Hotels in the Nineteenth Century: Place-based Primary Sources

Hotel Advertising Cards, late 1800s, place-based primary sources

Your local library, historical society, or university archives is a treasure trove of primary sources from your community – letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, local publications, and all sorts of other ephemera. In most cases, these local institutions are thrilled to work with teachers developing place-based lessons. The staff will know about local history and have primary sources that you didn’t even know existed.
These hotel advertising cards, all from the late 1800s, are from a scrapbook in Eastern Kentucky University’s Archives. The scrapbook was created by French Tipton (1848 – 1900), a Richmond, Kentucky editor, lawyer, judge, IRS Revenue Agent, and journalist. These hotels existed in an era when railroads were the primary form of transportation for long distance travel. Hotels were located close to the railroad depot, instead of the interstate highway exit.
Teachers can create place-based education mysteries for students to solve. Do these businesses still exist? If not, are the buildings still there? If so, how have they been re-purposed? What changes in American vacationing, travel, and transportation caused them to close? Be sure to connect these wider trends to the present – why do businesses, like hotels, close in the 21st century?

Sanborn maps are valuable resources for locating old business in your town. These maps were created to assess fire insurance liability in towns and cities in the United States from 1867 to 2007. When you visit your local library, historical society, or university archives, ask for the historic Sanborn maps for your town. Many are also available on the internet.

Advertising Ephemera: Primary Sources for the Classroom


1929 Advertising as a primary source
Letter from the Natural Body Brace Company, 1929

What are ephemera?  Ephemera are everyday documents that are usually discarded – tickets, calendars, advertisements, cards, etc. Ephemera are excellent primary sources for the classroom! These items can help tell the story of an individual or a family. These primary sources also tell a larger story about the history of hobbies, leisure, advertising, or about changes in technology and communications. Below are a couple of examples from my collection. This letter and brochure were use for direct mail marketing in 1929. I also have the original envelope with stamps and postmark.

Ephemera as a Classroom Primary Source

How can these throwaway items from the past be used in the classroom? Students could compare and contrast how items were advertised and marketed in the 1920s and today (changes in technology) and analyze the claims made by advertisers about their products (techniques of marketing and persuasion). Note that addresses in the 1920s were much simpler – students can research the history of the postal service in the United States and when and how zip codes were introduced, and how electronic communications are changing the way we live today.

Start your ephemera primary source collection today!
For more about ephemera – see the following:
The Ephemera Society of America
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera at the Library of Congress


Telephone Etiquette in the 1950s

"The Telephone and How We Use it" booklet. c. 1950s; etiquette, manners
“The Telephone and How We Use it” booklet. c. 1950s

New technology calls for new etiquette. What are the rules of etiquette for texting? for Twitter? for other types of social media? Why do good manners in communication even matter? Ask your students to explore these questions and make comparisons to “old” manners and technology from the past.

Telephone Etiquette of the 1950s

This 24-page booklet, published by the Bell Telephone Service in the 1950s, was distributed to teach children how to use the telephone and the correct manners for telephone conversations. Suggested activities are even included in the back. The rotary phone is obsolete, but have telephone manners (p. 16) also changed? If so, what are the expectations for polite smart phone use?

Teaching Manners in the 21st Century

Ask students to consider why a society should or shouldn’t have standards for behavior (manners or etiquette). How does one learn manners in the 21st century? Who teaches these lessons in correct behavior – parents? teachers? peers? Should students have more lessons in polite behavior? If so, what behaviors need to be covered? How should adults learn the new behavior for the new technology?
The entire booklet is available here