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How to
Use the Activities


Inquiry Question

Historical Context




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Putting It All Together

The following activities will help students understand what it would have been like to attend Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and the process of planning community celebrations.

Activity 1: Learning a Period Dance

Resources needed:

  • Dance Card (.GIF and .TIFF)
  • Waltz Dance Step Instructions Card (.PDF)
  • Related Music – Wm. Withers Jr., Canary Bird Waltz (selection 10 on the dance card). Available for free here.
  • EyeLevel blog article, “Party Like It’s 1865” Available here.

In this activity, students will carefully examine a Dance Card from Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and make a list of the various types of dances and musical selections that were part of the ball.  Students can then work in partners, with one student being the leader and the other the follower, to learn the waltz – one of the period dances listed on the dance card. The Waltz Step Instructions Card can be enlarged and copied for each student so that s/he can use it to learn the necessary steps.  Students can then listen to a musical selection played at the ball and try out the corresponding dance. This will help students to further understand some of the traditions and customs of the day including those used at Lincoln’s second inaugural ball.  As an extension activity, students can research some of the other dances and musical selections played at the ball as listed on the dance card.  They may also want to find out more about period dancing by reading an article in the Museum’s EyeLevel blog.

Activity 2: Telling the Story

Resources needed:

This multi-part lesson has students review primary sources and texts in the unit, research in local or state historical newspapers, write a fictional account from the perspective of a particular individual, and discuss Lincoln’s second inaugural ball from different points of view.  Assign each student a character who may have attended the ball:  a (wounded) soldier, a Washington “lady,” a member of Lincoln’s cabinet, a waiter at the ball, or an individual of your choice.  Each student should review the related primary sources and text in this lesson to gather information that will help them to understand more about their assigned character.  Each student should then research a local or state newspaper from the period to see how the ball in specific or the inauguration in general was covered by the local/state press and issues that may have been of concern to that community.  Next, each student should write a newspaper story, letter, or diary entry about the ball from the viewpoint of their character.  Finally, students should share their accounts and discuss the similarities and differences among and between the various individuals who may have attended the ball.

Activity 3: Planning a Community Celebration

Resources needed:

  • Primary sources and text from this lesson
  • Videos of various formal ceremonies available from your school district or (e.g.: search for “high school graduation ceremony”)
  • Research done in local or state historical newspapers using the “News and Newspaper” feature on ProQuest

Have students investigate one of the recent presidential inaugural balls and its location. Locate a primary source that describes it. Have students compare and contrast a recent ball with Lincoln’s second inaugural ball in 1865 using primary sources from both events. Ask students: If you participated in Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and were transported to a recent one, what would be similar? What would be different?

Next, have students think about the role that formal ceremonies and rituals play in their own lives whether it is part of their family life (e.g. birthdays), wider community (e.g. holiday parade), or school (e.g. graduation). They can reflect on the various components of the ceremony or ritual and how it may impact the different participants and either record or discuss their thoughts individually or as part of a group. You may also want to assign students to either watch a YouTube video or read a local newspaper story about one of these events, paying special attention to the various components involved. Then students can review the primary sources and text in the lesson related to Lincoln’s second inaugural ball such as the illustrations, invitation, admission ticket, dance card, etc. and discuss the various types of materials and resources that were required for the ball in 1865. 

After comparing and contrasting the requirements from 1865 to today students can now apply their knowledge to develop a plan for hosting a similar significant celebratory event in their region, perhaps for an elected local or state official. They should identify a community building that is appropriate for hosting their event like the Patent Office building was appropriate for Lincoln's inaugural ball. As part of an extension activity, this could be formalized as a service learning project. Students will prepare by identifying a need related to this theme, investigating and analyzing it, and making a plan for action. Then they can carry out the action which was a direct result of their preparation. The plan may be carried out over the course of an academic year, a semester, two weeks, or a single day. As the students put their plan into action they come to recognize how classroom lessons fit into their daily lives and shape the lives of others as they experience the real results of their actions.

Be sure to build in time throughout the process for reflection. Students will need to consider how the knowledge, experience, and skills they are acquiring relate to their own lives and their communities. Reflection should go beyond simply reporting or describing what they are doing or have done in order to make an impact. Students may want to create poetry, art, or music to express a change in their feelings that may have occurred as a result of participating in the project. Finally, students should be able to demonstrate evidence of their learning through a public presentation that draws on the preparation, action, and reflection stages of their experience. The presentation can take many forms such as a letter to the editor, a school assembly, a class lesson, or a performance to name a few. This final step of the service learning project enables students to take charge of their own learning as they synthesize and integrate the process through demonstration.



Comments or Questions

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