When the U.S. and Russia Played Let’s Make a Deal

Alaska Purchase Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

The discussion of recent U.S.-Russia relations is a good opportunity to share the history of relations between the two countries with your students.  A significant event in this history is the Alaska Purchase which occurred 150 years ago when the relationship between the two countries was perhaps more allied than it is now.  Considered a “folly” by some at the time, the acquisition of Alaska added over 586,000 square miles of new land to the growing United States.

Russia had been a player in the Alaskan territory since the mid-1700s.  By the mid-1800s, Russia was having financial difficulties after its defeat in the Crimean War, and the territory had become a burden.  Russia decided to put the unprofitable and indefensible territory on the market.  The United States seemed the only potential buyer.  In March 1867, armed with instructions to accept no less than $5 million for Alaska, the Russian minister to America, Edouard de Stoeckl, was surprised when Secretary of State William Seward came in with just that for a first offer.  By the time negotiations were over, the U.S. offer was up to $7.2 million.  On March 30, 1867, the United States became the proud owner of a seemingly barren land.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Tsar’s Ratification of the Alaska Purchase [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]











Not everyone was as enthusiastic about the deal as William Seward was.  He was a proponent of territorial expansion and could see the potential in Alaska’s natural resources that skeptics who referred to the deal as Seward’s Folly or Seward’s Icebox could not.  The deal, though, was a good one for the U.S. averaging to less than two cents per acre.  It remains the second-largest land deal ever.  In 1880, Seward’s vision would be vindicated when gold was discovered paving the way for population growth, new towns, and statehood.

Your students can learn more about the Alaska Purchase and the major players by starting with eLibrary.  One excellent resource is the book, The Alaska Purchase.  It covers everything from Alaska’s “discovery” by the Russians to its statehood in 1959.  Consider this lesson from the Library of Congress for your students to dig deeper into using primary sources.

Fun Fact:  While you cannot see Russia from Sarah Palin’s home in Wasilla, you can see it from Little Diomede in the Bering Strait.  The island is 2.5 miles from its Russian counterpart Big Diomede.  You can also see Russian mainland from the top of St. Lawrence Island about 37 miles away as well as some Siberian mountains from Cape Prince of Wales, the westernmost point of the American mainland.

eLibrary’s editor‐created Research Topics give content, context and pathways beginning users need to start researching U.S.-Russia relations and other topics.

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A Name You Should Know: Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Most everyone knows Rosa Parks whose courageous action of not giving up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white passenger on December 1, 1955, helped launch the civil rights movement.  Most people do not know Claudette Colvin who also refused to give up her seat on the bus — nine months before Rosa Parks.

On March 2, 1955, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin remained seated when a white passenger boarded the bus and waited for her to move.  She believed it her constitutional right to sit wherever she chose even though Jim Crow laws of the day dictated otherwise.  She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.  Claudette would later say, “I couldn’t get up that day.  History kept me stuck to my seat.  I felt the hand of Harriet Tubman pushing down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth pushing down on the other.”

Claudette Colvin’s arrest provided the spark needed to make a stand and provide a test case to end segregation on city buses.  However, local African-American leadership thought otherwise.  They believed Claudette would be perceived as too militant.  Her image was not the one the movement wanted to cast.  When she became pregnant a few months later, their belief was reinforced.  Instead, Rosa Parks’ similar act of defiance would hasten the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and lay the foundation for the modern civil rights movement.

Not until many years later would Claudette Colvin become more than just a footnote in history.  Her role is not celebrated, but it is nonetheless pivotal.  In a recent honor, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange called her “an early foot soldier in our civil rights.”  Claudette Colvin stands alongside Rosa Parks — two women, two generations — taking a stand and helping to change history.

Happy Birthday, Half-Pint!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Today marks the 150th birthday of one of the most widely read American children’s authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Her autobiographical Little House on the Prairie series based on her childhood, published from 1932 to 1943, remains at the top of many a young child’s reading list today.  In the pantheon of children’s literature, the Little House books are considered classics having sold over 60 million copies.

Laura Ingalls was born in the Big Woods of Wisconsin on February 7, 1867.  She was the second child born to Charles and Caroline Ingalls.  Her books reflect her life during the 1870s through 1880s as part of a pioneer family on the move.  At the urging of her daughter, Rose, Laura wrote nine books chronicling the family’s moves from the Big Woods to Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and finally South Dakota.  Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932 when Laura was 65.

Little House on the Prairie Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

The legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books has been enduring.  In 1954, to honor her enduring contribution to children’s literature, the American Library Association created the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.  Originally awarded every three years to an American author or illustrator, it is now awarded annually to any author or illustrator whose books, like Laura’s, have made a lasting impact in the world of children’s literature.  Perhaps more well known is the Little House on the Prairie television show that ran from 1974-1983.  The show remains popular and  continues in reruns today.

