Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Western Region @ Metropolitan State University of Denver

Understanding Environmental Impacts on Mark Twain’s Writing

Many writers, including Mark Twain, were heavily influenced by their environment. Before Huck and Jim decide to travel along the Mississippi River in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, the book starts in St. Petersburg, Missouri, which was based on his hometown, Hannibal, in the same state. Even where Huck and Jim meet, Jackson’s Island, is a real island resting in the middle of the Mississippi River. Learning about the real places where a piece of writing is set in deepens student understanding of the historical context and perspective of the author.

As a class or in small groups, use the Primary Source Analysis Tool to analyze a Bird’s eye view of Hannibal, Missouri from 1869. Guide students towards connecting the novel’s setting with the map. How might features from the map of Hannibal show up in Twain’s St. Petersburg? How might life in Hannibal compare or contrast with life in St. Petersburg? What might have Twain left out from his depiction of Hannibal, and why might he have done so?

There are thousands of images, maps, sheet music, newspapers, and other resources on the Library of Congress website having to do with Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain, and Huckleberry Finn that can extend the learning as well.

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