Curricula Developed for RBML

Did Carl Sandburg Think Like a Historian when writing Abraham Lincoln: The War Years?


Christine Adrian/Amos Lee for AHTC, June 2010


Carl Sandburg's Lincoln is one of most beloved writings on Lincoln, and in its time, one of the most respected sources on Lincoln history. Modern historians now question the legitimacy of the text, whether it is properly researched, documented, or even based in complete fact. Many now see the full volume set as more a commentary on the time Sandburg wrote this in (between the two World Wars) than a reliable history on Lincoln himself. This collection of lessons explores the idea that what is "history" and who is a "historian" is debatable. Based on the Thinking Like a Historian Framework from the book Thinking Like a Historian, by Bobbie Malone, PhD and Nikki Mandel, Phd. in conjunction with The Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Historical Society Press, teachers and students can learn about what it means to be a historian, what the historical thinking process looks like and question whether Carl Sandburg was truly "thinking like a historian".

Essential questions/enduring understandings:


The teacher should utilize The Thinking Like a Historian Rubric with these lessons. The lessons are designed to be able to stand alone or as a cohesive unit. It has been left up to the teacher how to address a final project; the authors strongly suggest using the unit title question to drive the final project and The Thinking Like a Historian Rubric to grade this project.

Setting the Purpose:

Students will understand what it means to be a historian and how historians think by analyzing Carl Sandburg and his work in researching Abraham Lincoln for his collected works in order to determine whether he was thinking like a historian when writing about Lincoln and interpreting what the many purposes in writing history (and about history) are.

Grade Levels:




The lessons in this unit can be used in isolation or as a unit to explore the Thinking Like a Historian Model, using the TLH framework.
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Cause and Effect:

Lesson 1:Who is Carl Sandburg and how did Lincoln affect his personal timeline?

Change and Continuity:

Lesson 2:Lincoln, Sandburg, Obama and the American Spirit: How Can Things Change and Stay the Same at One Time?

Turning Points:

Lesson 3: What Was Happening in the World When Sandburg Was Doing Research for The War Years?

Using the Past:

Lesson 4: How Studying Editorials and Lampoons Helps to Understand Our History and Current Events.

Through Their Eyes:

Lesson 5: Why do Historians Collect First Hand Accounts and Letters?

Analysis of local primary sources:

The primary source resources used in this unit come from the Carl Sandburg Collection at The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign library. The authors would like to thank the University of Illinois and the estate of Carl Sandburg for their generosity in offering up these collections for teacher use in the classroom.

Ties to National primary source or sources:

All of the local primary sources utilized in this lesson have both local and national significance as both Lincoln and Sandburg are national figures.