The Cholera Epidemic of 1832 in New York State

The Cholera Pandemic of 1832 in New York State

Richard L. Williams

Reprinted with permission from

History shows that several pandemics have struck in New York State – one of the less remembered is known as the Second Cholera Pandemic of 1832. New York was among the most thoroughly scourged among the states.

A person may get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium.  Although cholera can be acquired from under-cooked marine life, in an epidemic, the source of the contamination is usually the feces of an infected person. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water and New York City, Buffalo, and Utica were all hit particularly hard due to the bacterium‘s water borne mobility.

Virtually every city along the Hudson and St. Lawrence Rivers, Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Champlain, and the Erie Canal suffered despite the imposition of quarantines and frantic local efforts to “purify” and eliminate public health nuisances. In June 1832 cholera appeared in Quebec and Montreal and then in Prescott, Kingston, and York in Canada. Thriving towns along the Erie Canal suffered as well as small villages and even isolated farms.  The appearance of cholera was the signal for the general exodus of inhabitants of larger communities, who, in their headlong flight, spread the disease throughout the surrounding countryside. The disease was terrifying. Like the current coronavirus pandemic, it had to be faced alone, often without friend, minister, or physician.

The pandemic was compounded by miasmatics, an obsolete medical theory that held that diseases — such as cholera, chlamydia, or the plague — were caused by noxious “bad air” (sometimes called night air).

Personal habits were also thought to be a major cause and public health officials sought to protect people they called “poor and vicious” from themselves. Cleanliness helped, but also New York City banned “green and unripe fruits of every kind.”  Leaders of the Temperance Movement charged whiskey as the culprit. “Strict Sabbatarians” thought the disease was due to improper regard for the holiness of Sundays.

Many people traveled then on the Erie Canal or on stagecoaches on turnpikes passing through communities like Utica, where the Common Council established a Board of Health on June 16, 1832 to make regulations to “prevent the introduction and spread of the disease in the city.” Property owners were directed to purify and cleanse their house or business and to remove unwholesome substances or water. Lime or chloride of lime was to be used by all to purify residences and other buildings.

A temporary hospital was erected on Broad Street and 50 bushels of lime was bought “for the use of the poor.” Canal boats were directed to a quarantine where they could be “cleansed and purified.” By August 13th Utica had four fatal cases, and the alarm had spread across the city. It was estimated that 3,000 people left Utica “in search of a securer refuge from the mysterious disease.” All told, Utica had about 200 cases of cholera and about 65 deaths. A writer in The Utica Daily Gazette 15 years after the episode said that “the bolts of death fell thick and fast. The dead were hurried to their graves as soon as the breath left the body, unaccompanied by friends and without the usual ceremony.”

By September 11, 1832 the Board of Health announced that there was no danger to people returning to Utica. On September 25th no new cases were reported.  As abruptly as the 1832 cholera pandemic had appeared in New York, it dissipated and was largely gone from the State by December of the same year.

A similar epidemic, the Third Cholera Pandemic, returned to the United States in 1849. It is believed that over 150,000 Americans died during the two pandemics.

Historic New Jersey: Long Pond Ironworks

Historic New Jersey: Long Pond Ironworks

Long Pond Ironworks in Hewitt takes its name from the nearby “Long Pond,” a translation of the Native American name for Greenwood Lake. Set alongside the swiftly flowing Wanaque, or “Long Pond,” River, the only natural drainage from Greenwood Lake, the site offered a perfect combination of natural resources for making iron. Long Pond Ironworks was founded by the German ironmaster Peter Hasenclever.

Reprinted with Permission from the Long Pond Ironworks Museum

With financial backing from English investors, Hasenclever purchased the existing Ringwood Ironworks in 1765, along with huge parcels of land, including the 55,000 acre Long Pond Tract.  He then imported more than 500 European workers and their families to build iron-making plantations at Ringwood, Long Pond, and Charlottenburg in New Jersey, and at Cortland in New York.

From the wilderness they carved roads; built forges, furnaces, and homes; and created supporting farms. At Long Pond, they dammed the river to provide water power to operate the air blast for a furnace and a large forge.  Robert Erskine, the ironmaster at Long Pond and Ringwood during the 1770s, took up the American cause during the Revolutionary War, supplying iron products to the Continental Army and serving as George Washington’s chief mapmaker until his death in 1780.

In 1807, Long Pond Ironworks was acquired by Martin J. Ryerson, owner of the Pompton Ironworks. The Ryerson family retained ownership until 1853, when they sold the properties to the industrialists Peter Cooper, Edward Cooper, and Abram S. Hewitt. The Cooper-Hewitt enterprise operated Long Pond Ironworks as part of the larger Trenton Iron Company. During the Civil War, two new blast furnaces, new waterwheels, and workers’ housing were built at Long Pond. The iron made here was found to be especially well suited to making guns for the Union Army.

Civil War era Water Wheel

The 1870s brought major changes in the American iron industry—notably, the rise of cheap steel manufacturing and the discovery of new coalfields in Pennsylvania and ore beds in the Midwest. Although Hewitt planned cost-saving improvements to keep his northern New Jersey ironworks in operation, on April 30, 1882, the last fires were blown out at Long Pond, ending more than 120 years of iron-making history at the site.

Although iron was no longer made at Long Pond after 1882, mining continued as a major industry. Through the turn of the twentieth century, residents of Hewitt, the village that had grown up around the ironworks, adapted to changing times. They built a new school and church between 1895 and 1905 and a new sawmill in 1913. Ice cutting on Greenwood Lake and recreation also became key industries. By the 1930s and the onset of the Great Depression, however, these industries were in decline. Residents of historic Hewitt began to move away, seeking opportunity elsewhere.

In 1957, the Ringwood Company donated the Long Pond Ironworks property to the State of New Jersey. In 1987, Long Pond Ironworks was dedicated as a State Park. Administered by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry, and maintained by the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks, Inc., the Long Pond Ironworks Historic District stands as a testament to the vital role our region has played in our local, state, and national history.

Long Pond Today

Long Pond Ironworks is a microcosm of our industrial and cultural heritage. Its history tells a fascinating tale of the ironmasters who developed the iron industry in northern New Jersey. Their contributions to history in times of peace and times of war reach far beyond the local economy. These nearly forgotten chapters of history deserve to be retold and remembered.

Within the 175-acre Long Pond Ironworks Historic District lie the ruins of three iron blast furnaces, including the original Colonial-era furnace built in 1766 and two larger furnaces built for Civil War production. Also visible are remains of iron forges, waterpower systems, and a variety of workers’ homes and commercial buildings that were critical parts of the iron-working village.

Long Pond also illustrates the evolution of iron-making technology in the remains of the three successive blast furnaces, the ore roaster, and the hydropower systems. The continual search for more efficient operations and materials is a story of industrial ingenuity at its best.

The workers’ story at Long Pond Ironworks is a saga of immigration, hard work, and adaptation to changing times. The company town of Hewitt grew, thrived and declined along with the fortunes of the iron industry in the Northeast. The personal and community struggle to adapt to an evolving economy is a theme in our cultural heritage from which we can still learn.

The historical value of Long Pond Ironworks is paralleled only by its natural beauty. The forests that were once cut down to make charcoal for the furnaces have returned, and the river that was once diverted into the hydropower systems again cascades over ancient rock formations. The Friends of Long Pond Ironworks are working to ensure that the Historical District is preserved and remembered for its contributions to our past, present, and future.

All Have the Right to Question: Inquiry in the Incarcerated Environment

All Have the Right to Question: Inquiry in the Incarcerated Environment

Aubrey Brammar Southall and James Pawola

The bombing of Pearl Harbor is the current content for discussion in Mr. Peet’s (a pseudonym) United States History class. Mr. Peet has decided on the topic based on student written inquiry questions. Most students in the class were interested in studying why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Mr. Peet asks, “According to the sources, FDR makes it seem the Pearl Harbor attack was unprovoked. Tojo makes the case that the attack was provoked. What do you think? Support your answer with evidence from the sources provided.” The students fervently write out their responses after fumbling through their provided primary sources. As students recount the letters Hideki Tojo wrote during his time in prison, there is a general consensus, “Why would he lie when he is locked up for life?” and “Of course, Tojo was provoked.” The students speak of Tojo as if he is someone they know. Mr. Peet’s pupils bring an interesting perspective to the class discussion as they are all incarcerated. Mr. Peet teaches United States History at Midwestern Juvenile Justice Center (a pseudonym). He is a certified teacher by the Midwestern state in secondary social studies. Mr. Peet has taught at Midwestern Juvenile Justice Center for more than five years.

The purpose of this article is to examine the teaching of social studies in an incarcerated secondary classroom environment. The article will answer the following questions: (1) How is inquiry- based instruction implemented in an incarcerated classroom environment? And (2) How does the teacher interpret their classroom engagement level when inquiry- based instruction is employed?


The researchers are on the “inside” for observations. This term is used by students in Mr. Peet’s classroom. The researchers know their position as an outsider in this unique classroom environment. They are aware their position in society will shape perceptions and field notes. The researchers acknowledge the differences between the students and themselves, though they are greater than they could ever perceive. A sequence of events has partnered the researchers with Mr. Peet. What first started as a mentoring project by the local regional office of education has transformed and the researchers are now the mentees instead of mentors.

The purpose of this longitudinal case study is to evaluate the use of the inquiry based instruction in an incarcerated secondary classroom environment. The study will answer the following questions: (1) how is inquiry-based instruction implemented in an incarcerated classroom environment? (2) How does the teacher interpret their classroom engagement level when inquiry-based instruction is employed? The researchers use a case study qualitative research method. The research questions are best suited to be answered by employing a qualitative method. Yin (2013) believes “doing case study research would be the preferred method, compared to the others, in situations when (1) the main research questions are ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions; (2) the researchers have little or no control over behavioral events; and (3) the focus of study is a contemporary (as opposed to entirely historical)” (loc. 639). The use of quantitative research methods would not answer the research questions in an appropriate manner. Data collection included observations, teacher interviews, and field notes. Additionally, in this research study, the participant is one teacher in a juvenile justice center. Field notes and observation were necessary for data collection. The case study approach allowed for a holistic answer to the research questions.

For the purpose of this research project, the following definition for inquiry is employed: “Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the center of the learning experience. Educators play an active role throughout the process by establishing a culture where ideas are respectfully challenged, tested, redefined and viewed as improvable, moving children from a position of wondering to a position of enacted understanding and further questioning” (Student Achievement Division, 2013, p.2).

Mr. Peet’s Classroom

Mr. Peet’s classroom at Midwestern Juvenile Justice Center mimics national averages for jailed populations. The classroom where the researchers observed is made up of mostly Black and Brown young men. Most of Mr. Peet’s students report they have attended an alternative public school before entering his classroom. Over 50 percent of the students reported receiving special education services at their home public school. Kendi (2019) states Black students are four times more likely than white students to be suspended from public schools. Additionally, 56 percent of the prison population is made up of Black and Latinx people (Kendi, 2019). A recent Midwestern newspaper article stated “Youth who are detained are more likely to drop out of school, which in turn increases their likelihood of being rearrested and returning to jail” (Klonsky, 2019). The researchers noted that many practices at Midwestern Juvenile Justice Center appear to be restorative. Education is a top priority of administrators and educators. Students are offered the opportunity to participate in the following elective courses: yoga, music, graphic design, physical education, dual credit program with local community college, book club, garden club, art, and art therapy. Student artwork and murals adorn the walls of the school. The most notable student created murals state, “One day or day one, you decide”, “Renew”, and, “Begin.” Mr. Peet employs abolitionist teaching principles as his classroom “is built on the creativity, imagination, boldness, ingenuity, and rebellious spirit and methods of abolitionists to demand and fight for an educational system where all students are thriving, not simply surviving” (Love, 2019, p. 11).

Review of the Literature

Quality educational programing during incarceration can have a positive impact on students and help prevent involvement in future criminal behavior (Lochner & Moretti, 2003). The time youth spend in local short-term juvenile justice facilities should be used to address educational challenges, and to re-engage students in education or alternative programs (Office of Justice Programs’ National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2017). Additionally, high quality education during incarceration is important for helping students become productive members of their communities (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 2014).

Incarcerated classrooms provide unique opportunities for secondary teachers. Scott (2013) reports there are two types of teachers in incarcerated settings. The first type of teacher sees prison as an important place for higher education and the other looks critically at the prison classroom. The researcher believes teachers looking critically at the prison classroom are more likely to advocate for incarcerated students (Scott, 2013). The researchers argue the teacher in this study, Mr. Peet, looks at his incarcerated secondary classroom critically. The researchers see Mr. Peet as an abolitionist teacher. Love (2019) states that:

Abolitionist teaching is built on the cultural wealth of students’ communities and creating classrooms in parallel with those communities aimed at facilitating interactions where people matter to each other, fight together in the pursuit of creating a home place that represents their hopes and dreams, and resist oppression all while building a new future (p. 68).

