Democracy Reignited Programs
Voices and Votes: Democracy in America
This Smithsonian Institution exhibition will travel on a statewide tour to small towns across Florida from August 2020 to February 2021. “Voices and Votes” takes a broad look at the ever-evolving story of our American democracy.
The spring 2020 issue of FORUM focuses on Florida’s civics history and contemporary challenges to our democracy. The issue also helps readers understand the many ways in which Florida influences national issues and vice versa.
Newspapers in Education
Democracy Reignited, a special publication from the Tampa Bay Times Newspaper in Education program is a Florida-focused curriculum supplement to the Voices and Votes Smithsonian exhibition. Copies are available for teachers and libraries.
Life, Liberty + Libraries
Public and K-12 libraries can apply for funding to purchase democracy and civics-themed books for circulation, utilize templated and high-quality book displays to further engage communities, and plan for humanities-rich public programming.
The Declaration of Independence Today
Dr. Danielle Allen is one of several speakers organized throughout the initiative period. These lectures feature premier scholarship and seek to expand public knowledge on U.S. history and government.
Florida Humanities is partnering with The Village Square to host community conversations statewide. The goal is to provide common approaches to help communities identify and address issues of public concern.
American Democracy Digital Resources
In this important election year, and in honor of the Smithsonian traveling exhibitions American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith and Voices and Votes: Democracy in America SITES and Smithsonian Affiliations are highlighting a diverse array of the Smithsonian’s digital resources that engage audiences around voting, elections, civic engagement, and citizenship. Every two weeks between July 2020 and Election Day 2020 (November 3), the Smithsonian will post a new set of resources surrounding a specific theme related to democracy in America. We’ll share them with you here.
The National Museum of American History’s exhibition American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith explores the history of citizen participation, debate, and compromise from the nation’s formation to today.
This June 2020 video lecture from Barbara Clark Smith, Curator of Political History at the National Museum of American History, recounts the thinking that shaped the American Democracy exhibition and explores the big challenges posed by US politics today.
This collection on the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab introduces students to individuals such as Thomas Jefferson, Molly Pitcher, Thomas Paine, Wong Chin Foo, Ella Baker, and Dolores Huerta who have shaped and participated in American democracy over time.
This site and exhibition by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program poses compelling questions for discussions about the leap of faith represented by American democracy. How would you answer?
The American Experiments suite of educational resources explores “how to form a more perfect union” by challenging students to think about their roles and responsibilities within their democracy.
This online study guide and quiz were developed by the National Museum of American History to assist in the preparation for the civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test. Even if you are a citizen already, test your knowledge for fun!
This digital lesson from the National Museum of the American Indian explores one of the essential understandings about Native Americans: that ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship have always been part of American Indian societies.
This teaching website examines the United States’ immigration and migration history in a more accurate and inclusive way. It asks questions such as, what is it like to live across borders and in more than one space?
This e-comic book from the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center is based on the exhibition of the same name that takes a look at American history through a unique lens, from the very first Asian immigrants centuries ago to the complex challenges facing Asian Pacific American communities today. A free downloadable poster version of this exhibition is also available.
For 43 days between May and June 1968, demonstrators demanded social reforms while living side-by-side on the National Mall in a tent city known as Resurrection City. This free downloadable exhibition explores the history and legacy of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.
This digital resource developed by the National Museum of American History focuses on the increased levels of racism Asian Americans are experiencing during the pandemic and how community leaders are combating racism on the front lines.
This digital resource on activism is part of a broader initiative developed by the Smithsonian to create, disseminate and amplify the historical record of the accomplishments of American women.
When the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in August 1920, African American women were denied equal access to the ballot and had to fight for the right to vote until the 1960s. Here are the stories of five African American suffragists you should know.
The National Museum of American History’s 2019 National Youth Summit looked at woman suffrage as an example of how groups with limited political power have shaped and continue to shape our democracy.
These videos from the National Museum of American History examine the actions taken by suffragists in 1917 as they fought to win the right to vote. Students learn through the experience of Rebecca, a historical character who is deciding whether to join the movement.
