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

National Heritage Months, Holidays, and Primary Sources

*This article was published in the TPS Teachers Network on October 12, 2022,  and written by Mary Johnson, TPS Teachers Network Manager.

If you grew up carving jack-o-lanterns, making green and red construction paper garlands, or filling May baskets with popcorn and lilies of the valley, you probably have a fond childhood memory of honoring more than one holiday tradition through craftmaking. Over the intervening years, school curriculum calendars have largely moved beyond such nostalgia. Today, schools and community groups across the United States celebrate the heritage, holidays, and contributions of a far wider range of ethnic, cultural, racial, and religious groups. We also have access to vast collections of primary sources to add meaning and depth to learning about holidays and special heritage months. We only need to know where to look.  

Library of Congress Pages for Heritage Months

The Library of Congress features a number of online pages for heritage months with primary sources drawn not only from its own collections, but also from collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Endowment for the Humanities – with others added as the topic dictates. The Jewish American Heritage Month page, for example, adds vital resources from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and even one image from the Supreme Court!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court of the United States

I asked Danna Bell if the Library had any single page with a list of all the National Heritage Month pages, and she replied that there’s no actual collection page. However, she noted that the Library hosts sites that include resources for various federal cultural heritage institutions. In addition to the Jewish American Heritage Month page above, she shared links to the following sites:

Gershwin Prize: Emilio and Gloria Estefan (2019)

Also featured on the Hispanic Heritage Month website

Don’t Forget the Library’s Blogs!

The Library has resources for all the formally legislated heritage celebrations, along with thousands of equally useful resources for those groups that do not benefit from specific legislation. If you follow any Library of Congress blogs regularly, you will see posts filled with resources and links from across multiple Library departments and services, and all those blogs are searchable. Search the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog for heritage, for instance, and you will find sixty different posts! You can also search individual Library blogs on specific keywords such as Native American, Hispanic, Latinx, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, Jewish, Black, African American, Asian, Puerto Rican, Muslim, and many more if you wish to narrow or focus your results. 

A recent Teaching with the Library of Congress blog post titled Connections to Andean Histories Superpowered with the Library’s Digital Primary Sources offers a glimpse into where the Library is headed in terms of curating cultural heritage collections drawn from across the Library. 

Weaver, Pasto Province 

Likewise, the new Library blog for Of the People: Widening the Path describes the “multi-year initiative to connect the Library of Congress more deeply with Black, Indigenous, and communities of color historically underrepresented in the Library’s collections.” The intentionality behind this initiative dovetails with efforts across the Library to expand access to ever more inclusive primary sources related to the American story. 

Research Guides

The Library and its departments have prepared several Research Guides that support the study of National Heritage Months. One example from the Law Library of Congress is titled Black History Month: A Commemorative Observances Legal Research Guide. You can find more examples by searching or scrolling to a particular heritage month topic at guides.loc.gov. As an example, fourteen guides are listed in the drop-down menu under Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies alone.

Screen Shot of Research Guide Dropdown

Guides like the one above can lead you to inspiring stories like that of Warren Michio Tsuneishi, a Japanese American World War II soldier who “volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service Language School and served in the Pacific, translating captured documents that gave U.S. forces a big advantage in securing the Philippines and Okinawa.” Such personal stories connect with learners of all ages in a way that only primary sources can. 

Warren Michio Tsuneishi, Veterans History Project

What You Can Find in the TPS Teachers Network

Special Project Coordinator Cate Cooney’s post about The Chicano Art Movement in late September serves as a reminder that the TPS Teachers Network is already filled with discussions, links, and albums about officially recognized monthly heritage celebrations. In fact, you will find dozens of posts about heritage months and various ethnic and cultural celebrations in the Network, many with suggestions for pedagogical approaches. 

Boycott Grapes. Support the United Farmworkers Union.

(The Chicano Art Movement – TPS Teachers Network)

A search on any of the special months (or a single keyword) will bring up results across grade levels and topics. For example, a search in the TPS Teachers Network on “African American” identifies 143 entries. These include photos of African American soldiers, African American music, information on exodusters, a map of the distribution of African American populations in 1890, African American women in space, and much more. A search on “Native American” brings up a similar number of posts. Alternative terms and historical language will add still more resources and teaching ideas to your search results. 

Quick Tip: When you use the search function in the Network, you can immediately click on any item in the dropdown, each identified by its content type icon – discussion, link, photograph, etc. If you click on the actual word SEARCH, you can choose from the full list of results displayed in more complete detail.    

Holidays in the TPS Teachers Network

Just as TPS Teachers Network users have written posts over the years filled with resources for National Heritage Months, they have also contributed creative, practical, classroom-tested holiday ideas. Don’t forget to search within the Network for your holiday needs! 

With Halloween coming up soon…

Jazz Musician Gerry Mulligan with Jack-O-Lantern

The most recent buzzworthy post for Halloween – Spooky Resources from the Library of Congress and TPS – comes from TPS Teachers Network Mentor Susan Allen. In a comment following Susan’s post, Special Project Coordinator Julie Schaul added a link to her own recently updated Today in History: Halloween list for the popular Primary Source Nexus publication. It’s a complete package of Library of Congress primary source collections, audio recordings, sheet music (songs about jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and witches), and articles and blog posts filled with activity ideas. 

October’s Bright Blue Weather

If you are already preparing to teach about Thanksgiving (262 results in the TPS Teachers Network), you will discover Network users eager to shift the narrative to a more truth-based approach that respects the Native American experience and challenges the myths of the First Thanksgiving – all based on sound use of the authentic primary sources. No more Hollywood Pocahontas fantasies, like the one below!  

Pocahontas Souvenir Stand, Pocahontas, Iowa

As always when searching for materials within the TPS Teachers Network, don’t forget to use the Ask a Mentor service for help finding previous posts. One perfect primary source or one simple teaching idea can add real spark to your holiday and heritage lessons!

*Featured Image Source