The teacher is willing to advocate for students and provide resources for inquiry. This image of the teacher shapes the narrative of the research.

The educational opportunities afforded to those in incarcerated environments impacts our societal landscape (Castro & Brawn, 2017). The classroom should be a place of thinking, discussing, and dialoguing. Additionally, the researchers and teacher highlight the importance of humanizing language when discussing people in incarcerated environments (Stern, 2014). Therefore, the researchers refer to the youth discussed in this study as students instead of inmates. Furthermore, Mr. Peet has made community in a place that is less than desirable.

For dark folx, thriving cannot  happen without a community that is deeply invested in racial uplift, human and workers’ rights, affordable housing, food and environmental justice, land rights, free or affordable healthcare, healing, joy, cooperative economic strategies, and high political participation that is free of heteropatriarchy, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, sexism, ageism, and the politics of respectability (Love, 2019, p. 65).

Mr. Peet’s classroom is a place where students and their backgrounds are valued and respected.

Furthermore, teaching in incarcerated environments should be seen as complex and unpredictable (Castro & Brawn, 2017). Teachers typically are the only teacher of their subject in the building, which is true for Mr. Peet.  Additionally, students do not have normal distractions like Wifi/internet, cell phones, parties, and school extracurricular activities (Scott, 2013). Furthermore, incarcerated students are not typically considered candidates for post-secondary education (Castro, Brawn, Graves, Mayorga, Page, & Slater, 2015). Mr. Peet does work in an environment promoting college readiness. He co-teaches community college courses for his incarcerated students. However, student perception of incarcerated classrooms draws from teacher and environmental stereotypes. “Analysis reveals how even well-intended practices in prison spaces pose obstacles to seeing incarcerated individuals as potential postsecondary students and degree completers” (Castro et al., 2015, p. 13). The presenters believe incarcerated environments with thoughtfully designed education programs “can create communities committed to personal growth, social responsibility, and engaged citizenship” (Ginsburg, 2014, p.33). Moreover, education in incarcerated environments that helps students with strong written and oral communication skills, such as inquiry based instruction, empowers them. Empowered students have the ability to represent and advocate for themselves in public spaces outside of incarceration (Lewen, 2014).

Classroom Practices

Mr. Peet instructs United States History chronologically. Each unit the teacher has the students write inquiry questions while reading an overview of the upcoming material. The teacher believes this allows the students to preview and/or review material and allows all students to start the unit with a base of prior knowledge. Students have stated writing inquiry questions as the teacher believes this gives them ownership in the lesson. “Hey, that’s my question!” is a resounding sound in Mr. Peet’s classroom. The teacher has reported, and researchers have recorded in field notes students are more engaged when student inquiry questions are used. The teacher provides research sources from multiple perspectives to students based on student-written inquiry questions. Bias is often discussed in the classroom. The teacher reported different levels of inquiry questions are written and answered based on student reading levels. Most of the students read below grade level. Resources provided by the teacher include photographs, art, music, speeches, news articles, and news’ broadcasts relating to the students’ interests. The nature of the provided resources and student written questions allows the teacher to differentiate for the variety of students present in the classroom. The teacher collects work daily and uses the feedback as a formative assessment. Due to the nature of Midwestern Juvenile Justice Center, summative assessments are not used.

Students report they often have not participated in their former social studies classrooms. Student feedback of Mr. Peet’s classroom is extremely positive. The teacher sets high expectations for all students. The researchers had Mr. Peet, affectionately known as “Mr. P” by his students, ask the students to write out why they enjoyed his class and participated in discussions and assignments. One student stated, “Mr. P teaches history in a very unbiased way. He never states opinions without refuting and clarifying both sides.” Another stated, “Mr. P is very knowledgeable of the subject. He makes it where I actually enjoy coming to school again.” Other comments were, “I like history the way you (Mr. P) teach” and “It’s (class) fun and I enjoy the fact that Mr. P actually makes it fun and makes it easy to understand.” Based on field notes and teacher reflection, many of the students have previously felt school was not the place for them.


As this study is longitudinal in nature, we will discuss the results from data collected thus far. We should note that due to the nature of incarcerated secondary classrooms, the teacher’s student population changes daily. The average time in a classroom is 14 days. Some students are members of the classroom for over a year. Additionally, some students rejoin the classroom throughout the school year. Furthermore, the researchers see youth who are incarcerated as a protected group. This study focuses on the teacher’s interpretation of classroom practices and student engagement.

Findings indicate inquiry-based learning in an incarcerated secondary social studies classroom environment is structured and teacher- dependent.  Mr. Peet’s United States History classroom ranges from seventh- twelfth graders. Students in this setting are not allowed to use the internet and have limited access to research materials. The teacher is responsible for providing needed materials for student inquiry. The teacher states the following as key components to structuring his classroom: “I usually use primary source pictures from the era or topic to spark interest and meaningful discussion” and “I find materials that I know are interesting and then tailor lessons to meet standards.” Additionally, he comments, “I do vocabulary exercises, and focus on the reading and analyzing primary and secondary sources.” Due to school policies, students are issued writing materials at the start of each class. Homework is not assigned as hardback textbooks and pencils are not allowed in student bedrooms due to safety concerns.

The teacher reported an increase in student engagement when inquiry based teaching practices are employed. Researchers recorded the following as key components of student engagement: a safe space for classroom discussion, the constant posing of “why?” to students, the posting of inquiry questions related to the topic everyday (student generated when applicable), and the modeling of good inquiry questions, sources of information, and identifying bias.

Additionally, the teacher noted increased engagement from students on release days from incarceration when inquiry based learning was used. The researchers recorded this in field notes as well. The teacher noted in previous experiences, students were understandably disengaged on release days. The students appeared to make the most use of their time in Mr. Peet’s class. Mr. Peet often states he hopes the students carry their often new found love of United States history back to their home public school.

Furthermore, an increase in individual student engagement is observed when the student’s own inquiry question is used during the lesson. Increased engagement is measured by student participation in classroom discussion and student answers to inquiry based questions. All inquiry question responses are required to use textual evidence. Textual evidence comes from teacher-provided resources.

The researchers observed empowerment, questioning, and relationships are the key components of inquiry-based learning in an incarcerated classroom environment and teacher-reported student engagement. The teacher reported relationships with the students being of the utmost importance for inquiry based instruction. The student centered approach to instruction empowers students daily. Finally, challenging students to question the history they are taught increases engagement and inquiry-based learning. Researchers used field notes, teacher interviews, and student work samples to determine key components.


            The researchers understand the complex nature of Midwestern Juvenile Justice Center and acknowledge the troubling rates of incarceration for Black and Brown young men. The researchers believe the abolitionist teaching style of Mr. Peet should be replicated and employed in the teaching of youth who find themselves incarcerated or in alternative school settings. Mr. Peet models how to successfully teach inquiry in a space where individuals voices are often kept quiet. The researchers feel strongly about the use of student-centered practices and inquiry-based instruction in environments where rights have been diminished.


Castro, E. L., Brawn, M., Graves, D., Mayorga, O., & Page, J. (2015). Higher education in an era of mass incarceration: Possibility under constraint. Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs, 1 (2), 13-31.

Castro, E.L. & Brawn, M. (2017). Critiquing critical pedagogies inside the prison classroom: A dialogue between a teacher and a student. Harvard Education Review, 87 (1), 99-121.

Ginsburg, R. (2014). Knowing that we are making a difference: A case for critical prison programming. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 64 (1), 33-47.

Kendi, I. (2019). How to be an anti-racist. Penguin Random House.

Klonsky, A (2019, November 7). The lifelong damage we do in Cook County when we jail kids as young as 10. Chicago Sun Times.  

Lewen, J. (2014). Prison higher education and social transformation. Saint Louis University School of Law Review, 33 (1) 353-362.

Lochner, L. & Moretti, E. (2003). The effect of education on crime: evidence from prison inmates, arrests, and self-reports. American Economic Review, (94)1, 155-189.

Love, B. (2019). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

Office of Justice Programs’ National Criminal Justice Reference Service. (2017). Strengthening education in short-term juvenile detention centers: final technical report.

Scott, R. (2013). Distinguishing radical teaching from merely having intense experiences while teaching in prison. Radical Teacher, 95 (1), 22-32.

Stern, K. (2014). Prison education and our will to punish. Saint Louis University School of Law Review, 33 (1), 443-459.

Student Achievement Division (2013). Capacity building series.

U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. (2014). Guiding principles for providing high quality education in juvenile justice secure care settings. Washington, D.C.

Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research: design and methods (5th edition.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications,

Representation of National Identity in the Wake of the Sputnik Crisis

Representation of National Identity in the Wake of the Sputnik Crisis

Matt Triolo

“I got a phone call at my home in Princeton about 7:00 PM on Friday evening, October 4, from the New York Times aeronautics reporter, Richard Witkin. Had I Heard? What is the reaction to the U.S rocket community? My response is not even in my memory” said Martin Summerfield.  He went on, “But the impact of the launch on the United States, as well on my own career, would be powerful indeed… by 1962 a growth so rapid membership in the institute of Aeronautical science, as membership quadrupled from a few dozen to 20,000 in response (to Sputnik)” (Harford, 1999) At the dawn of the Space Race both the Soviet Union and the United States responded to the launch of Sputnik, which up until that point was the greatest technological feat ever achieved by man. This launch came at a pivotal time in the Cold War. As now each nation put resources into; What does the response of the Soviet Union and the United States say about each respective nation?  Does national identity reflect the true intentions of a nation or is it just an image to share with the rest of the world?

            The importance of researching the topic of national identity and Sputnik comes at the crux of the Cold War. During this era image and ideology reigned supreme as competing spheres of influence were ever growing and expanding. Prior historians have delved into the topic in order to uncover the finer points and develop the historiographical conversation even further. The relevance of the topic goes further as national identity and learning how nations portray themselves has a continuing legacy across all eras of modern history.  The use of newspapers official reports, as well as propaganda footage reveals the identity each nation was trying to portray in a post Sputnik world as the space race moved forward. The response to the successful launch of Sputnik showcases the national identity and ideologies of both the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union doubled down on the glory of their socialist and communist society being the only way of the future. In contrast to this the United States realized their own scientific shortcomings, and buckled down and rely on innovations from a capitalist system in order to make up lost ground in the Space Race. Identifying national identity can greatly assist students within the classroom it allows them to have a greater understanding of what countries are involved in a given conflict as well as makes certain countries easier to identify through their national Identity. With a subject like the Cold war this is fairly important and beneficial for students, the cold war sees two drastically different forces shaping the world around them. Understanding the national identity of each side of the cold war will allow for greater understanding. With the cold war taking up much of the 20th century there is a wide range of history for students to learn associated with this era, so having a deep and rich understanding of the source material is vital.

The use of Sputnik specifically is also important. While the United States of America claimed victory in the Cold War it is important to recognize it was not as one sided as contemporary history leads students to believe. The Soviet Union took an early lead in the space race and remained a head of the United States for much of the Space race. Introducing how behind the United States was builds a better historical narrative and further supports students in learning the topic. Within sputnik there are a great deal of Primary sources that show the inner workings and thought processes of the United States and Soviet Union. Overall, this article will be a resource for teachers to learn about national identity in the early stages of the space race as well as a deep dive into sputnik as an educational tool for teachers to cover a wide range of ideas.

            The origins of the space race lie deep within the Cold War, as global conflict developed the need and desire for scientific advancement. It seemed impossible to be without innovation and a drive to compete globally.  The Cold War saw the world divided into influence spheres of superpowers, the United States and The Soviet Union. Following the end to a long and devastating World War most nations worldwide were defeated and crumbling looking to rebuild from what they lost. The United States of America and the Soviet Union were the only nations standing, both with daring dreams of global influence and prestige. The Cold War put ideology at the forefront as now nations of the world found themselves taking sides between an ever-growing communist sphere and the free world. As the Cold War developed tensions rose in pockets of proxy wars where USSR backed forces squared off with American forces.  This global game of chess encompassed all aspects of life, trade, and warfare and diplomacy. The Cold War was the peak of 20th century global politics, the heights of which would never be seen again. Historian John Gaddis “No one today worries about a new global war, or a total triumph of dictators, or the prospect that civilization itself might end. That was not the case when the Cold War began. For all its dangers, atrocities, costs, distractions, and moral compromises, the Cold War—like the American Civil War—was a necessary contest that settled fundamental issues once and for all.” (Gaddis, 2007)

            The Soviet Union found themselves in a peculiar and significantly powerful position following the Second World War. The Yalta conference preceding the end of the Second World War played a significant role in shaping the Cold War for the Soviet Union. The agreement made between Churchill and Stalin would divide Europe into influence spheres. The Soviet Union liberated former Nazi Germany territory in Western Europe that they would turn into new additions to the Soviet Union. The USSR with rising influence outside of Europe, in Asia and the surrounding regions. The Soviet Union was a powerhouse of an authoritarian communist state running on government control of production as well as control over all aspects of life. This nation was expanding and ready to make its mark in global politics cementing itself as true superpower.