For this writer, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books played an important part of my childhood and my adult life.  I remember receiving the Little House box set for Christmas at age 9 from my grandparents.  What an exciting gift for a young reader!  My sister and I took turns reading the series.  Little House was weekly viewing for my family and remained so for me in my college years.  My roommate and I would set our schedules around Little House reruns.

Take some time to learn more about this influential writer who died at age 90 in 1957.  Read or re-read the Little House books.  See for yourself why the legacy and impact of Laura Ingalls Wilder endures.

Happy Birthday, Stephen Hawking!

Stephen Hawking Research Topic via ProQuest eLibra

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future,” Steve Miller wrote in his 1976 hit, “Fly Like an Eagle.” And so, time has once again quickly slipped into a new year.  Many long to forget 2016 with its spate of notable personality deaths.  Instead of lamenting the year past, let’s begin by wishing an early happy birthday to a man who became a “cultural icon” by writing about the beginning of time and the universe.

This coming Sunday marks the 75th birthday of the one of the most prominent scientists of our time, Stephen Hawking.  Dr. Hawking is well known for in scientific circles as a theoretical physicist and cosmologist which has led to a pop culture following outside that realm.  Dr. Hawking is a favorite scientist of Dr. Sheldon Cooper on TV’s The Big Bang Theory.  An intimate portrait of the man was made into a 2014 movie, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne who won the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Hawking.

Born January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, Hawking knew from a very young age he wanted to study mathematics.  Unable to pursue a degree in mathematics at University College, his father’s alma mater, Stephen studied physics and gained first class honors at graduation. This led to graduate research in cosmology and a PhD in applied maths and theoretical physics at Cambridge.  It was during his studies, at age 22, he was diagnosed with a slow-progressing form of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Despite his physical limitations, Dr. Hawking has not let his disease limit him professionally.  For thirty years, from 1979 to 2009, he served as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position once held by Isaac Newton.

In 1988 Hawking achieved worldwide acclaim with his bestselling book, A Brief History of Time.  He wrote the book to make topics in cosmology like the Big Bang and black holes more understandable and attainable.  Ever the research scientist, Professor Hawking continues to research and lecture on topics related to mathematics, cosmology and theoretical physics.  A current area of interest is the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe.


December 7, 1941: Infamy at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Pearl Harbor Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.”

With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Japan.  Seventy-five years ago tomorrow Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaii Territory.  The surprising assault came in the early hours of a tranquil Sunday morning, and it hastened the United States’ entry into World War II.  Over 2,400 servicemen and civilians lost their lives that day.  For the Greatest Generation, Pearl Harbor was their September 11th.

The attack at Pearl Harbor was a pivotal moment in American history.  Until December 7, 1941, the United States’ policy regarding World War II was one of isolation.  The provocation by the Japanese that day transformed America from the once fourteenth-ranked military power to the world’s leading superpower.  It moved the United States to be more involved on the world stage.

Very few, if any, American military and government leaders thought Pearl Harbor would ever be attacked.  It was believed to be “the strongest fortress in the world” and too far from Japan.  The Philippines was a more likely target.  Two waves of Japanese Zero fighters, more than 350 in total, launched from six aircraft carriers within 300 miles of the Hawaiian islands took aim at Battleship Row and Hickam Airfield where over 300 American warbirds stood tip to tip.  Japan’s goal was to prevent the United States from hindering its military actions in Southeast Asia by neutralizing the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  In just 90 minutes, Japan devastated the American forces at Pearl Harbor.  The attack was a great tactical victory for the Japanese.

The numbers were staggering: 2,403 lives lost, 1,178 wounded, five battleships sunk and almost 200 planes destroyed.  The sight of the sunken USS Arizona remains one of the most iconic images of that day.  To this day, 1,177 men lie at rest in her remains on the harbor floor.

Department of the Navy [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Wreckage of the USS Arizona [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The numbers of World War II veterans dwindle each day and their personal accounts go with them.  To read their stories and learn more about the attack at Pearl Harbor, search eLibrary and its vast resources of timely newspapers, magazine articles and primary source materials.

Related Research Topics

World War II

Japan in World War II

U.S. Navy


1986 World Series: The Curse of the Bambino Continues

Babe Ruth Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Babe Ruth Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Babe Ruth was a baseball icon for the New York Yankees.  But before he was a Yankee, he was a member of the Boston Red Sox.  From 1914-1919, the Babe helped the formidable Red Sox win five of the first fifteen World Series.  During the 1919-1920 off-season, Babe was traded to the rival Yankees.  And so began the “Curse of the Bambino.”  The previously unsuccessful Yankees would go on to win 26 of 39 World Series in which they appeared, while the Red Sox would not see another World Series title until 2004.

