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The Invention of Thanksgiving

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Cultures +2 Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old)

This collection explores the evolving history of how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. The introductory video, podcast and lesson in the collection help provide context for the complicated portrayal and depiction of what actually happened at the first Thanksgiving and how it is celebrated today.

The images in this collection are different portrayals of the holiday over time. They have been grouped in order of publication from 1863 to 1994. As you look through them and complete the activities, think about these three key questions:

  • How does the context in which an image was produced affect the result? Meaning, how does what was happening at the time affect what kind of picture of Thanksgiving we see?
  • What do the images say about our national identity: who is welcome in the United States? What do we celebrate and why? Whose version of the Thanksgiving story does each image tell?

This collection was adapted from Kate Harris' collection, Thanksgiving-- A Reflection of A Nation and supplemented with the National Museum of the American Indian's Americans online exhibition. 

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