Get a behind-the-scenes preview of the upcoming exhibition, Girlhood (It’s complicated), with Jean Case, co-chair of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative Advisory Committee, Dr. Kathleen Franz, curator and chair of the National Museum of American History’s Division of Work History, and Megan Smith, senior creative developer in the museum’s Education and Impact team. The exhibition will open at the National Museum of American History this fall, and SITES will travel the exhibition beginning in 2023. Learn more about the traveling exhibition here.
This playlist of songs of activism and protest was compiled by Meredith Holmgren, Curator of American Women’s Music at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Progress on every major social issue of our time has its roots in the activism and advocacy of everyday people in the past. Read stories about women activists, explore objects from the Smithsonian’s collections, and dive into other related resources.
The story of woman suffrage is a story of voting rights, of inclusion in and exclusion from the franchise, and of our civic development as a nation. Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence, is a free, dynamic poster exhibition from SITES based on the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of the same name. For more resources, visit the exhibition website.
Suffragists deployed a range of creative communications tools to advocate for the cause. They staged costumed tableaux at protest marches, organized church committees, and held up hand-made signs in front of the White House. Have you designed a sign or banner to advocate for a cause that’s important to you? Share it with us on Instagram (@sitesexhibitions) or Twitter (@sitesExhibits).
The Constitution made the presidency and the positions of senator and representative elective offices. By the early 19th century, a competitive party system placed increasing importance on political campaigns. The objects featured here are the products of an economy of popular promotion that sought to instill a high level of activism and engagement. By the mid-20th century, badges, buttons, and ribbons began to be displaced by investments in radio and television advertising and opinion polling. (Can you find the boxes of macaroni and cheese dinners from both the Republican and Democratic conventions? Hint: look on page 9 in the web link. Did your parents or grandparents sport a license plate attachment for their candidate like those in the American History collections?)
In this podcast, National Museum of American History curators discuss their trips to the national nominating conventions, how they collect political memorabilia, what questions they ask, and what advice they have for starting your own collection. Would you be surprised to find a museum curator at a political convention?!
In this oral history interview, Shari-Ruth Goodwin discusses her mother’s participation in the 1972 Black National Political Convention and her own memories of her mother’s political activities. The National Black Political Convention pulled together a cross section of people representing a wide range of political philosophies to develop a unified political strategy for African Americans. Ms. Goodwin donated several items related to the 1972 Black National Political Convention to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Explore the objects that two curators from the National Museum of American History collected at key moments in the 2016 Presidential election—from the Iowa Caucus to the national conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
This Learning Lab collection explores how the press and media influenced America before it was even a country and examines how understanding the bias that the press and media has on us every day can make us better citizens.
In this article, the National Museum of African American History and Culture looks at how the Chicago Defender Newspaper informed and connected African Americans across the United States beginning with the Great Migration.
This resource will help students learn how mass media, the entertainment industry and consumer products are all used to conduct a national dialogue between the president and his constituents. As the country has grown, so have the methods a president can use to communicate with the American people: telegraph, newsreels, radio, television, and now the Internet.
In this activity, parents and other educators can guide their students on an Internet hunt or “Web quest” in which students play the role of newspaper reporters in order to research, write, and publish an article about the history of the Star-Spangled Banner.
This article from Smithsonian Magazine highlights that concerns about truth and the role of the press have been playing out since the time of John Adams and the earliest broadsides, long before the 21st century coining of the phrase “fake news.”
The next group of digital resources will focus on youth civic engagement, so make sure to register now for the National Youth Summit on Teen Resistance hosted by the National Museum of American History on Sept. 22. The summit will focus on the guiding question How can young Americans create a more equitable nation? And will include a panel discussion connecting stories of teenagers in the past fighting to address systemic injustice to those of the present.
Young People Shake Up Elections (History Proves It)
The Young People Shake Up Elections (History Proves It) video series from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History shares 10 stories of young people shaping and changing elections throughout American history.
The accompanying Learning Lab collection shares resources about stories featured in the videos plus additional stories of young people shaking up elections.