            For the United States the Second World War established the growing nation as a competitive superpower. For years prior the United States had gone from a non-influential nation to the top dog for the western world. Being left relatively unscathed by two World Wars allowed the United States to grow to the levels of its contemporaries. Following the Second World War the United States used its wealth to rebuild Europe bolstering its position as both an ally to Eastern Europe and a superpower. As the world moved into the Cold War the United States saw communism as a looming threat to both global security and freedom. In order to meet the rising threat, the United States adopted a policy of containment with the goal of stopping the spread of communism and furthermore the expansion of powers by the Soviet Union. In the early stages of the Cold War the United States developed new technologies in order to meet the threat of communism.  This policy throughout the Cold War would expand to the space race, matching the Soviets where ever possible. The space race was a new challenge that would bring American strength and innovation to the forefront to meet a menacing advisory.

            National identity refers to the way a country views itself in regards to the rest of the world. For some national identity is the idealized version of a nation, showing the characteristics that it wishes to share with the outside world. These national identities often have a great deal to do with the leading ideology of a country. Communist nations tend to value national unity, while other free nations will value freedom and innovation. During the Cold War national identity and prestige were everything as the world was divided into growing influence spheres. National identity moves nations along it inspires individuals to act as for their nation and inspire bouts of patriotism and nationalism.

As the Cold War moved forward the developments in military rockets quickly turned to ambitions out of this world. Combine competing ambitions with the backdrop of the Cold War and the space race was born. Scientific developments moved at breakneck speeds and a push to get to the stars was now an achievable goal. On October 4th of 1957 the Soviets took great leaps and bounds launching the satellite Sputnik into the atmosphere dawning the start of the space race and a new era in the history of the Cold War. The world watched as the Soviet Union rocketed past them. For the United States, the policy of containment now reached outside the globe as they attempted to contain any communist threat even in space.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR was a dominant force in both Western Europe as well as global politics for a majority of the 20th century. Its reach knew no bounds moving into the middle of the 20th century.  Its dominant rise and position as a global superpower seemed unstoppable rivaling any western challenger. The carefully crafted identity of the Soviet Union revolved around imagery of strength, the will of the people and party as well as a sense that the Soviet way of life was the most fruitful and effective. The peak of USSR dominance was at the inception of the new space race where the USSR was literally thousands of miles ahead of its contemporaries. The successful launch of Sputnik signaled to the world what scientific heights the Soviet Union was capable of as well as how far behind the rest of the world was. Through publications of the era, it is clear that the successful launch of Sputnik represented the national identity of Soviet Union strength, unity, and superiority to the outside world and at the core of Soviet messaging.

            Soviet identity believed they were destined to conquer and claim the new frontier for humanity. Space was a new boundary for human exploration, it was the next natural step for a species that has controlled the rest of the planet. The Soviet identity was centered on the Soviet Union being the best form of humanity. Being the first to conquer space fit perfectly within the goals and ambitions of the Soviet Union. A key aspect of the identity of the Soviet Union was the development of an us vs them mentality, the rest of the western world was evil and that the Soviet Union was above all and no other way of life could have paved the way for the future. Another focal point of Soviet identity that was critical during the early stages of the space race was the sense of unity and strength shared by all Soviet peoples. Unity and power were the cornerstone of Soviet thinking, as historian Sarah Davis Wrote, “According to the propaganda, power in the USSR belonged to the people, namely the workers and peasants” (Davies, 1997). The aura of the USSR being of the people created a sense of unity with each person being a cog in a much larger and grand mechanism. The national identity of the USSR inspired scientists and the Soviet government to have made the transition into aiming for space. The Soviet space program slotted in perfectly into that identity with it being a driving force behind the mentality of those behind it.

            The Soviet identity was strong presence through the core of its own space program, the space program was emblematic of the Soviet Union as a whole. The idea of unity and being just part of the larger mechanism was seen throughout the space program. The celebrity associated with advancements in space travel for the most part was not seen in the Soviet Union. The most glaring hidden figure of the Soviet space program was the mind behind Sputnik itself, Sergei Korolev was a dominant figure in the Soviet space program being a chief designer that was anonymous during his time being represented merely through a pseudonym. “For Korolev, an engineer-manager of tremendous achievement and high ego, to have to reconcile himself to career long obscurity” (Harford 1999). The Soviet identity was focused on the larger picture of workers together leading to one of its greatest minds being denied appropriate recognition for their contributions to history.

            In October of 1957 the mythos and identity of the Soviet Union was still holding strong and this was reflected in party publications of the time. Pravda was one such publication, controlled and operated by the Communist Party. Pravda was the first and most common dose of propaganda given to citizens of the Soviet Union. Issues of Pravda were a conduit for information within its circulation, millions of daily issues reported on changes in official Policy as well as propaganda that served to strengthen ties to the Communist Party and the Soviet Union as a whole. For all state-run companies, organizations and the military had subscriptions to Pravda with the express purpose of driving home the party messages and keeping readers minds closed to any other information. The publication of this particular issue comes in at a pivotal moment the Soviet Union’s history as they overtook the rest of the world in space travel.

            The Soviet Space program and its accomplishments were kept mostly in secret. This publication serves as a rare glimpse for the world serving its purpose as a propaganda piece as well as a representing Soviet identity. As in all issues of Pravda this particular issue focused on spreading the glory of the Soviet Union through information and the famous propaganda of the publication. The successful launch of Sputnik saw the Soviet Union surpass the rest of the world scientifically for a moment and the writers behind Pravda needed to write about and promote this. At the core of this newspaper is Communist Party propaganda. While sharing information about the launch is important the main goal is to drive home the message and the praises of the Communist Party. This Pro party sentiment comes to a head during the last section of the article, “Artificial earth satellites will pave the way to interplanetary travel and, apparently our contemporaries will witness how the freed and conscientious labor of the people of the new socialist society makes the most daring dreams of mankind a reality” (Pravda, 1957). This moment in history is where the USSR shined the brightest and was the sole winner dominating any global competition. It seemed at least for the members of the Soviet Union who bought into the Soviet propaganda that Socialism and the ways of the party were the path to the future. Within this article the wide ambition following the launch of Sputnik were dreams of interplanetary travel. The publication of articles like these fits in with the narrative of the Soviet Union moving into the future and communism being the way of the future.

            To the party leaders, optics were seen as priority, portraying the grand nature of the Soviet Union. This was key in crafting and maintaining a national identity with the glory of the Soviet Union shown with great power through grand military parades.  These parades were common along with praising the roots of the USSR in revolution. This sort of celebration was seen even in the space program. Sputnik was a huge accomplishment for those in the Soviet Union combining this achievement and celebration that the Soviet Union was exactly what the Communist Party wanted. In an interview Cosmonaut Georgy Grechko told the story of the Communist Party’s request for a procommunist launch, “After Sputnik 1, Sergei Korolev went to the Kremlin and Khrushchev said to him, we never thought that you would launch Sputnik before the Americans. But you did it. Now please launch something new in space for the next anniversary of our revolution. The anniversary would be in one mouth… and we launched on November 3rd 1957, in time for the celebration of the revolution” (Grechko, 1989) This is emblematic of the identity of the Soviet Union due to its origins in revolution and its desire to lead the world in strength and innovation. The glory of the Soviet Union continued its legacy with another successful launch on the 29th anniversary of the USSR.

            Propaganda posters are a mainstay of the Soviet Union as a promotion for both nationalism and party unity. A picture is truly worth a thousand words and a propaganda poster might be worth double that. A poster can appeal to anyone and simply looking at it can convey a message; this is in contrast to other forms of propaganda that might require more of an active participation from the viewer. Pieces such as pamphlets and books require the viewer to both know how to read and also at a high enough reading level to understand what is being written. Posters could be viewed by anyone and are eye catching while spreading the message to the biggest possible audience in an efficient manner. Soviet era propaganda posters had the unique job of spinning famine and hardship as well as creating a certain image for the leadership.  “A concerted propaganda campaign tried to portray the country’s leaders in a populist guise, an image that clearly had the potential to resonate with the people’s own representations”. The widespread use of propaganda and more specifically posters carried out a specific goal in influencing the largest portion of the population.

            In response to the launch of Sputnik Soviet propaganda used this great success to further the identity of the Soviet Union through propaganda posters. These posters crafted following the rise of Sputnik communicated Soviet ideals to the masses, promoting both the glory and the strength of the Soviet Union. One poster published in 1958 depicts a series of rockets launching into outer space with Sputnik 1 being at the bottom and more advanced and futuristic rockets above it. The USSR is the only country seen on earth with a red star and golden leaves at the base. Along with this imagery there is a simple tag line “Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!”  (Rzhevsky, 1958). This poster encompasses a great deal of soviet ideals, the fatherland in the forefront represents the great nationalism of the USSR, that sense of nationalism and pride is credited for the accomplishments of Sputnik and the larger space program as a whole. Praising the Soviet regime within this poster bolsters the national identity the communist party was attempting to craft. Another poster in this collection takes a slightly different route with the focus being on the Soviet worker. This poster has a young fit and good-looking man in the forefront, an ideal caricature of a Soviet man. He is a working welder, there are a few other men working in the background symbolizing the power of the soviet worker. Over the shoulder of the welder’s shoulder there is a rocket being launched connecting his work to the soviet space program.  At the bottom of the poster there is a line stating “I am happy – this is my work joining the work of my republic” (Rzhevsky, 1958). With this line the main objective of the poster is clear in showing the people of the USSR that they should be proud and happy to work and do their part to support their country and that it is the strength and will of the people that allows the USSR to reach these heights. These posters are just a few of the hundreds of examples of the Soviet Union using the success of sputnik to continue to cultivate and grow their national identity.

            The Soviet Union following the initial launch of Sputnik looked to praise their accomplishments and spread their ideology. In propaganda pieces such as Pravda and the previously seen posters there is a constant emphasis on communist values and communist superiority. Those who worked in the Soviet space program were influenced by the Soviet national identity, figures like Korolev were forced to not be a public figure because it did not match with the Soviet identity. Moving forward in the Space race the USSR would rely on successes like Sputnik and other early advancements to build and share their identity as a superpower.

            Following the conclusion of the Second World War the United States presented itself as both a pillar of democracy and innovation. With a crippled Europe the United States transformed itself into a superpower moving into the 1950s. At odds with USSR, the undertones of the Cold War raged on within the United States. A unique combination of communist fear and American exceptionalism prevailed within this era. That fear translated swiftly across the United States following the launch of Sputnik. What was once a global rival was now turning itself into a new threat that was beginning to eclipse the United States scientifically. Within the United States response to Sputnik its own national identity is revealed, an identity consisting of innovation, freedom and strength. Through legislation of the era, perspectives of leaders as well as publications of a free press this identity is clear and continues to be robust as the space race waged on following Sputnik.

            The national identity of the United States goes back to its roots and continued to develop throughout the young nation’s history. While there is a spotty record for freedom for all within the United States there is certainly a belief that the ideal of Freedom is present. Looking at the founding documents of the United States freedom as a right is clearly expressed in the nation’s own Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Constitution, 1788). While the first Amendment is a small portion of the larger Constitution as a document it does serve as an early statement of this ideal of freedom.  The United States sees itself as exceptional to other nations. As a political scientist Richard Rose writes “America marches to a different drummer. Its uniqueness is explained by any or all of a variety of reasons: history, size, geography, political institutions, and culture” (Rose, 1989). This ties into its national identity as the United States and its unique qualities sets it apart from other western nations. The United States as a pillar of strength and democracy was a newer phenomenon prior to the two World Wars, with the United States not nearly as powerful or influential but following those global conflicts the United States left the wars relatively unscathed compared to its contemporaries becoming a super power in its own right. Nevertheless, the United States adopted this identity with full force and vigor and portrayed it throughout the entirely of the Cold War and especially in its response to the Sputnik Crisis.

            During the Sputnik crisis fear dominated the political and national conversation with a sense of danger settling in for many Americans. The Sputnik crisis within the United States refers to the time following the launch of Sputnik where the United States and the rest of the western world was plunged into panic and fear that the USSR was able to conquer a new and important feat in the Space race. What was once a belief that the United States and the western world were superior to the USSR was now shattered as they overtook them scientifically. This shock rippled throughout American society, “Along with official responses the launch and its symbolism unleashed vast and often effects on the domestic front due to society-wide crisis mentality it engendered. It changed the very mindset with in which Americans viewed communism and the Cold War” (Boyle, 2008). In an instance the Space race and by extension the cold war heated up as the USSR was a threatening force to American citizens. For American citizens fear went wild. The Soviets as one American General put it were “seeing into our bedrooms” (Goodpaster, 1941).  For much of the Cold Warn Americans believed in their own country’s strength and support, this was challenged for the first time for many Americans. These new fears in the wake of Sputnik were felt in the west globally, “Sputnik’s launch exacerbated pre-existing British fears that the Soviets were becoming more technologically advanced and leading the cold war.” (Barnett, 2013). For the western world, the USSR now threatened their way of life due to the Americans belief that the launch of Sputnik will lead to new military dominance from the success of the launch. For the duration of the Cold War both nations were in an intense arms race and now Americans feared that the Soviet Union had surpassing them.  This initial panic would loom over the space race as it developed acting as a driving force for innovation.

            Within the United States it is the duty of a trusted newspaper to report on the events of the world as they pertain to the lives of everyday Americans. With the Sputnik crisis American newspapers were some of the first reporting and sharing information with the American public. The New York Times is a long-standing American newspaper responsible for a rich news reporting history. In 1957 following the launch of Sputnik the paper published an Article chronicling the momentous event.  In the article titled “Soviet Fires Earth Satellite into Space; It Is Circling the Globe at 18,000 M.P.H.; Sphere Tracked in 4 Crossings Over U.S.” the event is reported on laying out facts about the launch as well as addressing potential panic. The first point of potential panic came from the title, the title mentions how many times Sputnik has traveled over the U.S. For an American it is terrifying that something the Soviets built is able to travel that fast directly above you. This leads to the fear of military application which was a central fear during the Sputnik crisis. The New York Times quells this fear by stating “The satellites could not be used to drop atomic or hydrogen bombs or anything else on the earth, scientists have said. Nor could they be used in connection with the proposed plan for aerial inspection of military forces around the world.” (Jordan, (1957). Panic following Sputnik was a significant part of the United States early reaction to the launch of Sputnik seen in a variety of other news sources. Moving forward past initial reactions the United States relied on its strength and innovation in order to make strides within the space race.

            For American media Sputnik represented the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, so time sensationalism reigned supreme. Fear sells newspapers and magazines this fits into the capitalist mindset of using any means to turn a profit. For many nothing is more American than capitalist principals. Following the launch American media began a true and massive publication campaign around the successful launch, a “media riot” (McQuaid, 2007) had absorbed the United States. The threat of communism was a huge part of this push to report on Sputnik, while fears about safety and national security were on the forefront. Some publications saw this as a turning point within the Cold War in favor of the Soviet Union, “The implications of Sputnik were clear to the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, who proclaimed the satellite’s launching as a clear Soviet victory in the Cold War” (Kennedy, 2005).  Other American newspapers took different stances on the crisis, “The New York Times devoted extensive coverage of the events and attempted to decipher the meaning of the Soviets’ scientific breakthrough, including a small article that analyzed the meaning of the word “Sputnik.” (Kennedy, 2005). Sputnik was a sensation so something as trivial as the name of the satellite was a part of speculation.  New technology was in the hands of the Soviet Union “The press, pushed the panic button journalists needed sources, and that some “exaggerated the danger of the Soviet satellite” (McQuaid, 2007). The USSR achieved the impossible up until that point and it was high and popular news to report on it across the United States.

            With the outpouring of panic and fear following Sputnik it was now the role of the government to calm the public and announce a path to American success. During WW2 newsreels were an extremely effective way to give important information to an anxious American crowd. These reels were produced by the United States government post Sputnik as a way of calming Sputnik anxiety in an attempt to get the United States both back on track as well as portraying an identity of innovation and freedom. In this reel titled “Reds Launch First Space Satellite” was released three days after the launch of Sputnik and aimed to give the facts explaining what a satellite is and what its function was. This information was spread in order to stop panic and get the record straight on Sputnik. The rest of this news reel focuses on the United States own satellite ambitions, which was due to free and strong workers and would come to fruition in early 1958. The description of the segment from 1957 stated “Animated films graphically show how a mighty three-stage rocket placed an artificial moon into an orbit around the earth—a feat that occasions Western re-appraisal of Red missile progress” (Motion Picture 200-UN-30-82, 1957). This refers to what an American rocket would look like as well as a reappraisal of the Soviet accomplishments hinting that American innovation will yield a much stronger rocket. The governments public response to Sputnik through this film shows the identity that the United States was trying to cultivate as well as calm some of the panic other media outlets spread.

            The American government and the global science community at large were taken aback by Sputnik where out of nowhere the Soviets had overtaken the United States, it was now up to the leadership of the United States to respond. From the inception of the Sputnik crisis President Dwight D. Eisenhower was optimistic and saw potential benefits from the Soviet success of Sputnik.  For the American people an address from President Eisenhower represented a sense of security and safety that was lost during the initial fallout of the launch of Sputnik.  Following being briefed on the crisis Eisenhower urged advisors to look five years ahead and decided that he would meet the Sputnik challenge (Divine, 1993), this shows the strength and innovation that the United States was attempting to cultivate in the post Sputnik crisis working hard and in order to excel against Soviet advisories. In his first presidential address following the launch of Sputnik “President Eisenhower made a statement goal providing the American people with a summary on the Administration’s position on the U.S. satellite program and the status of that program” (Kennedy, 2005). This message served a dual purpose of communicating that the United States was not as far behind the Soviet Union and that similar scientific breakthroughs to Sputnik from the United States were on the horizon. It is the leaders of a country that embody the messaging as well as the identity of a nation. In times of crisis this is amplified. During the Sputnik crisis Eisenhower wanted to portray the very best of American identity pushing for scientific developments in order to secure its place as a strong nation. 

            Many within the United States government saw education as a root cause of the United States failure to beat Sputnik to space, and educational shortcoming led to a new push for improved American education.  The proposed solution for this educational problem came in the form of the National Defense Education Act, a piece of legislation with the goal of improving American schools to eventually match and surpass Soviet schools. This ideally would lead to a smarter generation in time and a generation that could overcome any Soviet space program. While a smarter and more educated citizenry benefits all aspects of a country the passage of the National Defense Education act was to directly address the Sputnik crisis and the space race. Within Title IX of the act there was a real push to allocate more resources to science and scientific communities at large through the establishment of a science information service. The implications of this service would help further develop American space programs. The Act states “The Foundation, through such Service, shall (1) provide, or arrange for the provision of, indexing, abstracting, translating, and other services leading to a more effective dissemination of scientific information, and (2) undertake programs to develop new or improved methods, including mechanized systems” (U.S. Congress, 1958). Through this service there were new systems for collecting and analyzing scientific data as well as programs for development of mechanized systems which means rockets and other effects of a highly technical nature. Outside of developing new systems for science there was a push to get skilled students into higher education. According to Title II this included those “whose academic background indicates a superior capacity or preparation in science, mathematics, engineering, or a modern foreign language” (U.S. Congress, 1958). Math and science happen to be two of the key parts to developing a successful space program. Putting a focus on students who succeed in those attributes can yield valuable assets for the United States. The development and passage of this Act in the wake of Sputnik reveals how the United States is willing to innovate and strengthen itself in order to come up on top in the Space race.

            The launch of Sputnik in the fall of 1957 changed the history of the Cold War forever as now the space race was in full swing and the push to the future could not be stopped. The Soviet Union’s achievement through the launch of Sputnik cemented itself as a competitor during the early formative years of the Space Race. Its accomplishment sent shockwaves throughout the globe igniting the fierce competition of the space race in the backdrop of the Cold War. Within the response to the launch a nation’s identity remained at the forefront showcasing the most important ideals of a nation. For the Soviet Union the response to Sputnik was deeply rooted in the ideals for the Soviet Union, focusing on unity and glory of socialism. For the Communist Party and the larger Soviet Union as a whole promoting their idealized society through the achievement of their space program was imperative. Propaganda posters painted the USSR as a global leader in both science and technology. For the Soviet Union faults came in the failure to promote individuals and the heroes like the way the United States did, however this fit into the identity since the Soviet Union was far more concerned with keeping an image of unity and party loyalty then individual accolades.

            For the United States in a post Sputnik world, portraying an image of innovation and a country willing to rise to the challenge was a top priority. During the crux of the Cold War the United States focused on containing and matching any Soviet threat of expansion. This found its way to relevance during the time of Sputnik in that the United States had to match the Soviets in the Space race. Following initial panic and fear the response of the United States was focused on promoting American Innovation and freedom, showing its strengths as a global superpower.

            National identity in the midst of the Cold War played an extra important role as now global influence was something both superpowers had to contend with and develop. Being the strongest nation had a way in spreading the ideology of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Sputnik revealed how both these nations acted in times of achievement and crisis showcasing to the world their own carefully crafted self-image. The historiography remains clear that Sputnik played a decisive role in revealing national identity in the early stages of the Space Race. Sputnik remains an important educational tool showcasing the tensions of the era as well as what Soviet and the United States national identities looked like. For students this valuable event encompasses a great deal of what students need to know about the early tensions of the Cold War.


CNN. (2014). Cold War (Andrew Goodpaster interview), episode 8, “Sputnik, 1949-1961.”

Barnett, N. (2013). Russia wins space race.’” Media History, 19 (2). 182–195.

Boyle, R. (2008) A red Moon over the mall: The Sputnik panic and domestic America. The Journal of American Culture, 31 (4), 373-390.

Davies, S. (1997).”Us against them”: Social identity in Soviet Russia, 1934-41. The Russian Review, 56 (1), 70-89.

Divine, R. (1993). The Sputnik challenge. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gaddis, J. (2007) The Cold War a new history. New York: Penguin Books.

Grechko, G. (1989, October 20). Grechko interview. Pravda.

Harford, J. K.(1999). How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon. New York: Wiley.

Jorden, W. (1957, October 5). Soviet fires earth satellite into space; It is circling the globe at 18,000 m.p.h.; sphere tracked in 4 crossings over U.S.  The New York Times, October 5, 1957.

Kennedy, I. (2005). The Sputnik crisis And America’s response. Dissertation (M.A.), University of Central Florida.

McQuaid, K.  (2007). Sputnik reconsidered: Image and reality in the early space age.” Canadian Review of American Studies, 37 (3),  371-401.

[1] Motion Picture 200-UN-30-82; Universal Newsreel Volume 30, Release 82; 10/7/1957; Motion Picture Releases of the Universal Newsreel Library, 1929 – 1967; Collection UN:

Rose, R. (1989). How exceptional is the American political economy? Political Science Quarterly, 104 (1), 91.

Rzhevsky, S. (2019). Propaganda posters of Soviet space program 1958-1963.” Retrieved from

U.S. Congress. (1958). United States code: National Defense Education Program, 20 U.S.C. §§ 401-589. 1958.  Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

A Millionaire’s Tax for New Jersey

A Millionaire’s Tax for New Jersey

Allan Lichtenstein

In September 2020, the New Jersey legislature approved higher taxes on the wealthy to support state programs like road repair and education. The author of this essay, Allan Lichtenstein, worked for the Poverty Research Institute at the Legal Services of New Jersey and served on the Board of the RCHP Affordable Housing Cooperation that provides affordable housing and supportive services to low-income families in central New Jersey. In the essay, which originally appeared in NJ Spotlight, Lichtenstein made the case for the “millionaire’s tax.” Allan Lichtenstein died in August 2020 at the age of 71. 

In 2018, income inequality in New Jersey intensified. The rich, high-earning households grew richer, benefiting from larger gains in income than the poorer households with low incomes. My analysis of the recent U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey release of income inequality data reveals a process of widening income inequality in New Jersey in recent years. It stresses five aspects of exacerbating income inequality, certainly a disturbing direction for New Jersey’s future socioeconomic development, suggesting remediation is urgently warranted.

First, although the average income for each household group surpassed their 2017 levels in 2018, households in the high-income brackets enjoyed substantially larger income gains than households at the bottom end of the income scale. Moreover, the percentage increases in average household income were larger at the top end than at the bottom end of the income scale.

The average income of the top 5% of households jumped by far the most — more than $22,000 in 2018 inflation-adjusted dollars to climb to more than half a million dollars (using a New Jersey-specific inflation index that combines the CPI-All Urban Consumers Current Series for New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA and for Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-Md). The top 20% of households too benefited significantly, with an almost $10,000 gain, growing from about $290,000 to almost $300,000. By contrast, the average income of the bottom 20% of households rose only by about $300 between 2017 and 2018.

Second, one method to ascertain the magnitude of income inequality is to compute the difference between the average income of the top 20% of households and the average income of the bottom 20% of households over time. A comparison of each year between 2007 and 2018, shows the divergence widening each year after 2014, reaching a maximum disparity of almost $280,000 between the two ends of the income scale in 2018.

After the Great Recession

Third, although the Great Recession concluded nine years prior, households in the bottom two quintiles have yet to enjoy the benefits of the ongoing economic expansion. They, in fact, were worse off in 2018 than in 2007. While households in the top income groups have not only recouped the income losses they suffered as a result of the Great Recession, they have raised their income levels. By contrast, the average income of households in the bottom two quintiles has contracted. The average income of these households lingers below their 2007 level.

