Scrapbooks: 21st Century Hobby, 19th Century Primary Source & Classroom Activity

By Cynthia Resor posted 01-13-2018 08:11:08 AM

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What do this mid-20th century recipe clipping scrapbook and Pinterest have in common? The obvious answer is recipe collections; recipes prepared and recipes to try. These scrapbook pages, one digital and one paper, are also primary source documents that tell the story an individual and a wider culture.

A scrapbook, today and in the past, is personal story created from re-purposed media (electronic or paper) and ephemera of the era. Scrapbooking as a hobby is not new. In the 1820s, as the mass media grew (magazines and newspapers), men, women, and children made clipping scrapbooks.  They used scissors to cut information related to their interests and pasted the clippings on recycled paper, re-purposed books, or commercially produced blank scrapbooks. The original “cut and paste”! The quote at the end of this post is from an 1880 book of scrapbooking advice. 

Check your local archives, historical society, museum, or attic for old scrapbooks. Many institutions have digitized old scrapbooks for easy viewing online.  Ask students to examine historical scrapbooks and analyze how they represent the history of an individual, a group of people or community, and wider trends in industrialization, technology, daily life, or even politics of the era. Compare and contrast historical “scissors and paper” scrapbooking to the modern digital and hobby versions. Facebook, a hybrid scrapbook/diary began in 2004; Pinterest opened in 2010. These comparisons can lead to critical examination of how people interpret and re-use information in the media and discussions about media literacy.

Finally, engage students in making their own scrapbooks. My students create time-travel scrapbooks/travelogues that require interpretation of primary and secondary source documents and images. They must tell their time travel story in a first-person voice. It’s hard to “cut and paste” information when students must “witness” historical cultures or events with their own eyes.   Eyewitness to the Past by Joan Brodsky Schur has wonderful ideas for U. S. History scrapbook projects.  An internet search can produce many, many more ideas are for classroom scrapbook projects. Be sure to get past the fun, crafty elements of a scrapbook assignment. Encourage students to analyze how a scrapbook is a primary source document that re-purposes all types of media and ephemera to tell the story of a life and the social, economic, technological, and even political history of the wider society.

For more information and examples of various 19th and 20th century scrapbooks, visit Scrapbooks: Comparing 19th century primary sources to 21st social media

Who Should Keep a Scrap-Book? (1880)

Everyone who reads. Who does not keep a personal diary of his own little experiences ? yet this [scrapbooking] is keeping a diary of the world. . .

Every man in his own department should accumulate information relating to his work.

To the student it is indispensable; it will furnish him with facts not found in his books, and give him a decided advantage over his fellows who do not follow this practice.

The teacher especially will find a series of well-kept scrap-books among his most valuable books of reference. Aside from the technical information thus ready for class use, he will also soon have a large collection of facts which he cannot find in books, and which the progressive teacher will know how to use in the every-day work of the school-room. . . . .

So it may be said of the politician, the professional man, the mechanic, the farmer — in fact everyone who reads the newspapers should habitually cull the best things and put them into a scrap- book. (p. 11-12)

by E. W. Gurley, Scrap-books and How to Make Them. Elklanah Walter Gurley (1834 – 1908) was a teacher, principal, newspaper editor and Union Civil War veteran.

Just a few online historical scrapbooks: