Aug 25

Newspapers Tell History 8-6

In this lesson students research the South Carolina Newspapers collection to create a timeline of important 20th century events.

Click here to download the full lesson with attached handouts. Newspapers Tell History

Historical Background

“The period after the Civil War was a time of great change in South Carolina and the country. Such periods of change are often looked upon as turning points in the life of the nation. The inventions and scientific advances of the last half of the nineteenth century were turning points. The Spanish-American War was a turning point in American involvement in world affairs. While South Carolina experienced social change with the freeing of the slaves, extensive social change in the state was halted with the passage of Jim Crow laws. In spite of the Jim Crow laws, further changes did come to South Carolina during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The changes were the result of social and political movements in the United States and in South Carolina, a world war, and advances in inventions that made everyday life easier. And yet, though there were many changes between 1900 and 1930, South Carolina remained the same in many ways.”

Horne, Paul A. Jr. South Carolina: The History of an American State, 2nd Ed. Georgia: Clairmont Press, 2006.

South Carolina Standards

8-6: The students will demonstrate an understanding of South Carolina’s development during the early twentieth century.

3-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the major developments in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century.



  • Students will create a timeline of significant events that were important to South Carolina and the nation between 1900 and 1920.
  • Students will research South Carolina newspaper collections.

Time Required                                                                    Recommended Grade Level

1 class periods                                                                        Middle/High

Lesson Materials

  • South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program
  • Index cards
  • “Skimming and Scanning” handout associated with this lesson
  • “Early 20th Century Topics” handout associated with this lesson
  • Computer lab with internet access for students

Lesson Preparation

This lesson is designed as an introduction to the time period.  The goal is for students to develop a general historical perspective for thinking about the time period.  This strategy allows students to create a framework for understanding the early 20th century era in history.  Follow-up lessons are needed to construct examples of major happenings during the period.

  • Visit the South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program site via USC’s Digital Collections Library http://library.sc.edu/digital/newspaper/index.html
    • This page lists the titles of South Carolina newspapers that have been digitized in cooperation with the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project which is currently undergoing an effort to digitize the nation’s newspaper archives.  The active newspaper titles on this page are highlighted in red type. The following newspapers from South Carolina are now available online:
      • The Anderson Intelligencer
      • The Charleston Daily News
      • Columbia Phoenix
      • The Sumter Watchman
      • Click on the “Selected Newspaper Titles for Digitization” link. Then click on The Watchman and Southron link, a newspaper based in Sumter, S.C. A list of calendars will appear.  Click on the live (blue) dates to view newspaper issues.  To search issues from a different year, select a year from the “Issues for” drop down menu near the top. Give yourself time to browse and make yourself familiar with this newspaper collection.
      • Print a copy of the “Skimming and Scanning” handout attached to this lesson.
      • Print a copy of the “Early 20th Century Topics” handout attached to this lesson.

Lesson Procedure

  1. Explain to students that today they will be introduced to 20th century American history.  There are a number of ways to learn about history.  We can learn by using primary or secondary sources. In this lesson you will use primary documents (documents that were created during the time period) in the form of newspapers to create a timeline of significant events that happened in the early 20th century.
  2. Pass out the “Skimming and Scanning” handouts.  Choose one issue of The Watchman and Southron paper to model for the class. Practice skimming for important information then scanning for specific words from the topics list with the class. (Students can also search for specific terms within the issue)
  3. Assign years to students from 1900 to 1920.  Instruct students to skim and scan for important events and topics that happened during their assigned year. Ask them to think about events that would have been major (You may provide them with the list of topics or not. More advanced students may not need a list to guide their search.) Pass out 3 to 5 index cards to each student
  4. Students should find between 3 and 5 events to place on the timeline. For each event they find, students should write a brief summary sentence or phrase explaining the significance of the event. Students should write one date and one event description on each index card using markers and large print.
  5. Allow students 30 to 45 minutes to complete their search.  While you wait, draw a timeline on the board with the years 1900 to 1920 indicated in five year increments.
  6. Reconvene to create a class timeline. Begin by asking what major events happened between 1900 and 1905 according to The Watchman and Southron?
  7. Explain to students that not all of their events can be included on the timeline and as a class they must decide, which events are most important to be displayed. Tell students that they must decide which of their events they would like to display and defend the importance of their event to the class by explaining why it would have been considered “major”.
  8. Work through each five year time frame allowing students to suggest and defend their “major” events in history.  The class should vote to approve or disapprove events that are introduced by their classmates.


Compare the finished timeline product with the topics list provided.  Have students take notes by writing down the events that are in common between the list and the class timeline. Each even that they use for notes should have a date and an explanation.

Lesson Extension Options

  • Have student conduct research (this can be textbook research) to find the causes and effects of each event listed in their notes.
  • Laminate and display the timeline for review.
  • If you have students write the date on one side of the card and the event and explanation on the other, you can have students play a review game at the end of the unit.  Game rules: Tape the cards date side down on the board or wall.  Have students work in groups to place the events in the correct order.  Students may even work individually to place events in the correct order.

Digital Collections Information

This lesson plan is based on images and/or documents derived from the South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program available from the University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections Library.


To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collections.