New Traveling Collections Program Brings the Newberry into Chicago Schools | Newberry

New Traveling Collections Program Brings the Newberry into Chicago Schools

Newberry Teacher and Student Program staff work with Chicago Public School students to critique materials from our travelling collection, which includes color books from the mid-20th century.

Teacher and Student Programs staff is pleased to announce their recent launch of the Newberry’s Traveling Collections program. Featuring archival items accompanying grade-appropriate curricula for the American Civil War and World War II, the Traveling Collections program aims to better meet the material, logistical, and economic challenges facing many of Chicago’s public schools. With generous assistance from the Mazza Foundation, the Newberry brings archival objects—uncataloged and purchased at the advisement of subject specialists—directly to a school, so that even more school classrooms can experience primary source materials firsthand.

This program is aligned with Common Core requirements and Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum, and is free for schools in CPS and for Catholic schools supported by the Broad Shoulders Fund. Thus far, the Newberry has held four successful classroom visits at John Hancock High School and ASPIRA Early College High School. On a typical day of a Traveling Collections visit, Teacher and Student Programs staff members Kara Johnson (Manager) and Cate Harriman (Program Assistant) arrive with a selection of historical artifacts to show the students. They come equipped with essential questions, discussion points, and class objectives to facilitate the lesson. Students are welcome to touch the items and even take pictures for future reference and research.

A wide range of textual and visual materials comprise each collection, ranging from Civil War-era currency from the Confederacy and from individual states; original periodicals describing key events in the Civil War; hand-written letters from soldiers in both wars; and propaganda materials, posters, and photographs. The American Civil War curriculum, developed by Dr. Kate Masur (Associate Professor of History, Northwestern University), aims to connect ephemeral objects from real life to larger historical themes often studied in textbooks, like 19th-century printing and photography technologies. The classroom materials for the World War II collection, developed by Dr. Mark Pohlad (Associate Professor of Art History and Architecture, DePaul University), emphasize everyday stories and the various people, in particular soldiers and their families, impacted by war.

Bringing primary source materials into the classroom helps students develop the critical skills of analyzing texts and images, contextualizing historically, and juggling multiple points-of-view on a historical subject. A tenth-grade English teacher from ASPIRA Early College High School shared that through experiencing the Civil War Traveling Collection, her students were able to “see real artifacts” and “draw useful connections” between the Civil War and their current unit, the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “They were able to identify how slavery was ‘normalized’ [in the 19th century], which helps bring importance to why [King, Jr.] states in his letter that certain people in charge were continuing the status quo.” Several students commented on how primary sources can be fun. One participant shared, “My favorite part was interacting with the actual sources instead of looking at pictures of them or only being able to see them from afar.” Another reflected, “I loved how old the documents were. It was a first-hand experience.” Transported to another time period, someone else said, “It felt like a time machine.”

Registration for the Traveling Collections will extend through the 2019-20 school year, with the hope of extending the reach to other schools and Chicago neighborhoods. There are also plans to build both collections with more archival materials—with most recent acquisitions of Civil War-era paper currency—and to create a new collection based on analyzing photographs and other visual materials related to Native American and Indigenous experiences in the U.S. Those interested in learning more about the Traveling Collections, or how to register for a class visit, can visit the Teacher and Student Programs webpage: