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  4. Communicating the Presidency: The Media and Public Opinion

Communicating the Presidency: The Media and Public Opinion

Lesson Author
Course(s)
Required Time Frame
2 - 3 classperiods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Assignment is both individual and cooperative integrating media and visual literacy
into social studies core content using primary sources - Presidential photographs. Abraham
Lincoln, our 16th president, and an early adopter of his era’s newest technology (photography),
has a lot in common with today’s Instagram and TikTok stars. Recognizing the camera's power,
Abraham Lincoln made extensive use of photographs during his presidency. He often sat for the
leading photographers of the day, allowing them to distribute his image widely. Lincoln was the
first president to take full advantage of photography, both as a campaign tool and to craft a
desirable public persona.
Description

Lincoln had grown savvy at using it to frame his own image and story. In this lesson, students
will use the photographs of Abraham Lincoln featured in Leonard Marcus’ Mr. Lincoln Sits for
His Portrait: The Story of a Photograph That Became an American Icon. As Marcus points out,
“Every photograph has a point of view, revealing some facets of its subject and missing or
glossing over others. The strongest photographs possess the power to crowd out competing
points of view and become the version of reality that people remember.” On Tuesday, February
9, 1864, Abraham Lincoln was photographed in seven poses at Matthew Brady’s studio. The
most famous photo, Lincoln, and his son Tad, is included. Students will work in pairs to analyze
the photograph(s) using the attached graphic organizer(s). Following pair analysis, students will
share thoughts and conclusions. After student conclusions, students will use social media
(Twitter) and craft messages that Lincoln might have sent to the American people to convince
them that it was time to abolish slavery in the U.S. once and for all.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, every Illinois public high school shall include in its
curriculum a unit of instruction on media literacy, including instruction on how to access
information, analyze and evaluate media messages, create media, reflect on media consumption,
as well as the social responsibility of engaging with media of all forms. The lesson integrates
media/visual literacy into the study of Abraham Lincoln (Illinois SS Standards).

Lesson Objectives - the student will

Students will be able to describe how the president uses various media to communicate
with the public.
• Students will discover the increasingly important role that media coverage has played in
shaping public opinion of the president.
• Analyze a photograph as a primary source.
• Draw conclusions about people and events occurring in the photograph, photographer’s
concept, and viewpoint.
• Recognize the difference between primary and secondary source.
• Analyze the purpose of media messages and how they are constructed; explicit and
implicit media messages; values and points of view that are included and excluded in the
media; how the media may influence ideas and behaviors; and the importance of
obtaining information from multiple media sources.

 

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met


Illinois Social Science Standards:
SS.IS.4.9-12: Gather and evaluate information from multiple sources while considering the
origin, credibility, point of view, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the
sources.
Illinois Media Literacy Standards:
M.L. 2. Analyze, evaluate, create, and communicate using a variety of objective forms
responsibly, including, but not limited to, print, visual, audio, interactive, and digital formats.
ML.2. D. Consider the intention and impact of shared media.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. New York: Clarion, 1989.
Lowry, Richard. The Photographer and the President: Abraham Lincoln, Alexander
Gardner, and the Images that Made a Presidency. New York: Rizzoli, 2015.
Marcus, Leonard S. Mr. Lincoln Sits for His Portrait: The Story of a Photograph That
Became an American Icon. New York: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2023.

 

Videos:
Did This Photo Make Lincoln President? Episode 1. PBS Digital Studio.
https://www.pbs.org/video/did-this-photo-make-lincoln-president-perejr/

Evolution of Media (Timeline) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CP3Ems2dx-k
Media History Timeline https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgVtzNf9vdw

