Use the Activities
By studying “The Rockets’ Red Glare”: Francis Scott Key and the Bombardment of Fort McHenry students have learned about the bombardment and about how it led Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They have also investigated how the War of 1812 and Key’s song strengthened Americans’ identification with their nation. The following activities will help students integrate and expand on what they have learned.
Activity 1: “You Are There”
Ask students to imagine they are soldiers inside Fort McHenry during the bombardment. They will need to review the materials in this lesson and will also want to consult Fort McHenry’s website. Ask them to write a letter home describing their experience.
Activity 2: Debating the War of 1812
Francis Scott Key was not the only American to oppose the War of 1812. At its start, the war was intensely controversial, with the country deeply divided along political, economic, and regional lines. After the war, however, many people called it the “Second War of Independence.” Ask students to explore some of the accounts of the war in their textbooks, in other history books, and in materials listed in the “Supplementary Resources” section of this lesson plan. Have them create charts or matrixes comparing the positions of different political parties, different economic groups, and different areas of the country before the outbreak of the War of 1812, during the war, and immediately after it. Hold a whole class discussion on the question, “Was the War of 1812 a good thing or a bad thing for America?”
Activity 3: “The Theme of Our Nation”
In its obituary for Francis Scott Key, the Baltimore American wrote, “So long as patriotism dwells among us, so long will this song be the theme of our nation.” Just as Key embodied contradictions—between opposing the war and rejoicing over the victory at Fort McHenry, between praising “the land of the free” and owning slaves—“The Star-Spangled Banner” calls up both pride in the nation and its ideals and questions about America’s ability and willingness to live up to those ideals. Ask the students to list some of the ideals that they associate with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ask them to suggest situations where they think the nation has not acted in accordance with those ideals. The discussion may well lead to strenuous disagreement, a demonstration of how deeply Americans feel about their national anthem. Then ask the students to identify for themselves what they think the ideals of the nation should be and to write a patriotic song that represents those ideals. Ask students to volunteer to perform their songs for the class.
Activity 4: Whose “Star-Spangled Banner”?
The legislation that made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem did not say how it should be performed. In 1957, the National Music Council developed a “Proposed Official Version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’” The performance guidelines that went with the proposal said, “the anthem should always be performed in a manner that gives it due honor and respect."7
Many versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” have been sung over the years, some in celebration, some in protest. Many have been controversial, particularly the performances of José Feliciano in 1968 and Jimi Hendrix in 1969. Ask the students to bring in any recordings of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that they can find. A number of performances are available on the web. Have the class listen to them and try to determine whether they meet the standard proposed in 1957. Ask them to try to come up with their own guidelines for how the anthem should be performed.
Activity 5: Places That Define the Community
Fort McHenry is an important part of how Baltimore defines itself. Many other communities have such iconic places, like the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., the Old Water Tower in Chicago, Illinois, or the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. Some of these places are imposing, some modest. Some are historic, some recent. In each case, residents think that something important would be lost if the place ceased to exist.
Ask students to search out places that help create their community’s identity. Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce or the local historical society uses a particular place in its advertising or on its websites or brochures. Sometimes groups of historic places in a community work together to create its character. Assign groups of students to find out more about each of these places. The National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s official list of places worthy of preservation, maintains an online database that students can search by county or state. Most of the historic places listed in the National Register are the ones that people really wanted to protect. Remind the students to get current photographs as well. If they are unable to find places in the local community, suggest that they investigate their county or state.
Ask them to use what they have learned to create a walking tour that would help visitors and newcomers understand what it is that makes the community unique and special. They also may want to consider creating an on-line travel itinerary. The National Register of Historic Places “Discover Our Shared Heritage” travel itinerary for Baltimore might be a useful model. Submit the completed walking tours and travel itineraries to the local chamber of commerce or historical society.
If the students identify a historic place that is threatened by neglect or destructive change, like an old movie theater, perhaps they could volunteer to work with the local historical society or other interested group to care for or protect the place. They may even want to consider helping document the historic place for possible listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register website contains information on how to go about doing that.
7Richard S. Hill, “A Proposed Official Version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’” Notes, 2nd Ser., 15, no. 1 (December 1957), 33-42, cited in Taylor et al, The Star-Spangled Banner, 56.