United States History through Music!!!
For students, teachers, homeschoolers, history buffs, and the historically challenged.
Songs are an incredibly powerful tool to help people connect to the past. The traditional folk songs of Ballad of America, while immensely enjoyable to listen to for their own sake, are especially well suited to the exploration of America's past. Not only do the lyrics directly reflect the hopes, fears, struggles, sorrows, triumphs, and humanity of the real people who lived history, but to follow the path taken by the songs themselves is to understand the story of the great cultural stew that is the United States of America.
Since before the country declared independence, songs and musical styles were brought to the New World by British colonists, African slaves and immigrants from other parts of the world. New songs and styles grew out of encounters between these diverse people and the unique American experience itself. As America changed, grew, and pushed its boundaries, so too did the music.
United States History Through Music provides tips and suggestions for using the Ballad of America website and songs to better understand and connect with the past.
Songs and CDs
At the heart of Ballad of America is a vast array of songs that may be listened to, read, examined, and sung to enhance understanding of and interest in United States history. You may find individual songs alphabetically, by historical era, or by descriptive tag (see Finding Songs) or you may choose to explore one of three available themed albums available on CD and for download.
Over a Wide and Fruitful Land (Volume 1)
The journey on this album begins in the latter part of the eighteenth century when the United States of America became an independent nation. It follows the paths of the pioneers, sailors, lumberjacks, immigrants, '49ers, farmers, slaves, soldiers, cowboys, and railroaders who moved the country across the continent and into the twentieth century.
America Singing (Volume 2)
The songs in this collection are among the most commonly sung in the history of the United States. They present uniquely American musical blends, with roots in European and African traditions and branches that have sprouted countless regional and personal variants throughout the country. Collectively, these songs of work, fun, and love transcend social and ethnic boundaries, painting a broad picture of America during the 18th and 19th centuries when music making was, for many, an integral part of everyday life.
Songs in the Life of Abraham Lincoln (Volume 3)
Abraham Lincoln was a man of remarkable determination, compassion, honesty, humor, and melancholy. To explore the music he cherished is to better understand the man himself and the times in which he lived. From a childhood on the American frontier to a presidency that changed the course of history, Lincoln's life unfolds through these Old World, play party, minstrel, campaign, slave, Civil War, and sentimental songs.
If you are looking for a specific song title, you may view the alphabetical index of songs to browse a list of all songs on the website. The index lists the historical era from which the song originated, descriptive tags, and available formats: CD, download, and video. All song titles link to a song page with lyrics, background information, historical era, descriptive tags, and links to listen online, download, watch the video, and/or purchase the CD.
There are currently three different albums in the Ballad of America series that are available on CD and for download in a variety of digital formats from many online music retailers. Songs on albums are chosen and sequenced to tell a particular story or capture the essence of a certain historical theme. Select an album, listen online, read the lyrics and liner notes for the whole story, download the songs, or order the CD.
By Historical Era
If you are interested in finding songs relevant to a particular time in American history, you can browse our index of songs organized by historical era. The eras are derived from the National Center for History in the Schools. All song titles link to a song page with lyrics, background information, historical era, descriptive tags, and links to listen online, download, watch the video, and/or purchase the CD.
You can also browse for songs by tags that describe type of song, origin, subject matter, or lyrical content. This is where you might look for cowboy songs, songs from the Appalachian Mountains, songs about traveling in a covered wagon, etc. All song titles link to a song page with lyrics, background information, historical era, descriptive tags, and links to listen online, download, watch the video, and/or purchase the CD.
For Students and the Historically Curious
Refer to the above section, Finding Songs, to browse and search for songs, albums, historical eras, and tags that are of interest to you or are related to your particular area of study. Be sure to always read the background information and lyrics that are available on the song pages.
For Teachers and Homeschool Parents
There are a variety of ways that songs may be used by teachers and homeschool parents. There are suggestions on this page, but the limits are your imagination. Figure out what works best for you.
Social Studies teachers may choose to integrate the songs into their daily lessons, and they may also wish to confer with a music teacher to have the music teacher work with the students on singing the songs. Teachers may wish to distribute the lyrics to the songs so that students can read along as they listen.