In this article, Jon Grinspan, curator and Jefferson Fellow in the Political and Military History Department of the National Museum of American History, focuses on youth in politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
SITES developed this poster exhibition with Facing History and Ourselves to highlight their national initiative Choosing to Participate. This exhibition, created primarily for middle and high schools, is designed to encourage dialogue, engagement, respect, and participation in our communities.
Taking action, undocumented organizers catapulted themselves into the center of one of the nation’s fiercest debates to form a powerful political voice.
The National Museum of American History continues to collect representational objects through a collecting initiative called New Paths to Change: Undocumented Immigrant Activism, 2000 to the Present.
Youth Speaks, an internationally recognized spoken word and arts advocacy group founded in 1996 in San Francisco, promotes literacy and engagement through arts and education with in-school and after-school programs. Brave New Voices established two years later, gave space to thirteen- to nineteen-year-olds in teams from cities around the world to perform spoken word on topics of social and environmental justice, gender equity, and more.
Youth in Action: Conversations about Our Future – Webinar Series from Smithsonian NMAI
Free webinars from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian discuss varying topics of concern to young Native activists and changemakers working towards equity and social justice for Indigenous peoples.
The September 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine included articles about the children of civil rights leaders who continue to work for social justice: Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X; Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Oliver Brown; Gina Belafonte, daughter of Harry Belafonte; and Ayanna Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory.
Earth Optimism is a global conservation movement that celebrates a shift in focus from problem to solution. Its Teen Earth Optimism programs aim to change the climate conversation from doom and gloom to optimism and opportunity.
This February 2015 Smithsonian Magazine article discusses a 2011–2014 survey of over 750 young people considered well-positioned to run for office that found a lack of interest in running for political office or becoming involved in government.
Yet, by late 2017, Curbed.com reported a surge of younger candidates running for office.
The National Civil Rights Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, launched ImagineAnAmerica, a digital platform that heightens awareness of the privilege and necessity of voting. While the initiative is designed to engage young voters, first-time voters and non-voters, its goal is to reach across generations, ethnicities and political ideologies to mobilize citizens to envision a nation that lives up to its democratic ideals.
These two posters, from the National Museum of American History’s collection, advocate for young people to engage in the political process by registering to vote.
How has your organization encouraged youth to be part of the political process? Have you created a poster or other visual item related to youth and voting? Share it with us on Instagram (@sitesexhibitions) or Twitter (@sitesExhibits).
A visual resource from the National Museum of African American History and Culture about the famed 1963 march, with historical images, footage and interpretation of its legacy in today’s society.
This website includes activities to do at home, and functions as a launching point for information about the 1963 March on Washington in the collections of the museum.
As an ‘inside look’ at the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Project has captured the personal histories and testimonials of unsung activists of the 1950s and 1960s. This collection makes the stories from many of the previously unknown individuals who made valuable contributions to the civil rights movement available to the public.
These members of the freedom movement were committed to eliminating racial segregation and inequality in the United States, sometimes at a great cost to themselves, their families, and their community.
This collection on Smithsonian’s Learning Lab highlights documents, images, objects, and media from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and other Smithsonian units that help to tell the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final years, his assassination, and his enduring legacy. This collection is designed for students in grades 9 to 12 to complete independently, and students in grades 4 to 8 to complete with the guidance of an educator.
Throughout American history, voting rights have expanded, contracted, and expanded again as Americans dealt with shifting issues of politics, race, class, and wealth. This collection on the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab includes objects and resources from the National Museum of American History related to the founding of the American system of democracy and those who have and have not been eligible to vote at various points of this nation’s history.
In this podcast, Freedom Summer veteran Courtland Cox discusses his work in the civil rights movement and the relationship between the work of Freedom Summer and voter registration requirements and emphasizes that the challenge of this generation of young people will be the fight for equal access to quality education.
This episode includes a downloadable teacher’s guide.
In this podcast episode, Joy Lyman, a former National Museum of the American History Freedom School intern, hosts this special episode of History Explorer on civil rights activist where she presents the story of Zoharah Simmons, about her experiences in the 1964 Freedom Summer project.
The resource includes a student worksheet and teacher guide.
An interdisciplinary resource for K-12 teachers and students to discover the history, influence and Legacy of the civil rights movement through art from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Museum of African American History and Culture.