Fourth, by far most of the household income is held by the high-income earners. In 2018, more than half of all household income accrued to the top 20% of households, while the top 5% of households amassed almost one quarter of aggregate income. By contrast, just 3% of aggregate income accrued to the bottom 20% of households.

Finally, overall, New Jersey is among the most unequal states in the country. It placed 40th among all states when comparing income inequality rankings using the Gini Coefficient, a common measure of income dispersion. Only 10 states had a larger Gini Coefficient than New Jersey, with Puerto Rico topping the list, followed by the District of Columbia, New York, Connecticut and Louisiana. The Gini Coefficient ranges from a low of zero when there is perfect equality with all households having the same income to a value of 1, which is maximum inequality when all the income is held by a single household.

The intensifying income inequality in New Jersey underscores a tendency toward increasing concentration of income among the higher income groups. It reiterates and re-emphasizes the need to impose higher tax rates on high-earning households to stem the growing income inequality and to gain a more fair and equitable distribution of income. As Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, economists at the University of California, Berkeley and among the foremost researchers in income inequality recently demonstrated in a New York Times op-ed, “the working class is now paying higher tax rates than the richest people in America.”

Given these deteriorating trends in income inequality, the time is ripe for the New Jersey state Legislature to assert itself and not allow another year to pass in which it does not impose a millionaires tax on New Jersey’s wealthy residents. These additional monies could be well invested to improve the lives of people of low income, providing resources to the programs they urgently need to help them make ends meet.

Pull Down the Statues, and Pull Down the Social Studies Curriculum, Too

Pull Down the Statues, and Pull Down the Social Studies Curriculum, Too

Jack Zevin

“In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.” – Dana Goldstein (2020, January 12). “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories,” New York Times.

“PULL DOWN THE STATUES” is becoming something of a national pastime these days. Americans are suddenly discovering that many, maybe most of our historical honors expressed as statues and streets have been awarded to racist, sexist, militaristic, and anti-progressive figures in our shared history. These folks, largely of monochromatic hue, were previously were seen as ‘important people’; heroines and heroes for a hundred or more years. (Well, very few heroines, alas but lots of great guys.)

It is rather amusing, and frightening, to think that the realization of moral error, street renaming, and statue destruction, is taking place in a highly contentious atmosphere of competing parties, philosophies, politics, marches, and culture wars during a worldwide major pandemic of epic proportions!

While destroying statues or defacing them or tossing them into the river {warning: possible pollution!) people are lining up to demand dramatic changes in who and what statues represent now and historically.

There is only a little talk on using suddenly ‘defrocked’ statues as educational tools, and taking aim at more than breaking a few former heroes’ necks. The statues represent ‘other times’ in our history, when slavers, fornicators, capitalists, and imperialists were given positive treatment and raised up on pedestals because we the people of that time saw these folks in a very positive light, asked few questions, and easily received government funding to build the things. Worse yet, we enshrined many in our collective historical memories, suppressing all negative input about their lives and morals, forgetting all were no more than mere mortals.

There are (and were) many juicy examples, like Robert E. Lee, the rebel commander sitting at the entrance to the Virginia State Assembly, Teddy Roosevelt on the steps of the Museum of Natural History in New York accompanied by a Native American and African American subject at either side. Christopher Columbus astride a horse was toppled recently outside the Minnesota state capitol in protest of racism against Native peoples.

A lot of the statues have delicious ironies since Lee, a slave-owning hero of the South and a “great” general actually lost the war with the North; while Teddy Roosevelt, an exciting President and world traveler (as well as proud imperialist) thought he was advancing the “lesser” peoples to greater recognition, while these people remained politically and socially inferior. Columbus statues were put up to recognize contributions by Italian Americans after decades of immigration to the USA at the expense (though they may not have recognized it) of Native Peoples. Who is in power gets to build the statues they like, until the politics shift at later times. Context should not be underrated!

Maybe we need lighter wheeled and movable statues to push in and out of warehouses, as needed, to satisfy the shifting political issues of the time?

Yet these bronze pigeon-bearing structures were often ignored, or got just a glance of admiration or condemnation, from ordinary folk brought up on a social studies curriculum of state sponsored and purchased textbooks that have supported and personalized the exact same people now toppled from their pedestals, figuratively and literally. After all, every nation needs its heroines/heroes to be proud of in shared worship. But if we dump them that means we need to rethink new candidates and push up a lot of new expensive statues.

As a workaday social studies teacher starting out in Chicago Public Schools I remember being handed my textbook by my social studies chairman, a book, History of the American People, by David Muzzey, An American History textbook for schools, first published in 1911 and a best seller into the 1950s. I rapidly discovered that I was teaching from a volume very sympathetic to the South in the Civil War, offering anti-immigrant and occasional blatant racism, so much so I was embarrassed to present it to my mixed multitude class of students, and deeply suspicious of its motives. Women were rare, mostly the wives of Presidents, with African-American’s problems ignored, Native Americans rarer still with a few feather bonnets noted, and Ethnics nearly non-existent. Most of these people were NEVER heard from in their own voices, only through the historian.

From a Chicagoan’s point of view, those gathered before me and those offered in the text most definitely struck a discordant note. It was time to cheat and create a new underground curriculum of inquiry! I had some real work to do not only to teach, but to defeat the textbook itself…so I became a lover of original sources, presented just as they were, warts and all, and that was a lot of serious work suited to inquiry and frank debate.

It is easy to tear down statues and give rise to new people on pedestals but the big question is what images, which values, whose stories, determine who shall be heroines/heroes in our minds and hearts and history.

After a couple of centuries of building allegiances and admiration for very flawed leaders, this form of socialization is much harder to change as part of cultural heritage, our inner realm of tokens, symbols, and identifications.

Much of this biased story was what we learned in school from state and city textbooks accompanied by enthusiastic teacher exponents of great leaders and country/men (a lot) and country/women (a few) plus a few troublemakers. But the big questions include: why do we need pedestals at all, why either raise up, or pull down, statues? Why not reform the content and meaning of what we learn in school and home histories?

Amidst cries for social justice, Black Lives Matter, the end of racism, fairness in economic sharing of the nation’s wealth, all while dealing with a devastating pandemic, the curriculum continues to wander along in its patriotic fervor, with rather gentle treatments of great leaders many of whom were slaveowners, warmongers, and suppressors of civil rights. Andrew Jackson comes along as a fine example open to questions of patriotism, racism and betrayal of the Constitution.

The entire curriculum, from important characters, and stories, to periodization, from before the beginning of the Republic, to current times, from foundation to towering international power, from inhabitants excluded or included like dancers and singers and playwrights and novelists, we desperately need a makeover.

That makeover, should be honest and forthright, neither conservative, nor liberal, not middle of the road, just honest and forthright about disagreements (extremely difficult because we desperately want those statues and personalities to stand in the curriculum without any tarnishing.) We like our heroines/heroes varnished and standing, maybe on rearing stallions, super-duper characters standing for our best founders’ policies, like ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. Perhaps this is why Americans are so prone to celebrate superheroes and a few superheroines?

If we cannot decide on a single acceptable narrative for everyone right now, how about side-by-side competing narratives on each side of a page facing each other? Let us see the clashing views right out in the open. Or let’s use our modern technology to meet-and-greet clashing views of “great” and “ordinary” people.

A great inquiry lesson comes to mind: does Jefferson stand up as a great man after careful scrutiny, or does his statue and status go down? Does Andrew Johnson deserve a statue at all? Who really does deserve a statue? How about reserving statues for ordinary heroines and heroes outside of war and politics? How about cultural people in the arts and humanities, music and architecture, medicine and science, etc.? How about the firemen and police who risked their lives on 9/11? How about less emphasis on GREAT MEN and more on stuff that really matters like food, inventions, economics, gender, and moral philosophy, taking issues and problems seriously without necessarily solving anything?

How about a new diet of people and events that includes the views and stories of Native Americans, African-Americans, Ethnics and immigrants, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and all the peoples and characters pretty much underprivileged in U.S. history textbooks and classrooms? How about a new diet across genders, LGBTQ rainbows, and especially fairer treatment for women, more women, even troublesome examples. Where are the women other than Presidents’ wives and suffragettes?

Where are the writers, journalists, artists, musicians, entertainers, dancers, and scientists? Where are the women?

Where are ethnics and newcomers? Where are some great villain? Does our history have to be “whitewashed?”

Why don’t we write a fairer and more open, more troublesome, more challenging, and more entertaining curriculum? Multisided? Real inquiry aiming at reaching at least tentative truths, and decision-making, albeit tentative?

So, let’s tear down the curriculum right now. Let’s do it overall, not piece by piece, fight by fight, but overall, the whole thing from new perspectives. Let’s revise the periodization, the cast of characters, the favorite stories, the underlying philosophies of national and international history, (sorry, but the U.S.A. is part of world history, too, very much so, but a long story only solved by a new curriculum). For example, in U.S. history, maybe we can give the Moundbuilders a bit of time at the beginning, maybe note that the colonies had European aid in the Revolution, that the second revolution failed in Reconstruction so we had to try again in the 60s with the Civil Rights movement as a third revolution, and we may have to try again.

Let’s opt for structural changes, historical philosophies, and embed the story in a global narrative so everything is not always about, ‘us’ but ‘them’, others, all.

Let us battle with our statues, our heroes, and a few heroines, facing up to the 7 sins of history (you come up with your own list):

  • Ethnocentrism: The sin of thinking that everything should be seen from ‘our’ point of view and not others.
  • Egoism: The sin of thinking that the story is always about us, never them.
  • Nationalism: The sin of thinking our nation is the greatest, right or wrong.
  • Sexism: The sin of thinking that gender is neutral in history and daily life.
  • Racism: The sin of thinking that there are ‘races’, and that one is superior or inferior when we can all interbreed as one species.
  • Imperialism: The sin of thinking and celebrating sometimes violent real estate grabs without a contract or compensation as something wonderful.
  • Official Story: The sin of promulgating and authorizing a single story of any period of history, any people or nation, any great leader as if this existed without any contrary views from ‘the other’.

I rest my case (for now).

Her Name is Woman…in 45 Minutes

Her Name is Woman…in 45 Minutes

June White

In education, it is our job to inspire leaders and movers and shakers. Some students will strive to change the world in any aspect and they will achieve it. Other students don’t want to run the world but will eventually need the skill of advocating for themselves at work or elsewhere. It is our job then, as the educator, to give them these skills and help them connect the dots of inequality and injustice. In recent years, we’ve seen teachers shy away from reactive topics in fear that they’ll say the wrong thing or use the wrong activity and the message of “stand up for change” will be lost to the hordes of angry people. I challenge that here and say that even the wrong activity with the right intentions can be another motivator for change and another way to continue to encourage students to be the ones to stand up when everyone else lays down.

This article will use the historical research of connections between the increased workforce participation of women in World War II and the second-wave feminist movement of the 60s to detail a lesson in which to inspire change.

The general storyline goes along these lines. In 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the US entered World War II, the US workforce was left seriously depleted. Most of the men were shipped to boot camp and then overseas. Women stepped in to fill the numerous job openings left behind. They built tanks and planes and put together guns and trucks. The entire nation held to rations and scavenged for anything to help the war effort. 

Once the war was over, many of the young women went home to start families but many stayed in the workforce; they only had to find new jobs now that the men had returned home to reclaim their former positions. To try and keep the country’s positive momentum of an upbeat attitude and growing economy, there was a push to return to normalcy. This normalcy was in the papers but the proof wasn’t there. Despite the iconic American 50s housewife, plenty of women worked! In fact, most of the statistics reporting women’s participation in the workforce stayed the same. Women had joined the workforce and they were here to stay.

As racial tensions rose in the late 1950s and early 1960s, so did a woman’s desire to achieve more than the perfect housewife in a magazine. Women started going to college to get degrees instead of marrying husbands. They pushed out into the workforce and found themselves dealing with bigots and discrimination. They realized that they were treated as second-class citizens just as much as Black Americans were and entered second-wave feminism. This was a movement focused on equal pay for equal work. At this time, the two-income, middle-class household was on the rise and not only do they want the money, they want the respect. If they were doing the work, they should get just as much recognition. With the historical context established, the lesson can move onto what it’s really about: standing up for change.

While history is bursting with examples of people standing up for what they believe, the same examples of famous people or larger than life figures can be intimidating to a young mind. How can anyone compare themselves to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks? Instead of the typical examples, this is an opportunity to discuss and really focus on the grassroots movements or movements that weren’t even movements at the time. Relating these events and people to the very students in your classroom whether they identify with the marginalized group at hand or not. 

