Everyone is talking about Abraham Lincoln. Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie Lincoln took theaters by storm, and Edutopia staffers who saw the film thought it could be classroom fodder for years to come. A few enterprising organizations produced study guides for the film. There's never been a better time to drum up good resources to teach about our 16th president -- and the tumultuous times in which he led the country. Hopefully you'll find something in this video playlist to pique the interest of your students about this fascinating character from American history.
Video Playlist: Learning with Lincoln
Watch the first video below, or watch the whole playlist on YouTube.
- Lincoln Trailer (02:21)
I have to start with the epic movie trailer. While it's rare for a major-studio Hollywood film to try for much historical accuracy, Steven Spielberg took great pains to make this film authentic. Critics are raving -- and apparently Daniel Day-Lewis simply inhabits the character of Abraham Lincoln.
- The American Presidents: Abraham Lincoln (04:45)
What? You say you don't have two and a half hours to show the Lincoln feature film in class? Well, this fun short tries to sum it up in less than five minutes. From Disney Education's American Presidents series.
- Every Known Photograph of Abraham Lincoln (07:01)
Some say the awkward Lincoln couldn't become president today, with his gangly frame, squeaky voice, and craggy features. See for yourself with this slideshow of, well, every known picture... you get the idea.
- Say What? Lincoln Didn't Free All Slaves? (05:34 excerpt)
But wait! The rosy picture of the heroic Great Emancipator is probably not the full story, as high school social studies teacher (and rising YouTube star) Keith Hughes of HipHughes History explains in this excerpt. If Lincoln didn't free the slaves, what did the Emancipation Proclamation actually do?
- Eric Foner Sets Us Straight on Lincoln and Slavery (02:34)
Intrigued by Lincoln's complicated views on equality and slavery? In this Big Think video, Columbia history professor and author Eric Foner shows us where Lincoln fell on the spectrum of slave-owners to abolitionists -- and how his position changed over the course of his career.
- The Civil War: The Gettysburg Address (05:54)
PBS film-making all-star Ken Burns brings us this excerpt from his wonderful Civil War documentary to dig into the circumstances around Lincoln's most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. Ironically, Lincoln himself thought the two-minute talk was a failure, yet it endures.
- The Gettysburg Address FIREWORK Style (04:20)
Bored with old-fashioned orations? This enterprising teenaged duo sings the words of the Gettysburg Address to the tune of Katie Perry's teen-empowerment pop anthem "Firework" in a bid for extra credit in their AP Language class. Ms. Howard, I hope you gave these girls some points!
- Lincoln Conspiracy (02:37 excerpt)
I've excerpted just the first part of this 14-minute teacher-produced documentary about the events surrounding the assassination of Lincoln -- a highly detailed overview of what happened that night at Ford's Theater, along with the backstory of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Thanks, Mr. Mead!
- Lincoln Assassination Eyewitness (Feb 9, 1956) (05:29)
Talk about primary sources -- a 96-year-old man appears on the popular '50s game show I've Got a Secret to describe his experience of witnessing the shooting of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at the age of five. Read a 1954 newspaper interview with the man, Samuel J. Seymour.
- Artifact of the Month: Abraham Lincoln's Hat (03:23)
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, in Springfield, Illinois, has a video series that examines artifacts from Lincoln's life, as part of a fundraising venture for their permanent collection. First up? The iconic stove-pipe hat -- he apparently stored letter and notes inside it!
- A Distillations Explainer: Hemoglobin (01:53)
And now, a break from history -- this one's for the science teachers. Filmmaker Josh Kurz used Lincoln to ingeniously explain how hemoglobin works. Part of the Blood, Sweat, and Tears video series from Chemical Heritage Foundation.
More Resources for Teaching About Lincoln
It's never been easier to make Abraham Lincoln's story come to life for your students in all its powerful complexity. Whether you're digging deep into historical details or making connections to modern-day political issues, there are scores of organizations out there that offer additional teaching resources -- you can get started with the links below. I also included a few articles debating the historical accuracy of the new film, and its possible merits as a teaching tool. So I leave you with this quote which seems particularly salient for teachers -- from an address Lincoln gave for the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in 1859: "I know of nothing so pleasant to the mind, as the discovery of anything which is at once new and valuable -- nothing which so lightens and sweetens toil, as the hopeful pursuit of such discovery."
- Under His Hat: Discovering Lincoln's Story From Primary Sources website, also from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
- Teaching with Lincoln website, from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program
- Additional Abraham Lincoln Resources from the Library of Congress
- Lincoln Lesson Plans from the Chicago History Museum
- Learning from Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success, book published by ASCD (also check out the Study Guide)
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (the non-fiction book Spielberg's film is based on)
- The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, by Eric Foner
- "How Accurate Is Lincoln?" by Forrest Wickman, Slate
- "Steven Spielberg, Historian," by Philip Zelikow, The New York Times Opinion Pages
- "Steven Spielberg's Lincoln Movie as a Teaching Tool," post on Thinkfinity Community Hub
- "How Historically Accurate Is Lincoln the Movie?" by Matthew Pinkser, Quora feed on Huffington Post
- "Mr. Lincoln Goes to Hollywood," by Roy Blount Jr., Smithsonian magazine
Editor's Note: Spielberg's Lincoln film stirred controversy for portraying three of Connecticut's four congressmen voting against the constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. In fact, all four of the state's representatives voted in favor. The film's writer, Tony Kushner, says it was an intentional inaccuracy aimed at showing how powerful forces, even in New England, were determined to block the abolition of slavery. Kushner stresses that the work is an historical fiction not an historical record.