Bill Buckner [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Buckner [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The Curse proved alive and well in the 1986 World Series — October 25, 1986 to be exact.  It was game 6, and Boston was one win away from winning the title over the New York Mets.  What happened in that game has been rightly described as a “miracle.”  The Sox had leads of 2-0 and 3-2 into the seventh inning, but the Mets rallied to tie the score going into the bottom of the ninth.  Unable to break the tie, the game went into extra innings.  In the top of the tenth, the Red Sox took the lead once more scoring two more runs.  After two quick outs by the Mets in the bottom of the tenth, the Sox were one out away from the championship.  Twice they were one strike away.  But after a single by Ray Knight scored Gary Carter and a wild pitch allowed another run to score, the Mets had once again rallied to tie the score, 5-5.  Then came the play that changed the game and the Series.  Mookie Wilson hit a slow rolling grounder down the first base line.  Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully made the unforgettable call: “Little roller up along first. Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner! Here comes (Ray) Knight, and the Mets win it!”  First baseman Bill Buckner missed the ball as it rolled between his legs.  The Mets would go on to win Game 7 and the title on October 27.  Bill Buckner would remain a pariah well into the 20th century, and the Red Sox would have to wait another 18 years to be World Series Champions and curse-free.

Thirty years later, Major League Baseball is on the verge of another “cursed” World Series.  The Chicago Cubs have not won the Series since 1908 and the Cleveland Indians since 1948.  Will the “Curse of the Billy Goat” finally end with a Chicago win?  Will Steve Bartman end his reign as baseball’s current persona non grata?  Will the Indians win another professional sports title in 2016 for the city of Cleveland?  Stay tuned.

Happy Birthday, Desmond Tutu!

Desmond Tutu Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Desmond Tutu Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

This Friday marks the 85th birthday of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.  One of the most revered religious leaders and social justice activists in the world, Archbishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership and work in the campaign to eradicate apartheid in South Africa.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp, South Africa.  When he was 12, his family moved to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.  It was an experience there that helped form his future.  While standing on a street corner with his mother, a priest walked by and took off his hat in a show of respect to Tutu’s mother.  This would have been just another encounter except the considerate priest was white — a significant moment for young Desmond in apartheid South Africa where blacks were regarded inferior.  Tutu would later become friends with the priest, Trevor Huddleston.  Huddleston believed in racial equality and became a leading voice in the anti-apartheid movement.  Tutu’s friendship with Huddleston helped grow his Anglican faith and and influenced his decision to become an Anglican priest.

Desmond Tutu wanted to help people, and he became a teacher which is where his passion for social justice first came into play.  After the government changed the curriculum for his black students to lesser than white students and separated the races in all educational facilities (Bantu Education Act of 1953), Tutu and his fellow teachers protested, and he eventually left his position.  In 1976, after becoming the bishop of Lesotho, Tutu gained international recognition for leading peaceful protests of apartheid bringing light to the rights of black South Africans.  For encouraging change and reconciliation between blacks and whites in South Africa, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Known as the “politician-preacherman”, Desmond Tutu has never been one to back away from a cause in which he believes, especially those dealing with human rights.  Despite his retirement in 1996, Archbishop Tutu continues to fight for racial equality around the world.  Other causes he champions are HIV/AIDS awareness and eradication in Africa, poverty and income inequality,  condemnation of anti-gay laws and interfaith dialogue and inclusion.

To learn more about Desmond Tutu and other human rights activists and/or Nobel Peace Prize winners, visit eLibrary.  You will find a wealth of information, both historical and current.


Beryl Markham: Record-Setting British Aviator

Beryl Markham Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Beryl Markham Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Most people know Amelia Earhart as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  But there was another pioneering woman pilot who also recorded a “first” by flying solo across the Atlantic.  Her name is Beryl Markham, and what makes her solo flight a record is that she did it east to west as opposed to Earhart’s west to east.

Beryl Markham was born in British East Africa (Kenya) in October 1902, one year before the Wright Brothers would make their historic flight.  Before embarking on her piloting adventures, she was a racehorse trainer.  It was during that time she also saw her first airplane and met the man who would teach her to fly.  Beryl Markham earned her commercial pilot’s license becoming the first woman in Kenya to do so.