For example, during WWII, amongst the many women who went to work in factories, there was a group of women allowed into the United Auto Workers Union and their story is a great example of people making a difference without even knowing it. These women began working at the factory and were allowed into the UAW since they worked and mostly deserved the same rights that the men who worked in the factories had. All was well, these women were paid good wages and had a good amount of work to do but these women knew that the end of the war was coming and they wanted to keep their jobs. In response, the union created a women’s department within their war department to handle women for the duration of their work with the factory. The women’s department was created to handle what were considered “special employment problems” that came with women: childcare, workplace harassment and discrimination, federal regulations regarding how many hours women were allowed to work and so on. Even though this doesn’t seem like much, it was in fact a huge step. The American Federation of Labor was openly biased against women at the time claiming them to be “unorganizable and unworthy of organization”. The UAW persevered and moved the women’s department to the jurisdiction of the Bureau to the Fair Practices and Anti-Discrimination Department within the UAW and they continued to fight for women to be treated fairly and equally in the workplace.

Another example is a woman named Lousie Bushnell. For the sake of this article, it is not known if Louise Bushnell did anything spectacular in her life. However, she did deliver a speech to the American Business Women’s Association on Boss’s Night, September 10th, 1970. In her speech, she calls women to action. She explains that their past relatives in the early 1900’s didn’t finish the job of equality and now they must continue the fight. She called for women to participate in government and to lift each other up to success. While this speech is nothing out of the ordinary or particularly special, it is a woman fighting for what she believes. She addresses a group of men and women and speaks her mind in a professional and dignified manner while demanding the equality she knows she and other women deserve.

This is where the “so what?” comes in. Use these examples to your advantage. “Look at this woman who spoke up for what she believed in!” “Look at what these women ask for what they want and pursue whatever steps necessary to fight for what they want!” The key here is this: “you have no idea who they are”. The point here is that just because you are one person or “just” you, you still have immense power to spark, create, or advocate for change. You only need to want it.

The best way to encourage students to be active in their own community through choice is to give them practice. For this, a worksheet was designed to help break down the different parts of being an activist with the four key steps of: identify a problem in your community, think of a solution, find peers to support your cause, spread the word. This activity, whether they work in pairs or groups or individually, helps them practice questioning issues they disagree with and being productive in their resolution. Too often we see a problem and don’t say anything or help resolve it and this activity can put them into the proper mindset of finding solutions instead of just accepting a reality that doesn’t have to be so.

From practice, this activity would work best if given more than one class period to work on it and start small, think inside the school community first and then branch out. Small groups can be good practice for collaboration, respect, and compromise when working with peers. You can have them make posters and take this as far as you want. Have them design a class issue and present it to the principal. Have them focus on the rest of the community and write a letter to the mayor. Have them mobilize on social media and create a hashtag or twitter page. The idea is to get them to act on their ideas and principles.

The big idea here is to use examples from past leaders, regardless of name recognition, to inspire a future generation of activists and advocates for change and a better world. They may not remember that the UAW instituted the women’s department under the war department. They may not care about second-wave feminism or the booming economy of the 60s. They may not like your class at all but what matters is what they walk away with and this is a skill for life that could inspire who knows countless others. If one student walks away and creates the next big advocacy group, you helped a grassroots organization. If one student walks away and only dvocates for her/himself, and her/his coworkers, you helped mold a leader. 


Bushnell, L. (1970, September 10).  “What Happened to Eve?” Speech presented at American Business Women’s Association (Boss’s Night)

Gabin, N. (1979/1980). “Women workers and the UAW in the post-World War II period.” Labor History, 21 (1), winter 1979/1980.

Women’s Rights and the Potential of the 1920s

Women’s Rights and the Potential of the 1920s

Kathleen Maniace

Gender equality: A term that has become more and more prominent within the national community in the United States over the past few decades. The desire for women to be seen as equals to men has been a topic of conversation for as long as many of us can remember, but how has this discussion brought us any closer to closing the gap in equality between genders in our country? Most would look to the 19th Amendment as the turning point in closing the gap, saying that legally, by gaining the right to vote in 1920, women received the rights they were fighting for and equality was theirs! But the question here is not if the 19th Amendment helped to close the gap between men and women in this country, but if that is what we are teaching our students.

The 1920s can be viewed as an age of opportunity and scandal in the United States. With the prohibition, gang violence, and changes in appearances, the decade could be seen as a critical change for the American people. When many look at gender equality for the time period, the 19th amendment brings a sense of relief that Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Rights and Sentiments (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 2015) was not all for nothing. With the right to vote, women were granted the ability to voice their opinions and work for equality. In our classrooms, not only do we teach the success of the Women’s Rights Movement at this time but there is also a focus on the changing views of women and the ‘Flapper’ Lifestyle. As quoted by one teenage flapper, “In this ‘age of specialists’ as it has been called, there is less excuse than ever for persons being shoved into niches in which they do not belong and cannot be made to fit. The lives of such people are great tragedies.” (Ellen Welles Page, 1922). The time period leaves the impression that the 1920s provided the gender gap a chance to decrease in size and bring equality to men and women who would not take no for an answer. With the time period’s lasting impression of opportunity, the question is was there more left in the decade than just simply the chance for equality?

The reality of the 1920s is not necessarily what many recall when it comes to how the 19th amendment truly impacted women in America. For starters, the right to vote politically did not work as well in the favor of women’s rights as much as expected. With the ability of a woman’s right to vote, came an important piece of legislation that split political ideals down the middle, the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA. Considered in 1920, this amendment would ensure that laws punishing women, denying women from office or ignoring the financial contributions from women in the nation did not continue past the 1920s (Norton and Alexander, 2003, pgs. 260-261). The arguments of the ERA were spearheaded by two major figures who were fighting for women’s rights: Alice Paul and Florence Kelley. The decision to be made here was clearly biological: should women have exactly the same rights as men (Sally Hunter Graham, 1983, pgs. 665-79)? Or should they have rights similar to that of men but more protective of women’s abilities to bear children (Norton & Alexander, 2003, pg. 262)? These two perspectives of women who were activists of the period shows that there was still a long way to go when approaching women’s rights and a lot more discussion and legislature was going to be necessary in order to close the gap in equality between men and women.

The biological difference between men and women did not only play a role in the ways that women were seen politically but it also greatly impacted the social perspective on women in the 1920s. For a time period focused on the equal rights of women, the gender was still greatly viewed as “eye-candy” rather than another human being deserving of equality in a land advertising freedom and natural rights. While women were granted voting rights, there was still an image that women were meant to ‘ “ Unless she is a woman of more than ordinary ability and energy,  she will elect to do what all her neighbors are busy doing: bridge, tea, gossip… such women have built a complicated system of social rank to which they have become slaves’” (Johnson, 1925, pg. 614). There was this idea at the time that women were so caught up with maintaining social status and appearance that they were not as willing to work and therefore ‘slaves’ to their own social calendars. Not only would this hurt the view that the population had on women from the social perspective, but it would also force dependence on men in a more impactful way.

 The views of women in the early Twentieth century highly influenced the occupations that were available for women during the time period. This impacted the financial status of women who were trying to get a job and greatly influenced the opportunities for work that a woman had access to. Many companies at the time “ … continued to affirm personality patterns and social roles consistent with home, reinforcing the occupational stereotypes that divided administrative and professional networks in those that threatened to negate house roles and those that did not” (Kessler-Harris, 2007, p.126-127). The opportunities for women to succeed were limited and without funding or being able to financially support themselves, women were reliant on men to support them if they were unable to find a job with a proper income. The period left more space for the success of women without the drive or preparedness from women to come together and fight together for what early activists had strived to attain.

Why does this matter? The question we are asked to answer every day to get our students to connect to the material and explain why the information being taught is important. You could make the argument that it matters for context and acknowledging the rights granted by the Constitution. You wouldn’t be wrong. But would you be connecting the material? Would YOU find this to be a truly impactful message that you can now vote if you’re a woman in today’s world? At this day and age, most students might not completely understand how important that right is. It is OUR JOB to explain not only its importance but the impact as well. The ways something so seemingly ‘right’ could be split in the eyes of politics, ignored from the perspective of society, and discriminated against in the realm of independent financial success and occupational opportunity. Students deserve to know why a hundred years after the 19th Amendment was enacted, gender equality and equal pay are still very much a part of the conversation our country is having.

Teaching about women’s history is such a vital part of our job as educators. From just this topic, our students will be able to understand how our nation has kept its people from gaining rights deserving of each individual, how rights are so much more than a choice but the process to enact a right can be multi-faceted, and the ways that perspective and bias play a role in the abilities of individuals to gain equality in a society that preaches equality and freedom for the people by the people. The theme of inequality can be connected to women’s rights in America and tie into various other periods in history that have displayed the ways our nation has pushed individuals away and avoided the idea of equity and equality for copious amounts of citizens throughout the nation’s existence. This cannot be a topic that is ignored. When we see a problem that has impacted a group of people in our nation deeply, as social studies teachers, we must address not only the problem but its effect on the population, nation, and the world around us. The prospect of women’s rights addresses a multitude of issues that our nation continues to face to this day, as we prepare future generations for the world they are going to be living in. They deserve to know what they are inheriting so they can work to make our world a more accepting and understanding world. Teaching the truth behind topics like women’s history and the work behind the societal change towards gaining equality is what we are expected to do to help our students work to build a nation that accepts and fights for everyone’s natural rights.

National History Day: A Partnership Between the David & Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson Public Schools – A Tale of Three High Schools

National History Day: A Partnership between the David and Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson Public Schools—A Tale of Three High Schools

Neil Grimes and Vincent Giardina


National History Day (NHD) is an academic competition for middle school and high school students that is based on a different theme annually, for which students find, evaluate, and use primary and secondary sources to create and present documentaries, plays, papers, websites, and exhibits. Participation in the NHD competition is a unique opportunity to engage students in hands-on learning experiences about many different aspects of history and enables them to engage in research activities.  It allows for partnerships with academic libraries, local libraries, historical societies, and archival repositories. These organizations assist students with their NHD research.  The NHD competition provides the opportunity to foster information literacy and critical thinking skills among students while also developing skills in historical research. 

A partnership to support students’ NHD projects was established in 2020 between the Paterson Public Schools and the David and Lorraine Cheng Library at William Paterson University. The university is a Hispanic-serving Institution as designated by the U.S. Department of Education whose vision, mission, and values align to support the academic library outreach provided by the Cheng Library to support the faculty and students of the Paterson Public Schools, the 4th largest school system in New Jersey. The goal of this partnership was for the Paterson social studies teachers and students to have academic library support in the form of library instruction sessions from the David and Lorraine Cheng Library as well as access to primary and secondary resources, and project-based learning resources that would support the completion of student NHD projects. 


National History Day participation by higher education librarians, collaborating with their K‐12 counterparts, can be a powerful means for secondary students to learn historical content knowledge, historical analysis skills, and information literacy skills.  The partnership between the David and Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson Public Schools began during the 2019-2020 school year.  It allowed for collaboration between librarians from the Cheng Library and social studies teachers in the Paterson Public Schools, one of the largest and most diverse schools systems in New Jersey. 

Background on Paterson Public Schools 

The Paterson Public Schools, an urban school system, is the 4th largest school system in the state of New Jersey (Niche 2020). There are more than 40 languages spoken in its classrooms which makes the Paterson Public Schools is among the most diverse in the state. Close to 57 percent of all students in Paterson speak a primary language other than English” (Paterson Public Schools, District Profile 2020). The rich cultural and linguistic diversity in the district is an educational asset (Delpit, 2006; Nieto, 1992). It enables students to learn firsthand about other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural similarities and differences as they prepare for success in a multicultural world.

New Jersey public schools are categorized based on District Factor Groupings (DFGs), a single measure of socioeconomic status (SES) for each district based on the percent of adult residents who failed to complete high school, along with income, unemployment, and the percentage of residents below the poverty level. From the lowest SES to the highest, the categories are A, B, CD, DE, FG, GH, I, and J. The Paterson Public School falls within the lowest SES category of eight groupings, grouping A (State of New Jersey – Department of Education 2019).  

Paterson Public Schools are home to 23,756 students, of which all students are eligible to receive free and reduced lunch and roughly 89% of students are minorities (16,760 students from Latino and Hispanic households, 5,209 Black students, 1,252 White students, and 1,448 Asian students). There are 5,814 students that are classified as having Limited English Proficiency, with Spanish, Arabic, and Bengali being the home languages most frequently spoken (Paterson Public Schools 2020).

Background on David and Lorraine Cheng Library 

“The David and Lorraine Cheng Library is the academic knowledge center of William Paterson University. The Library advances the University’s mission and core values of academic excellence, creation of knowledge, student success, diversity and citizenship” (William Paterson University – David and Lorraine Cheng Library – Mission, Vision, & Goals 2020). The Library serves more than 10,000 students who are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs. (William Paterson University, 2020). Academic libraries should engage in library outreach to increase their involvement in the implementation of collaborations and the establishment of partnerships in the greater region in which it serves (Salamon, 2016). Library outreach can take many forms in the region that an academic library serves. A partnership with the Paterson Public Schools in support of the teachers and students involved in the National History Day competition fulfills the university and library’s mission of providing community service to K-12 schools in the northern New Jersey region. This library partnership with Paterson Public Schools adds to the established relationship that was already in place between the College of Education and Paterson Public Schools. 

