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Exploring Occupations in your community through old City Directories

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Author: Excerpted from an activity by teacher Linda Beaulieu
Theme: Economic and technological changes
Grade Level: 8-12
Historical Context

  • Theme: Economic and Technical changes and their Relation to Society, Ideas, and the Environment
  • Era: The Development of Modern America (1865 to 1920)
Developed for a Unit on Our Town by Thornton Wilder and Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, this activity is designed to help students understand life in a New England town through examination of a City Directory from the early 20th century.

Note: There are directories for other cities in both Vermont and New Hampshire; this activity can be modified to make use of a different directory.

Essential Question: What was it like growing up in a New England town at the beginning of the Twentieth Century?

Primary Learning Objectives:
Students will

  1. Identify and analyze the directory information according to category.
  2. Interpret the directory information to create a sense of place related to social, economic and historical details.
  3. Apply their conclusions to the literary selections.

Materials/Resources:

  • Access to the Claremont, NH City Directory via www.DistantCousin.com (This website is free and does not require membership.)
  • Current and old street maps of Claremont
  • Note cards
  • Chart (see step 5 below)
  • Early 20th century postcards/photos of Claremont
  • Files: ClaremontAssignment.doc and ClaremontScoresheet.doc

Activity Plan:

  1. Log on to http://DistantCousin.com
  2. Scroll down and click on “City Directories”. Locate the NH Directory for Claremont, NH.

  3. Review the Table of Contents

  4. Review Page 118 of the Claremont Business Directory by asking the following questions:
    a. What kinds of business are mentioned?
    b. Where are they located on a map of Claremont?
    c. What do these businesses tell us about Claremont in 1917?

  5. Put up a chart with the following categories on it: Agriculture/Animals, Medicine, Building/Construction, Dry Goods/ Groceries, Restaurants, Manufacturing, Food Production, Finances, Entertainment, Clothing/ Hats/ Shoes, Department Stores, Furniture/Lighting/Carpeting, Transportation, Death, Miscellaneous
  6. Divide students into groups, making each group responsible for one or more of the above categories. Now give each group note cards. They will research the directory looking for businesses that fall into their category(ies). On the cards, they will list the following: Name of Business, Location, Proprietor, and any interesting detail (e.g., Baths (Russian)).
  7. Add unknown vocabulary to the weekly vocabulary list on the board.
  8. Once the students have finished their cards, they must as a group answer the following questions in writing:

    How many businesses did you find in your category?
    What kind of businesses were they?
    Where were they located in Claremont? (Students have city street maps)
    Who were their clients?
    What did they sell or make?
    Can you draw any conclusions about the socio-economics of Claremont in 1917?
    How do your findings relate to what was going on historically in 1917?

  9. Now students will attach their cards to the chart.
  10. Each group will present their findings to the class.
  11. Make a list of the key findings of each group on the board.

Evaluation: Group note cards, group presentation (see ClaremontScoresheet.doc), list of key findings

Optional Homework: Follow-up writing assignment. The assignment should be given after looking at maps of Claremont at the beginning of the 20th Century and photos from the same period. (See Writing assignment in ClaremontAssignment.doc)

 

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