This virtual image gallery and classroom resource related to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition The Struggle for Justice is a good starting point for learning about the specific individuals who were active in the fight for civil rights over the past two and a half centuries.
The individuals represented here are just a few of the countless citizens who have worked to advance the status of women; racial and ethnic minorities; LGBTQ+ individuals; and persons with physical and intellectual differences.
This 7-minute video encourages Americans to think about the role that they can play in democracy. The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program interviewed people across the country to hear their thoughts on voting and community participation. Interviewees shared with us why they vote, what the right to vote means to them, and talked about issues that motivate them. What issues and debates in your community inspire participation and engagement?
This 6-minute video is designed to help frame thoughts around voting rights through excerpts of multiple interviews conducted on the topic by Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street and poses questions such as:
Have national symbols or myths in American history helped shape an identity for some, but alienated others in this diverse country? How have these questions impacted your community? How do we bring healing and conversation?
The Smithsonian Learning Lab collection Designing a Better Voting Machine: 1880s to Today examines voting machines used in U.S. elections over more than a century. Looking closely and understanding the historical objects’ design evolution will inform students about the design of new machines, intended to overcome barriers to voting in today’s elections.
Students will explore various voting machines from the 1800s to the early 2000s, from their parts and purposes to their complexities. After reading the Washington Post article “Broken machines, rejected ballots and long lines: voting problems emerge as Americans go to the polls,” students will design (and may prototype) a voting machine.
Vote: The Machinery of Democracy is an online exhibition that looks at the history of voting methods in the United States, which are as varied as the individual states and their local election districts.
The exhibition from the National Museum of American History explores how ballots and voting systems have evolved over the years as a response to political, social, and technological change, transforming the ways in which Americans vote.
Download this document to explore how Americans elect the President with these activities from the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. Developed for grades 4-9.
This printed cotton calico featuring the slogan “The Constitution Must Be Preserved” was produced for the presidential campaign of Tennessee senator John Bell, the Constitutional Union Party’s candidate in the contentious election of 1860.
As soon as the returns were in, the burdens of the presidency weighed upon Abraham Lincoln.
The article from Smithsonian Magazine examines the election day of 1860 and the relatively silent “campaign” from the presidential candidates in the preceding months. This silence was in accordance with prevailing political tradition.
In earlier elections, nominees who defied custom by speaking out appeared desperate and invariably lost.
This blog from the National Museum of American History explores the 1864 election through the satirical cartoons of the museum’s Harry T. Peters “America on Stone” Collection.
Political prints and comics experienced a golden age in the late 19th century, during the era of the famed pens of Thomas Nast of Harpers Weekly and Joseph Keppler of Puck. Known for their symbolism, exaggerated caricatures, and satirical commentary, historical prints can provide the modern American with a rich glimpse into the nation’s polarized past.
Concerns over whether votes are being accurately recorded are not new. The results of the 1876 presidential election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford Hayes were close enough to require recounts of ballots in Louisiana. President Ulysses S. Grant sent this telegram requesting observers to monitor the recount to prevent the election being “stolen” by the Democrats.
This fascinating Smithsonian Magazine article takes a look at America’s first president who created the tradition of giving an inaugural address and swearing the oath of office on a Bible.
This online exhibition examines the history, impact, and importance of the most powerful job in the world—through an interactive timeline of presidents, hands-on activities, reference resources, teacher materials, and more. Explore the personal, public, ceremonial, and executive actions of the 44 men who have had a huge impact on the course of history in the past 200 years.
What does “electability” mean for an American president? What makes someone look presidential, and how does the presidency change the look of the president? This blog post considers the life, presidency, and changing appearance of Abraham Lincoln.
A free digital poster exhibition, The Mask of Lincoln, is available for download on the SITES portal. Drawn from the National Portrait Gallery’s unrivaled collection of Lincoln portraits, it charts Lincoln’s passage from a fresh-faced Illinois congressman to a troubled visage as he led the fight for the Union, culminating in his grizzled isolation as president.
For decades, The First Ladies has been one of the most popular exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution. It is beloved by visitors who come to admire the famous collection of gowns and to learn about the contributions made by the women who wore them.