Beryl Markham’s flight is memorable because she flew westward against the prevailing Atlantic winds which was very dangerous. On September 6, 1936, she left Abingdon airfield in her monoplane, the Messenger, with a destination of New York.  The flight was even more treacherous as Markham experienced bad weather and ran out of fuel causing her to bring the plane down in Nova Scotia.  This was well short of her destination, but she suffered only minor injuries and caught a plane to New York where she was warmly welcomed.

Learn more about Beryl Markham and her unconventional (for the time) and extraordinary life in eLibrary.  Also, use eLibrary to discover other pioneering women pilots.  Look for Research Topics on these lesser-known, but no less remarkable aviators: 1) Bessie Coleman, the first licensed pilot of African American descent in the world 2) Amy Johnson, famous British aviatrix who was the first to fly solo from England to Australia and 3) Jackie Cochran, record-setting pilot with over 200 records and director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II.


The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

1936 Summer Olympics Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

For the past two weeks all eyes have been fixed on the 31st Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro‎, Brazil.  More than 11,500 athletes from 207 countries including a Refugee Olympic Team participated in 28 sports earning 306 sets of medals.  The diversity represented and celebrated at these Olympic Games harks back to an Olympiad where similar diversity was not celebrated and was almost stifled.

Eighty years ago in 1936 the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, Germany.  Three years prior the Nazis had taken control of the country under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.   The games had been awarded in 1931 to the democratic Weimar Republic government, and the Nazi government did not want to host them.  Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, persuaded Hitler the games could be exploited to further Nazi ideology in Germany and throughout the world.

The “Nazi Olympics” as the Berlin games came to be known were surrounded by racial and political tensions.  A year before the games the Nuremberg Race Laws had stripped Jews of their German citizenship.  Citizens in the United States and Europe called for a boycott.  Hitler agreed to allow Jewish athletes to participate to appease the International Olympic Committee who threatened to move the games to Rome or Tokyo.  Jewish athletes were indeed allowed to try out, but most were disallowed to compete due to technicalities.  In the end, only one Jewish athlete, fencer Helene Mayer, reluctantly competed for Germany in the 1936 Olympics.  She was tall and blond and declared an “honorary Aryan.”

Jesse Owens Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Jesse Owens Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

One of the stars of the Berlin games was African American track and field athlete, Jesse Owens.  Owens won four gold medals, set world records and gained international fame.  He also challenged the notion of Aryan supremacy.  A story that is often told is that Adolf Hitler was so angered by the success of Jesse Owens that he refused to shake Owens’ hand after his 100-meter victory.  However, this is a myth.  Hitler stopped inviting winners to his personal box fearing some of those winners would be black.  Instead, Owens said the Fuhrer waved to him.  Franklin D. Roosevelt, the American president, never congratulated the gold medal winner.  It was, unfortunately, still a time of racial segregation in the United States.

The Nazi propaganda machine was in full force using the Olympic games to promote “Aryan racial superiority” and physical skill.  In the end, the Nazi campaign was successful despite the accomplishments of Jesse Owens and other African American athletes.  Germany won the most medals with 89, eclipsing the United States which won 56.  The 1936 Olympic Games were the first to be televised.  Foreign visitors who attended the Olympic games came away with a positive impression of Germany and the Nazi regime.  However, these would be the last Olympic games for 12 years as World War II would start three years later with the German invasion of Poland.



Immigration and the Emergency Quota Act of 1921

Emergency Quota Act of 1921 Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Emergency Quota Act of 1921 Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Immigration has been a part of American history … well, since the beginning of American history. America is a nation of immigrants. The Spanish were the first to settle in America with the first permanent European settlement at St. Augustine, Florida. Forty-two years later in 1607, the first English settlement began in Jamestown, Virginia with the first African slaves arriving in 1619. The Dutch, Germans, French and Irish soon followed and since then people from all over the world have immigrated to America.

As the number of immigrants to the United States began to swell year after year calls for restricting the influx came.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first piece of legislation to “narrow the opening through which immigrants came.”  The turning point in immigration restriction occurred in 1921 with the passage of the Emergency Quota Act.  Expected to be a temporary measure, the Act set the quota at 3% annually for new immigrants based on their country’s population in the United States as counted in the 1910 census.  These restrictions became known as the National Origins Formula.  Revisions would take place in 1924 with a drop in quota to 2%.  Quota restrictions based on this formula remained in place for the next 40 years until 1965.  During this time, there was a significant reduction in the number of immigrants to the United States.  In addition, historians believe these restrictions led to the first cases of illegal immigration.

Once again immigration, legal and illegal, quotas and restrictions, is prominent in the American political landscape.  As the 2016 Presidential campaign and election unfolds, use eLibrary to keep up with the latest news regarding immigration policy and candidate stances, and to study the history, impact and legacy of immigration and American immigration policy and legislation.