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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Populist Movement

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Populist Movement, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Based on a close examination of the campaign button, campaign ribbon, and Watson photograph, explain how the Populist party appealed to voters.
  2. What were some personal characteristics of Populists like Jim Weaver (as explained in the biography)? How did those characteristics cater to the Populists voters?
  3. In the NC Congress speech, Isaac Smith, an African American Republican congressman, responded to C.H. Johnson, a white Populist congressman, by criticizing the Populist party for exploiting black voters. Why would the Populist party attract black voters?
  4. In the last paragraph of the broadside, the writer encourages farmers to mobilize for action. What are his main arguments and how do they reflect the Populist party? Provide a contemporary example of the “little man” against the “giant corporation.”

Classroom activities

  1. Ask students to create a Populist song in the mold of the anti-saloon song from the songbook, taking into account all of the arguments of the Populist party from the sources in this set.
  2. Ask students to compare and contrast the Populist party and the contemporary Tea Party or Green Party, writing a two-to-three-page argumentative essay explaining how and why there are similarities and differences between the parties.

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