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Kathryn Pavlou


Main Ideas
The turn-of-the-century Chicago novels discussed in the narrative section of the article have several things in common. Since all are really historical fiction, they show the connection between history and reality, fact and fiction. But there is certainly more to be said in support of the inclusion of this fiction in the history classroom. For some students, this fiction will provide a more palatable introduction to the study of the era than would the average history text. Beyond an examination of the facts inherent in these novels, the literature offers us a look at the way people saw themselves, the way they wanted to be or be seen, and a vehicle for pointing out the accomplishments and problems of the time period: an indication of those things in which the era took pride and those it saw as undesirable—both in individuals as well as in their social/economic/governmental structure.

One area that excited a great deal of pride for many turn-of-the-century Chicagoans, yet created significant hardships as well, was that of Chicago's growing industrialization and the urbanization. Urbanization certainly aided


My City Chicago

industrialization and allowed many to reap some of its benefits, but it took its toll on much of the population. Novels such as The Jungle dealt with those hardships and made clear the price many an individual had to pay for "progress."

Connection with the Curriculum
These turn-of-the-century novels can be used to show the importance of geographical and historical data in the creation of historical fiction. Additionally, they can be seen as a reflection of the feelings, both positive and negative, about the events, people, and culture of the time period.

Teaching Level
Grades 9-12

Materials for Each Student

• Paper
• Poster board
• Pictures of Chicago landmarks
• Copy of Carl Sandburg's poem "Chicago"
• Timeline with major events in Chicago (and those which affected Chicago life) around the turn of the century
• Additional optional materials

Objectives for Each Student
• Identify the Chicago turn-of-the-century fiction presented here as historical fiction, that is, fiction that incorporates factual information—places, people, events, etc.

• Identify/recognize fiction as a vehicle to understanding the tenor of the time period and the character of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Chicago, both its accomplishments and failings.

• Identify and describe significant Chicago sites and landmarks, their specific locations, and relevant historical details.

• Explain how artifacts and personal items can help show character and provide information about the time period.

• Identify significant events and practices of this time period. Judge their fairness and equity.

• Identify and describe the diversity of the city as reflected in the literary characters.


Opening the Lesson
Read to students Sandburg's poem "Chicago." Have them point out historical details found in the poem. Then discuss the characteristics of Chicago as Sandburg saw them, both the positive and negative aspects.

Ask them to consider what it would be like to be one of the "lured" farm boys or the victim of the "freed" criminal. Consider who would be proud to call this Chicago "my city."

If time and resources permit, two field trip stops can give students a more hands-on, multi-sensory introduction to an understanding of the city at this time. At Hull House, students will find an exhibit of city maps highlighting Chicago neighborhoods and their history. The Chicago Historical Society has various permanent and temporary exhibits that may prove helpful and inspiring; additionally, the Chicago Historical Society can provide access to its special functions for students.

Developing the Lesson
• Discuss and list the major events in Chicago at this time. Speculate what impact these occurrences might have had on Chicagoans.

• Obtain a large map of Chicago streets to help students see and understand the layout of the city and the relative locations of important sites.

• Guide students to sources where they may find photos or sketches of Chicago architectural landmarks of the time period.

• Help them find additional materials such as music, newspapers, etc.

• Direct them to passages in the novels where they might find information relevant to the activities.

Concluding the Lesson
• Have students evaluate their own and others' performances/presentations, highlighting not only positive aspects, but giving suggestions for improvement as well.

• Have students in a discussion and/or written assignment justify the inclusion of fiction in a history classroom.

• Have students in a discussion and/or essay address how gender, class, race, etc., influenced life experiences of Chicagoans at this time.

Extending the Lesson
• As students begin to study other time periods, they might wish to find additional novels that incorporate historical detail and give indications of the social/economic/moral nature of era. Students might design additional activities/presentations about these novels to share with the class.

Assessing the Lesson
Teachers can assess learning through the quality of the presentations, class discussions, and written activities.


Activity 1
The Group Protest Rally:
Assignment Handout for the Project

Can Can Girl

Many novels of turn-of-the-century Chicago life concern directly or indirectly the problems associated with living in the city. Often social injustices made life difficult for the impoverished, average, or even relatively well-off individual. Select a situation in any one of the novels where you see social injustice, for example, unsafe or unfair working conditions, too low pay, etc. Then, working within a group of four to six students, put together a means of altering those conditions or situations:

  1. Create a written explanation of the situation and make a list of the inequities, "outrages to humanity," etc.

  2. Make a list of the demands or actions you want taken to correct the injustices.

  3. Outline your strategies to communicate these inequities and demands to a larger turn-of-the-century audience.

  4. Prepare a presentation or mock protest rally, including all activities/materials you would use to help change the situation. Some means you might consider using include:

    • Music: What songs would you sing or have street musicians play to help inspire and unite your protesters and convey your message to the onlookers?

    • Speakers: Who would you have speak to your fellow protesters and the gathering crowd? What would these people say to inspire, unite, etc.?

    • Signs: Would you use hand-written or printed signs to convey your message? Would people carry the signs as they marched or stood in front of a particular location, or would they be pasted on buildings around the location of the rally or elsewhere?

    • Pre-rally or follow-up measures: What ads in local papers might you place? What letters might you write and to whom? What other means might you employ to help your cause?

    • Logistical concerns: Where would you hold the protest? When would you congregate? Who would you inform of your intent?

  5. Present an explanation of your project to your classmates and stage your mock rally for them.

  6. Have classmates speculate as to the effectiveness your protest. What would have worked for your cause and what might have hindered your efforts?

Chicago Strike of July 1877
Chicago Strike of July 1877


Activity 2

Setting is an important concern in most novels. Turn-of-the-century Chicago novelists, highly aware of the expanding, dynamic, architecturally significant—if sometimes cruel—nature of the city, frequently incorporated actual sites as backdrops or even as major focuses for the action of their works. Such well-known buildings as the Auditorium and Hull House and such areas as the Loop and the Stockyards often appear in literature of this time. To make students more aware of the settings of the Chicago novels, the importance of geographic location, and the integration of historical detail into fiction, use the walking-tour method:

  1. Assign or let students select one of the novels discussed in the article to read on their own.

  2. After reading the novels, make a list of the significant buildings or neighborhoods mentioned in the literature and pinpoint the locations of these on a large map of the city.

  3. On the floor of as large a room as you can procure, create with masking or heavy colored tape a grid of the major streets of Chicago; if this is too cumbersome or space is too limited, mark at least the areas where a majority of the buildings are located.

  4. Have each student select one of the buildings about which he or she would like to become a specialist and begin preparation for the presentation.

  5. Have students re-create or find likenesses of their buildings. Glue these photographs or sketches of the buildings or neighborhoods on to poster board. Or let students get creative with baby brother's Legos. Have students put their buildings in the proper locations on the grid. Students might use easels to hold posters, place them between bricks, or fold them so that they are self-standing.

  6. Have students do research about their individual buildings, considering such questions as

    • When was the building designed and built?

    • Which architect designed the building? Is it typical of his or her designs?

    • What difficulties and considerations in selecting the location and in constructing the building occurred?

    • What was the ethnic/racial/social/economic make-up of the area in which the building was constructed? How did these factors influence the design or construction?

    • What was the intended function? Was it actually used for this?

    • What is the style and architectural significance?

    • What additional interesting information about the building exists?

    • If the student has selected a building from the novel he or she read, have that student tell about the building's use in the novel—its description, importance concerning plot, etc.

  7. Assign students brief presentations/speeches about their buildings.

  8. Take the class on the tour and let your students play tour guides.


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