Historical Context of the National History Day Competition 

In 1974, History Day was established by David Van Tassel, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  The event quickly spread, first across Ohio, then across the nation as it developed into a national organization. Today, History Day is a very popular event with more than 500,000 students, Grades 6-12, along with 30,000 teachers, participating each year in the United States (National History Day, 2018). The competition is based on a different theme annually, for which students find, evaluate, and use primary and secondary sources to create and present documentaries, plays, papers, websites, and exhibits.  Students enter their projects into local and state History Day competitions, with the national contest held in June at the University of Maryland (National History Day, 2018). 


By requiring that student participants do in‐depth research using primary source materials, NHD encourages partnerships between social studies teachers and librarians.  The need for these resources have led academic librarians to offer research instruction with high school students (Manuel, 2005). The partnership between the David and Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson School District gave high school students access to the additional primary and secondary resources needed for the NHD competition. The Cheng Library also provided research instruction to support teachers and students participating in the NHD competition. The NHD competition highlighted commonalities between NHD learning goals, the National Standards for History: Historical Thinking Standards (Grades 5‐12); the American Association of School Libraries’ Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning; and the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

Thinking like a Historian – Rethinking History Instruction

History is an important discipline that encourages students to analyze historical evidence, evaluate it, and demonstrate their understanding of the evidence (Mandell & Malone, 2013).  Participation in the National History Day (NHD) competition allows students to engage in a project-based learning activity individually or in groups while undertaking in historical research and analysis as part of the historical literacy process which “incorporates the historical process (the disciplinary skills and procedures that historians use to study the past) and historical categories of inquiry (the conceptual patterns that historians use to make sense of the past)” (Mandell & Malone. 2013, p. 11).  Engaging students in historical literacy through the NHD competition allowed them to become historians as they explored a topic and specific research question relating directly to the annual theme.  By doing their own project-based research on a historical topic of their choice and making decisions about how best to formulate their own interpretations and present evidence, students benefit from a more active learning experience than reading about history from a textbook and being told by the historians and publishers what is most important to learn about any given topic or period in history. Participation in NHD gives students an authentic purpose for learning while providing opportunities for both collaboration and competition (Vandenberg-Daves, 2006).

Leadership and Communication

The author began working with the Paterson Public Schools in December of 2019 when Library Dean Edward Owusu-Ansah formalized a partnership with the Paterson Public Schools led by International High School Principal Rita Routé. Routé was able to connect the Cheng Library librarians with the Paterson Public Schools Social Studies Coordinator, Gloria Van Houten who helped to coordinate some of the efforts to support teachers and students involved in the National History Day competition at Eastside High School and J.F.K. High School.  Rita coordinated all visits made to International High School in support of the NHD competition.   

Beyond support for NHD, the author provided a professional development session on the topic of project-based learning for all of the social studies teachers.  Scheduling the outreach visits through Routé and Van Houten made the visits more manageable.  Teachers and students benefited from research instruction and support provided by the Cheng Library.  Librarians that provided instruction and support included author, [title] Librarian [Name], Outreach and Instruction Librarian Gary Marks, and Electronic Resources Librarian Richard Kearney. The sharing of instructional materials before and after our sessions via Google Drive with coordinators and teachers was an essential step in the collaborative process.  At the three individual high schools that competed in the NHD competition, the co-author Vinnie Giardina took on a large leadership role at International High School where he had one-hundred twenty-five 9th grade students, eighty 10th grade students, and five 10th grade students work on projects for a more schoolwide approach to the NHD competition.  

Collaboration/NHD Support within the Paterson School District International High School Collaboration

Acting IB Principal Routé arranged for select teachers from International High School to meet the Librarian and the Dean of the Cheng Library.  These would be the teachers who would be working the Librarian as a result of the academic library partnership. The initial in-person meeting at International High School took place on 12/6/19. This meeting led to the scheduling of three library instruction dates (1/7/20, 1/14/20, and 2/25/20) where the Librarian would provide research and NHD specific instruction in support of the students working on NHD projects. The school administration wanted as many students from the school to participate in the NHD competition as possible. In total, 210 students attempted NHD projects which resulted in 76 projects which were judged at International High School by teachers at International High School.  From those 76 projects, 10 projects (4 group exhibit boards, 1 individual exhibit board, and 5 group documentaries) competed at the Regional competition. Moving forward to the state competition were 10 students comprising 3 projects (2 group exhibit boards and 1 group documentary). Both the regional and state NHD competitions were held online as a result of the pandemic. This limited the students’ ability to interact with the NHD judges to explain how their projects specifically aligned with the theme of “Breaking Barriers in History” and why they included specific primary or secondary sources for their NHD projects. 

Through the course of the library instruction sessions, student feedback was positive and students felt empowered as they began to build confidence in their historical research, MLA citation, and historical annotation skills. As the NHD Advisor at International High School, arrangements were made to have all library instruction sessions in the seminar room where as many as 50 students were able to attend at one time. Beginning in October of 2019 IB Social Studies Teachers Matthew Caruso and Christopher Wirkmaa along with Social Studies Teacher William Towns introduced the Freshman and Sophomore Students to National History Day (NHD). International High School (IHS) had competed in NHD many times in previous years. In 2017, IHS had a team compete at the National Competition. In 2019, the school by way of IB Principal Catherine Forfia-Dion and Acting IB Principal Rita Routé wanted the freshmen and sophomores to learn different research techniques with assistance from William Paterson University. IHS is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School. The IB program is the single most rigorous college preparatory program where the students have to complete multiple research-based essays. Their hope was that with the introduction of school-wide NHD Competition that the freshmen and sophomores would learn the skills needed to complete these assignments.  

By November 1, the students competing in the School Competition had created their groups and narrowed in a topic to research. Many of the students chose to research topics like; The first African-American Women in Space, Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, the civil rights sit-ins, the 21st Amendment, In vitro fertilization the Transcontinental Railroad, and others.  

During the week of January 20, teachers set up a NHD base camp in the Seminar Room for the students to complete their Exhibit Boards, Websites, Documentaries, and Skits for the competition that was being held the next week. Teachers housed all of his classes in the Seminar Room and volunteered his prep time and lunch to ensure that the students would have a place to complete their projects. The school wide competition took place between January 27 and January 30at International High School. There were a total of five internal teacher judges for the in-house competition.

For this school year, teachers and students in the Paterson Public Schools are engaged in teaching and learning in the virtual environment through Google Classroom.  This presents challenges and opportunities for teachers and students. It may be difficult to get as many teachers and students at International High School to participate in the NHD competition as last year. Library instruction sessions will be limited to providing support to one teacher and one class at a time. Leading the coordination of these efforts this year will be IB Principal Catherine Forfia-Dion. Despite the challenges of scheduling and limited class sessions, having the partnership with William Paterson University will lead to successful outcomes for the teachers and students involved in the NHD competition at International High School. 

JFK High School Collaboration

At JFK High School, one in-person visit was made in support of the two NHD advisors who had fifteen students that planned on competing in the NHD competition.  This visit allowed the presentation to focus on how to find primary and secondary sources, how to evaluate sources, how to take research notes, and how to engage in historical analysis.

Eastside High School Collaboration

At Eastside High School, Social Studies coordinator, Gloria Van Houten arranged for every Social Studies class to attend an in-person introduction to NHD and NHD resources in the school library led by librarians, Neil Grimes and Richard Kearney.  An NHD Library Guide was created and updated to reflect collections of digital resources available for student use.  The resources on the NHD Library Guide were highlighted.  Students were also engaged in database searching and advanced search strategies were shared with all of the student researchers. Students were engaged in researching their historical topic that related directly to the NHD annual theme.


Through the partnership between the Paterson Public Schools and William Paterson University’s Cheng Library, students that competed in the NHD competition were able to engage in historical research, learned historical analysis, and how to format their NHD project to fit the requirements of their selected NHD competition category. Through feedback shared from the Social Studies teachers in the Paterson Public Schools, it was found that students had a greater interest in history and increased their ability to conduct research, as well as historical analysis, through the work completed during the NHD competition. At International High School, the co-author became the new NHD advisor during the 2019-2020 school year and had every social studies class participate.  In the previous school year, one group participated at the regional level and in the 2019-2020 school year ten groups participated at the regional level with 3 groups moving onto the statewide competition.

As a result of this partnership, students learned how to formulate a research question, and unique search terms that related to their topics, and learned the difference between primary and secondary resources. This partnership helped students to learn how to conduct, annotate, and use their historical research in composing their individual and group projects for the New Jersey National History Day competition.

Future Directions

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, virtual library instruction and support will be provided to the teachers and students in the Paterson Public Schools that are engaged in the 2021 National History Day competition.  This will be provided through Google Meets which allows for presenters to share their screen and record sessions for students to re-watch. There are limitations to providing this type of support as class sessions are limited to 30 minutes.  A virtual professional development session on NHD was held in October 2020 for all of the social studies teachers in the Paterson School District to be conducted by the author and Electronic Resources librarian Richard Kearney. The scheduled visits will be emailed to each school building’s principals throughout the 2020-2021 school year within the Paterson School District. 


Delpit, L. (2006). Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

Mandell, N., & Malone, B. (2013). Thinking like a historian: Rethinking history instruction. Wisconsin Historical Society. 

Manuel, K. (2005). National History Day: an opportunity for K‐16 collaboration. Reference services review

National History Day (2018, January 1) David Van Tassel & the origins of National History Day. National History Day.  

Niche. (2020) Largest school districts in New Jersey. Retrieved from 

Nieto, S. (1992). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education

Paterson Public Schools (2020). District profile. Paterson Public Schools. 

Paterson Public Schools (2020). Promising Tomorrows: Annual Report July 2018 – September 2020 (pp. 1-2, Rep.). Paterson, NJ: Paterson Public Schools. 

Salamon, Anaïs. 2016. “Benefits and Challenges of Outreach in Academic Libraries: A Case  

Study at the McGill Islamic Studies Library.” MELA Notes 89: 1–14. 

State of New Jersey – Department of Education (2019). District Factor Groups (DFG) for School Districts  

Vandenberg-Daves, J. (2006). Making history : a guide to historical research through the National History Day program. ABC-CLIO. 

William Paterson University (2020, January 31) Factbook 2019. William Paterson University.  Retrieved from

William Paterson University – David and Lorraine Cheng Library (2020) Mission, Vision & Goals. Retrieved from 

Teaching the History of the AIDS Crisis: 40 Years of HIV/AIDS in American Life

Teaching the History of the AIDS Crisis: 40 Years of HIV/AIDS in American Life

Mark Helmsing and Andrew Porter

In 1981, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (now called the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention) published details about a rare lung infection in its weekly report on morbidity and mortality trends in the United States. The details focused on five young, white men in Los Angeles who were healthy and identified as gay men. The report discussed how all five of these men presented the rare lung disease (called Pneumocystis Pneumonia, or PCP) along with other infections that seemed to indicate their immune systems were not functioning. All five men were dead soon after the report was published, sparking what would become known as the AIDS epidemic, part of what was to become a global AIDS pandemic (amfAR, 2020).

            As referenced and used in this article, this portion of the epidemic is often referred to historically as the AIDS crisis, referring to responses to the epidemic in the U.S. beginning with the founding of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1981 and continuing through the 1990s and early 2000s (amfAR, 2020). The AIDS crisis has not ended, despite major advances in the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS. However, the scope of this article considers what is historically viewed as the “height” of the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Our choice in framing the history of the AIDS crisis this way is due to the high priority of periodization in U.S. History courses in which units on the 1980s and/or the 1990s are taught as discrete decades. In this sense the history of the AIDS crisis as it unfolded in the 1980s and 1990s is of most relevance for social studies educators despite the important recent history of the crisis from 2000 through the present.

            This article presents a number of primary source texts middle and high school social studies can consider using when teaching the history of the AIDS crisis, particularly in U.S. History courses, but also in courses that relate to sociology, psychology, civics/government, and social problems or social issues. Further, this topic can be a rich topic for shared interdisciplinary inquiry amongst social studies educators, science educators, and language arts educators searching for topics that can be studied and taught across the disciplines. Before exploring the primary sources, we will briefly offer with social studies educators with three rationales for teaching the history of AIDS crisis.

Rationale for HIV/AIDS in the History Curriculum

Four decades later, the current moment in which we are living and teaching is an important time for history and social studies educators to reflect on and consider how they teach the AIDS crisis. We argue social studies educators need to rethink how they frame and teach about the AIDS crisis, isolated less as a current event topic, which is how we, the authors, learned about the epidemic in school, and instead framing and teaching the AIDS crisis as an historical event necessary for understanding the history of American life in the twentieth century.      