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Photographs:
Brady, Matthew B. Brady portrait of Abraham Lincoln & "Tad" published by Richards.
Richards, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
www.loc.gov/item/scsm000759/.
Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries, photographer by Berger, Anthony. Abraham
Lincoln, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing right; hair parted on Lincoln's right
side. [Feb. 9, printed later] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
www.loc.gov/item/2009630693/.
Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries, Publisher, photographer by Berger, Anthony.
Portrait profile of President Abraham Lincoln, facing right and seated. [Feb. 9, 1864; printed
later between 1885 and 1911] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
www.loc.gov/item/2013648769/.
Brady's National Photographic Portrait Galleries, Publisher, photographer by Berger, Anthony.
President Abraham Lincoln, full-length portrait, standing. [1864 Feb. 9, printed later]
Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2013649743/.
Schell, Frederic B., Artist. Lincoln family. [?]. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of
Congress, http://www.loc.gov/item/2019645948/.
Graphic Organizers:
Library of Congress. Analyzing Photographs and Prints Analysis Tool.
https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/teachers/getting-started-with-primarysources/
documents/Analyzing_Photographs_and_Prints.pdf
National Archives and Records Administration. Analyze a Photograph.
https://www.archives.gov/files/education/lessons/document-analysis/english/analyze-aphotograph-
intermediate.pdf
ReadWriteThink. Timeline Rubric.
https://www.readwritethink.org/sites/default/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson398/rubrictimeline2.
pdf

 

 

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Student Activity
Media:
A. Have the class discuss the definition of “media.” What types of media are there? How have
these media changed over time? View one of the listed media videos. Create a timeline on the
whiteboard to chart, as a class, when each of the different media was in use. Have students
consider how much more complex this issue is now as we move into the twenty-first century.
B. Students will work in pairs to analyze the photograph(s) using the attached graphic
organizer(s). Following pair analysis, students will share thoughts and conclusions. Students will
consider the following:
• Who created the message and what is the purpose?
• What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
• What lifestyles, values and points of view are depicted?
• How might different people interpret this message?
• What is omitted?
• Compare and contrast photographs if using more than one photo (recommend using
Lincoln Family and Lincoln and Son Tad photos).
Students will view and discuss Did This Photo Make Lincoln President? Episode 1 video.
C. If Lincoln were here today, he would be a whiz at Twitter. Students will write five Tweets
that Lincoln might have sent to the American people to convince them that it was time to abolish
slavery in the U.S. once and for all.

 

Additional Suggested Activities
Primary Sources:
Assign students a fifty-year year period (1750-1800, 1800-1850, etc.) and ask them to select a
president within that period. Students should research the selected president’s use of the media of
that time. In class, create teams of five students each, making sure that each student in the group
represents a different period. Have the small groups share information with one another, looking
for similarities and differences in the use of the various types of media over time, and create a
simple chart outlining their findings. Each group should send a representative to the board to
chart its results. As a class, examine your findings to draw some conclusions about the changing
use of the media over time.
Current Affairs:
Over the period of a few days or a week, ask students to scan a daily newspaper or a weekly
news magazine for articles relating to the president and his involvement in current affairs.
Students should watch the network world news broadcasts noting which issues he is calling out
as important to the American public. Have students clip two or three articles that demonstrate the
influence the media have in shaping the public’s perception of the president and presidential
politics. Students should answer the following questions:
• What is the article/news broadcast trying to say about the president?
• Is it about the president’s ideas or policy, or is it about his personal life?
• Is it favorable to the president?
• Can you tell what the president’s own ideas are from the article/news broadcast?

 

Ask students to compare their findings with their classmates.
Presidential Speeches:
Although the press is very influential in shaping public opinion of the president and of political
issues, the president also can go straight to the public to get his message across through press
conferences or during presidential visits or trips. One only must think of the most memorable
speeches to realize how important the president’s ability to speak in public is to his
administration’s success. Everyone remembers, for example, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg
Address or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Day That Will Live in Infamy. Have students do
additional research on a famous presidential speech. Each student should prepare a short
presentation for the class, summarizing the speech and describing its historical importance.
Students may wish to copy down a few memorable lines from the speech to present to the class,
so that their classmates get an overall feeling of the speech.


Extended Activity:
Ask students to imagine that they are the president, and they have an important issue that they
want to present to the American people. Students should think about how they will present the
message to the American people. What media will they use? Will they hold a press conference,
address the nation on television, or put their messages out on social media? Have students
volunteer to present their messages to the class using one of these methods. Try to have an
example of each method. After the presentations, discuss as a class the techniques that worked
best in presenting the issues and in winning the support of the class.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Assessment: Students will complete the listed gr