When to Play the Songs
Try playing a song before reading the corresponding section of the textbook. Ask students the following questions:
- What type of person do you think wrote or sung the song?
- Why do you think it was written or sung?
- What event, situation, or feeling is the song describing?
- Based on what you observed in the song, what do you think will occur next in our reading?
Try playing a song after reading the corresponding section of the textbook. Ask students the following questions:
- How does the song relate to what we read in the text book?
- What can you learn from the song that you didn't get from the reading?
- What do you know from the reading that you didn't hear in the song?
Songs as Historical Artifacts
Songs may be examined in a similar manner as any historical artifact might be studied. Discussions questions might include:
Looking at the Song:
- What people, places, and events are mentioned?
- What do you notice about the music (fast, slow, catchy, dull)?
Responding to the Song:
- What are your personal reactions to the lyrics?
- What emotions might this song produce when sung or played?
Thinking about History:
- Why do you think the person/people wrote this song? What clues do you find to suggest this?
- For what audience was the song written?
- Why is the music important to this song?
- What does the song tell you about what life was like during this period in history?
- What more do you want to know and how can you find out?
Language Arts Activities
Most any Language Arts question or activity can be applied to a song lyric as it would be to a standard reading passage. Give these a try:
Design a question that requires students to identify the author's purpose and support it by returning to the text for details and information. (explain, inform, persuade, entertain).
- What does the author mean when he/she writes ___________?
- Why did the author write the song?
- What is the author's purpose in writing this song?
- Would the author agree with this statement? ___________
Similarities/Differences in Text
Design a question that requires students to find similarities and differences in characters, settings, and events presented in various texts.
- How are ____ and _____ alike?
- How is ___________ different from ______?
- How is _______ both similar to and different from _______?
- What is the difference between ____________ and __________?
- How is ________ dissimilar to ___________?
- How did the character change from the beginning of the story until the end?
Compare and Contrast
Design a question that requires students to recognize the use of comparison and contrast in a text. Support your answer with facts and details from the story/article.
- How are _________ and __________ alike?
- How is __________ different from ___________?
- How is ____________ both similar and different from __________?
- What is one difference between ________ and __________?
- How is ____________ dissimilar to _____________?
Multiple Representations of Information
Design a question that requires students to use a variety of reference materials, including multiple representations of information such as maps, charts, captions, and photos to gather information.
- Read/refer to the information in the song (including captions, maps, charts, and footnotes) to answer the question.
Design a question that requires students to identify plot development and/or problem resolution in the story.
- What problem did the character face?
- What happens that causes the character to change from the beginning to the end of the story?
- How is the problem solved in the story?
- What events lead to the resolution of the problem in the story?
Facts and Detail
Design a question for which students must identify relevant facts and details in order to form an answer. Encourage higher order thinking by asking questions which require students to infer.
- Lower level questions: Who? What? Where? When?
- Higher level questions: Why? How?
Cause and Effect
Design a question that requires students to describe the cause or effect of an action or event in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or drama.
- What caused ________ to ___________?
- What effect did ___________ have on _____________?
- What are the events that caused ______________?
- What might happen if _____________?
- What is the effect of ___________?
- Why does a character take a particular action?
- What were the results of an event or action?
Design a question that requires students to determine the meaning of a word in context, including the use of prefixes, suffixes, root words, multiple meanings, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, and word relationships.
- Read this sentence from the song. __________
- What does the word _________ mean?
- Choose the word that means the same as __________.
- Choose the word that means the opposite of ___________.
- What two words best describe the word ____________?
- Which two words mean the same/opposite?
Design a question that requires students to find the main idea of the passage. Support answers with details and information from the passage.
- What is the main idea of this song?
- Write a summary of __________.
- Why do you think this song has the title _____________?
- Retell a portion of the story.
- What would be another good title for this song?
Design a question for which students must use sequencing in order to form an answer.
- What happened just before/after __________?
- What happened firs, last, etc?
- What happened between __________ and ___________?
- What is the first step in _____________?
- Retell the events leading up to/following _____________