            For most veteran teachers in their fifties and sixties, their teaching careers began in the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Most of their teaching career has run parallel to the AIDS crisis unfolding in ‘real time’ and not as ‘history.’ For some mid-career teachers, those in thirties and forties, their teaching career began during the shift of the AIDS epidemic from a full-blown public health crisis to a more controlled public health risk. These educators grew up in the 1980s and 1990s as children and adolescents whose experiences were shaped by some of the strongest and most combative public responses to the AIDS crisis. For the newest ranks of our profession, many novice teachers completing teacher preparation programs are in their early to mid-twenties, having been born in the mid to late 1990s, such as 1997, the year in which AIDS deaths in the U.S. declined by 42% once anti-HIV therapies known as HIV drug “cocktails” became widely used and demonstrably effective (amfAR, 2020). These newly emerging teachers did not live in a time when an HIV diagnosis was seen as a ‘death sentence’ and accompanied by fear, shame, and discrimination as was prevalent for many people in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, early career educators, mid-career educators, and late career educators each have distinct orientations to the AIDS crisis and must learn from each other collectively towards creating usable social studies curriculum on HIV/AIDS. To make the case for why this is necessary, we provide three compelling rationales.

            A different time. First, the AIDS crisis is no longer as dominant in the public sphere’s attention as it once was. In the mid-to-late 1980s and all through the 1990s, the AIDS crisis “was impossible to overlook” as HIV/AIDS awareness permeated most “shared spaces, from policy to popular culture” throughout public schools, public health, and everyday life (Finkelstein, 2018, p. 1). Today there are few if any special programs aimed at discussing HIV/AIDS like the ones I grew up watching on the portable television set in my elementary and junior high schools, such as the made-for-television specials In The Shadow of Love: A Teen AIDS Story (González, 1991), or The Ryan White Story (Herzfeld, 1989), about teenager Ryan White, who died from complications of AIDS in 1990 after captivating national attention for his mistreatment by his hometown and high school in Indiana. There are few storylines in film, television, and popular literature that spotlight HIV/AIDS as singular and central issues in our present moment compared to films such as Longtime Companion (René, 1989) and Philadelphia (Demme, 1993). This is due in part to how the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. began to shift from a crisis that was difficult to manage and contain to a disease that scientists and medical experts began to better understand and better treat.

            The past is present. The presence of the AIDS crisis in our cultural memory leads to a second reason social studies educators should consider teaching about the history of AIDS. Whereas there are a few examples of HIV/AIDS featuring in a storyline in contemporary popular culture, there abounds in recent years numerous examples of popular culture that foreground the history and memory of HIV/AIDS. Examples of this history-in-use range from films such as The Normal Heart, based upon Larry Kramer’s 1985 play of the same name (Murphy, 2014) and the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague (France, 2012) to young adult literature, such as the massively popular novels Like a Love Story (Nzemian, 2019), which features young people living with AIDS in New York City in the 1980s, and We are Lost and Found (Dunbar, 2019), which also spotlights youth living in New York City on the eve of the AIDS crisis. These and other books and films offer contemporary audiences an opportunity to contemplate how HIV/AIDS have been understood and experienced throughout U.S. history.

            The 1980s are history. A third reason relates to U.S. history as an academic subject in schools. As each year passes by, the chronology of recorded history expands and the academic subject of history races to keep up, expanding its scope annually. Despite this expansion of what becomes historical, there is still deep immobility on the timeline of history taught in U.S. History courses. By this we mean how time somewhat stops in U.S. History courses with units and lessons on the long Civil Rights Era of the 1960s and 1970s, the conflict in Vietnam, and some scant coverage of the nation’s history as the 1970s morphs into the 1980s. For us, the authors, this is as far as our U.S. History courses covered when we were students in the 1990s, and, as teachers in the 2000s and 2010, our own courses we taught stopped at this point in the timeline. Yet within the past decade, the 1980s and the 1990s are increasingly becoming properly historical in the sense that many history curriculum standards and textbooks include content from these decades. In a study we conducted of U.S. History curriculum standards and textbooks, we found conclusive evidence that the 1980s are historically significant enough to receive dedicated instruction within U.S. History contexts. Indeed, released exams from the Advanced Placement U.S. History course over the past few years show questions that require student knowledge of the 1980s within the context of U.S. history. If the 1980s and 1990s continue to be increasingly taught as history instead of recent events in social studies courses, then teachers and students should develop content knowledge on the AIDS crisis and how the crisis and the broader epidemic changed American life during this time.

Historical Inquiry into the AIDS Crisis

Through using digitized primary source texts to investigate responses to the AIDS epidemic, students can examine different facets of public and private life in the United States. Below we organize a sampling of various digitized primary sources into four different thematic foci: (1) newspapers and magazines; (2) digital memories of public memorials; (3) public service announcements; and (4) opinions and editorials. These are only four of many different possible ways teachers can help students engage in inquiry to interpret the historical significance of the AIDS crisis.

Newspapers and magazines. First, students can analyze primary source material, including newspaper articles and magazine covers, to understand the widespread uncertainty and confusion surrounding HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. The picture that emerges from primary source material is one of a wary nation trying to understand the science and epidemiology of HIV/AIDS and how it was transmitted to individuals. The first major news article to reference AIDS (although not directly by name) was printed in the New York Times on July 3rd 1981 (Blakemore, 2017). The article was titled: “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” (Altman, 1981). A year later on July 18th in 1982, the New York Times published a story titled: “Clue Found on Homosexual’s Precancer Syndrome” (Altman, 1982). Teachers can elicit students’ historical thinking through methods of comparison between the framing used in these headlines from the early 1980s and what was later learned as new and better information was shared with the public. For example, HIV and AIDS are not a form of “cancer,” but in the absence of more accurate scientific knowledge in the early 1980s, this is how the viral infections we now know as HIV and AIDS was first described. Students can see how the immediate framing of this scientific discovery foregrounded LGBTQ communities by using the then-acceptable term “homosexuals” as a designated group, a term and framing no longer acceptably used by medical communities in the present. Similarly, students can analyze the visual imagery of a TIME Magazine cover from July 4th 1983 that presents cover stories such as: “Disease Detectives,” “Tracking the Killers,” and “The AIDS Hysteria” (Pierce, 1983). Reading an article from an Indiana newspaper, the Kokomo Tribune published on August 31, 1985 titled “School bars door to youth with AIDS” (MacNeil, 1985) helps students understand how Ryan White was officially banned from attending public school as a result of contracting HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion.

Digital memories of public memorials. Using digital video source material, students can examine news broadcasts chronicling the first unveiling of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on October 11, 1987 and listen to emotional interviews where survivors memorialize lost loved ones. Teachers can encourage students to critically analyze the video in order to investigate the importance of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the significance of the Quilt being displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the first time. The NAMES Project Foundation’s website affords students the opportunity to view the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt. While on the website, students can “search the quilt” in order to view images of specific panels that memorialize individuals who died from HIV/AIDS. Each three-foot by three-foot panel in the quilt is different, and tells a distinctive story about a unique individual who died from HIV/AIDS.

Public service announcements. One thematic focus of students’ historical inquiry can examine how public perceptions of and responses to HIV/AIDS evolved throughout the 1980s. A New York Times article published on July 24, 1987 titled “Reagan Names 12 to Panel on AIDS” (Boffey, 1987), and the TIME magazine cover story for February 16th 1987 which reads “The Big Chill, How Heterosexuals are Coping with AIDS” (Brosan, 1987), illustrate a growing public realization that AIDS was becoming a legitimate health crisis that demanded attention. Students can compare and contrast these two sources with source material from the early 1980s to investigate why and the public perception of HIV/AIDS had changed and why it was increasingly impacting the country as a whole. Students can also analyze public service announcement (PSA) posters such as one created by Jack Keeler in 1987 that depicts a crayon drawing of a frowning child with outstretched arms, stating “I have AIDS please hug me, I can’t make you sick” (Keeler, 1987). Through examining the origins and purpose of the PSA, students can recognize how discrimination beginning in the 1980s (and continuing through the present) often robbed people living with HIV and AIDS of their dignity and humanity. The U.S. National Library of Medicine hosts a digital gallery online titled “Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture” that has digitized 42 PSAs surveying a wide array of health and social issues related to the epidemic.

Opinions and editorials. Finally, a fourth theme for historical inquiry can explicate how political and social beliefs contributed to a negative stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS during the 1980s, helping students establish historical causation on the rise of legal discrimination towards people living with HIV and AIDS. Political cartoons from influential newspaper cartoonist Daniel Sotomayor (who died from AIDS-related complications in 1992) illustrate the growing frustration to the U.S. federal government’s slow response in addressing the AIDS epidemic (Sotomayor, 1989). In the cartoon, a turtle labeled “Too little Too Late” (symbolizing the U.S. government’s inadequate response to the AIDS epidemic) is slowly climbing a mountain of caskets. Teachers can have students examine the cartoon in order to determine the authors perspective, the overall message of the cartoon and any elements of symbolism. In order to understand how the HIV/AIDS epidemic became a controversial social and political issue, students can read The Moral Majority Report from July, 1983 which cover story is titled: “Homosexual Diseases Threaten American Families.” Furthermore, students can watch Rev. Jerry Falwell (leader of the Moral Majority group) debate “The Morality of AIDS” with reverend Troy Perry (a leader in the fight against AIDS) on a live television broadcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1983.  Through the tense exchanges in the debate, students can see that Rev. Falwell and those aligned with the “Moral Majority” generally lacked empathy for AIDS victims, considered AIDS to be gods judgment against the sin of “homosexual promiscuity” and believed that the cure for HIV/AIDS was traditional family values. Conversely, in the video Rev. Perry argues for an end to the politicization of HIV/AIDS in order to provide compassionate support the victims and stem the loss of life.

Conclusion: Lessons for a new health crisis.

When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the United States in the spring of 2020, many wanted to make comparisons between the COVID-19 public health crisis and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. To be sure, there are some areas of comparison, especially in terms of shifting knowledge and public awareness to both outbreaks as well as missteps in governmental responses to both (in addition to the leading roles both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have played in both). And yet there are numerous distinctions that are important to point out, such as the fact that “financial collapse, massive unemployment, and daily White House briefings” did not take place during the AIDS crisis, nor did a race to find a vaccine take off in the first year of the disease’s discovery (Page, 2020, n.p.). One of the main history lessons students can take away from studying the history of the AIDS crisis is that tireless activism and civic protest, along with hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S., all took place before a light began to appear in the AIDS crisis. We hope this sample of primary source resources will enable social studies educators to consider with their students “the multiple and contested discourses around HIV/AIDS circulating in news coverage, public policy statements, health initiatives” and other sources of public life that can enrich learning about HIV/AIDS (Lesko, Brotman, Agwal, & Quackenbush, 2010, p. 826). This work is what Finkelstein (2018) terms “AIDS 2.0,” the work ahead of “a new generation of historians, archivists, artists, and activists, who were born in the midst of HIV/AIDS and are struggling to make sense of the worlds they both inherited and missed” (p. 1). We hope social studies educators will be a part of this work as well.


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Altman, L. K. (1982, June 18). Clue found on homosexuals’ pre-cancer syndrome. The New York Times.

amfAR. (The Foundation for AIDS Research). (2020). HIV/AIDS: Snapshots of an epidemic.

Blakemore, E. (2017, July 3). This was the first major news article on HIV/AIDS. Smithsonian Magazine.

Boffey, P. M. (1987, July 24). Reagan names 12 to panel on AIDS. The New York Times.

Brosan, R. (1987, July 24). Cover image. TIME, 129(7).,9263,7601870216,00.html

Butler, P. (2004). Embracing AIDS: History, identity, and post-AIDS discourse. JAC, 24(1), 93-111.

Demme, J. (Director). (1993). Philadelphia [film]. TriStar Pictures.

Dunbar, H. (2019). We are lost and found. Sourcebooks.

Finkelstein, A. (2018). After silence: A history of AIDS through its images. University of California Press.

France, D. (Director). (2012). How to survive a plague [film]. IFC.

González, C. (Director). (1991). In the shadow of love: A teen AIDS story [made-for-television film]. ABC.

Herzfeld, J. (Director). (1989). The Ryan White story [made-for-television film]. ABC.

Keeler, J. (1987). I have AIDS, please hug me. [Still image]. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Digital Collections.

Lesko, N., Brotman, J. S., Agrwal, R., & Quackenbush, J. L. (2010). Feeling jumpy: Teaching about HIV/AIDS. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(7), 823-843.

MacNeil, C. M. (1985, August 31). School bars door to youth with AIDS. Kokomo Tribune.

Murphy, R. (Director). (2014). The normal heart [made-for-television film]. HBO.

Nazemian, A. (2019). Like a love story. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers.

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Pierce, B. (1983, July 4). Cover image. TIME, 122(1).,9263,7601830704,00.html

René, N. (Director). (1989). Longtime companion [film]. Samuel Goldwyn Company.

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