Putting It All Together
Symbols such as the Liberty Bell are difficult to analyze because their significance is intangible. The historical record may not reveal the reason for the veneration of an object. Beliefs may change as new information is revealed or reinterpreted. If a symbol remains relevant or captures the imagination, it may endure. At the completion of these activities, have students draw generalizations about historical research and the process by which something becomes a symbol.
Activity 1: Why Is the Crack in the Liberty Bell So Important?
Ask students to form small groups and look up three references to the Liberty Bell in textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, or specialized works on American culture. Have them copy the citation, recording the name of the reference and the date of publication. Have them search for answers to the following questions:
1. Does the reference describe the crack in the bell? Does it provide an explanation for the crack?
2. Is the information worded in a way that might caution the reader about the reliability of the information? If so, what is the cautionary phrase?
3. Does the information in the reference book agree with the information you discovered as you worked with this lesson?
4. Will this experience change your approach to using reference books in the future?
Next, have students write a position paper or engage in a debate on the question: "The crack in the Liberty Bell is a necessary component to its importance as a symbol to Americans and people from other nations." These questions will help students focus on the topic:
1. Is the crack really important to the history of the Liberty Bell?
2. Why do you think the crack intrigues people?
3. Do you think the Liberty Bell would have become such a universal symbol without the crack?
4. Why do you think people search for meaning where there may not be any?
Activity 2: What Do Symbols Tell Us about Ourselves?
Have students work in pairs and interview each other to learn their responses to the following questions:
1. First-time visitors to the Liberty Bell often comment that they thought the bell was bigger than it is. Why might they have that impression? Does this say anything about the power of symbols?
2. If given a choice, do you think people prefer legends or the truth? Why?
3. Why do you think it generally takes at least a generation before people seem to appreciate an event or try to heal wounds suffered by the country? Can you think of any modern examples of this phenomenon? What do these examples tell you about how we view our history?
When all interviews are complete, go through each of the questions and keep a tally of similar responses on the chalk board. Then ask the students to try to think of events that have occurred in their lifetimes that might one day become symbolized as important events in American history. Ask them to discuss or debate the reliability of accounts by people alive at the time of certain events.
Activity 3: Symbols in the Local Community
Hold a class discussion in which students list reasons why people use symbols. Ask students to look for and list several patriotic symbols found in their communities or found in advertisements in their local newspaper. Ask them to evaluate each symbol and draw conclusions about the use of symbols in general and the use of patriotic symbols for commercial purposes. Have students share their lists of symbols found locally, and then hold a classroom discussion using the following questions as a guide: Why might a patriotic symbol encourage someone to purchase a product? Do you think Americans are using more or fewer symbols than they did several years ago? How can you account for the change? Are there certain events or world situations that have caused Americans to create patriotic symbols? Do symbols always retain their original meanings? Have patriotic symbols been replaced by other types of symbols? Are there events or "atmospheres" that promote or result in a greater use of symbols in society? Why?