just for individuals, but for large corporations with their own set of interests as well. Google seems to be using partition to prod people into not only watching Reunion, but also into joining the over one billion people who use Google as their go-to search engine.

If you are interested in exploring the history of partition and the subcontinent’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, check out Choices’ curriculum unit, Indian Independence and the Question of Partition (released August 2013). The trailer below provides a summary of the main themes explored in the unit.

Nelson Mandela—”A Giant of History”

President Barack Obama, with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and South African President Jacob Zuma.

President Barack Obama with Ban Ki-moon and Jacob Zuma at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.                                              Source: GovermentZA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

On December 10, the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Tens of thousands of people from across the world—presidents, prime ministers, and everyday people—gathered for the service. As a nod to Mandela’s lifetime achievements, the memorial service coincided with the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. Coincidently, December 10 also marked the twentieth anniversary of Mandela receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela received the prize, jointly with Frederik Willem de Klerk, for ending the apartheid regime and laying the foundations for a democratic South Africa.

President Obama spoke at the service, as did dignitaries from Brazil, China, Namibia, India, and Cuba; Ban Ki-moon—secretary general of the United Nations; Jacob Zuma—president of South Africa; Desmond Tutu—South African social rights activist and retired bishop; Nkosazana Dlamini Zum—African Union commission chair; and relatives of Mandela.

“It is hard to eulogize any man—to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person—their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”

—President Obama, December 10, 2013

President Obama’s point—the difficulty of eulogizing Mandela, “a giant of history,” is true not just for the speakers at the memorial service, but for educators as well. What aspects of Mandela’s life do we focus on in the wake of his passing? His almost twenty-seven years of imprisonment? His relentless campaign against the apartheid regime? His service to South Africa as its first democratically-elected president? His undeniable legacy? These topics are countless and are all well-deserving of our attention.

However, another way to honor Mandela’s achievements and legacy is to focus on the broad themes of resistance in twentieth-century South Africa—resistance to colonialism, to apartheid, and to inequality. There are various online resources that can help educators address these topics in their classrooms. See the list below for recommendations.


Choices has  Scholars Online Videos available that accompany the curriculum unit  Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle.  Many of these videos address topics important to understanding twentieth-century South Africa.

How did apartheid keep people separate?
Newell Stulz, professor emeritus of political science at Brown University

How was apartheid different from other systems of racial division?
Newell Stulz

More Scholars Online Videos

Harvard University’s Committee on African Studies:  “South African Apartheid and the Transition to Democracy”
A PDF file that identifies key themes of the apartheid system and resistance movements for educators. Provides an extensive list of books, documentaries, and websites that address these topics.

“South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy”
This site provides firsthand accounts of the struggle against apartheid, and includes video, documents, photographs, and interviews as well as historical background.

Google Cultural Institute: Africa Media Online Exhibits
The Google Cultural Institute, a platform for online exhibits, houses nine slideshows from Africa Media Online, an organization that collects and digitizes photographs from across Africa. These exhibits address apartheid signs, the Soweto riots, women activists, the 1913 Land Act, and other topics. Click on “exhibits” on the website to access the slideshows.

African National Congress Archives: Apartheid
Includes photographs, posters, and documents that reflect the African National Congress’ campaign against apartheid.

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Features online exhibits on Mandela’s life and over 300 primary documents related to his work.


Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

On November 8, the typhoon known as “Haiyan” or “Yolanda” made landfall in the Philippines causing unimaginable destruction and loss of life.  As of November 20, an estimated ten million people in the Philippines have been affected and the death toll has risen to over 4,000. These numbers are predicted to climb. The international response—humanitarian assistance in the form of search and rescue operations, the provision of relief supplies, and logistical support—is well under way. The United States government has pledged $37 million in aid. President Obama announced on November 14:

As I told President Aquino earlier this week, the United States will continue to offer whatever assistance we can. Our military personnel and USAID team do this better than anybody in the world. And they’ve been already on the ground working tirelessly to deliver food, water, medicine, shelter and to help with airlift.”

esidents from Tacloban, one the hardest hit cities, wait in line for transportation aboard Philippine and U.S. military cargo flights to other cities such as Manlia and Cebu.USAID/Carol Han, OFDA

Residents from Tacloban, one the hardest hit cities, wait in line for transportation aboard Philippine and U.S. military cargo flights to Manlia or Cebu. November 16, 2013.
(USAID/Carol Han, OFDA)













If Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda has prompted discussions on natural disasters and international relief efforts in your classroom, Choices’ updated unit Dilemmas of Foreign Aid: Debating U.S. Policies (Fifth edition, October 2013) is one way to expand upon the questions and concerns raised by students. In the unit, students explore the history of U.S. foreign assistance and the institutions that distribute aid today. Readings, case studies, and primary sources prepare students to consider the trade-offs of foreign aid and articulate their own views on the future direction of U.S. policy. A large section of Dilemmas of Foreign Aid focuses on humanitarian assistance and raises questions that can be applied to the recent disaster in the Philippines. The unit is available in multiple formats (e.g. print, eText, iBooks Textbook) and meets Common Core standards. 

Additional Resources

  • For information on U.S. humanitarian assistance in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, visit USAID. The website features a useful factsheet with information on key developments, statistics on the millions of people affected by the typhoon, and a breakdown of U.S. assistance.
  • The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council—part of the government of the Philippines—publishes daily reports (often multiple times a day) with information on causalities, damaged houses, the ongoing emergency response, and international aid.  Note: If you share the reports with students, be advised that the section “Effects of Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan)—Causalities” includes names of the dead and lists the cause of death. You might choose to remove these pages before distributing the reports to students.

Virtual Exhibits

Teachers from all disciplines should check out the Google Cultural Institute. The institute partners with museums across the world to create virtual exhibits on topics including the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. Each exhibit paints a visually compelling story with the use of primary sources: photographs, posters, pamphlets, documents, etc. Exhibits also include short paragraphs that provide useful (and interesting) information, but the historical artifacts take center stage. The Civil Rights Movement in the Bay Area is one of my favorites. The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project is also fantastic. All in all, the Google Cultural Institute offers a dynamic lens into history. Watch the institute’s video below for further information on how to best navigate the website. Enjoy!


© 2021 The Choices Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