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Classroom Activities

Activity 1: A Writer's Inspiration

Activity 2:A Report from the 21st Century

Activity 3: Tall Tales and Dark Slides

Activity 4: Powerful Memories, Powerful Words

Activity 5: Scrapbooks: The Collecting of Creative Ideas

Scrapbooks, the Collecting of Creative Ideas

Mr. and Mrs. Clemens in Elmira, NY, 1903.

Samuel and Livy Clemens in Elmira, NY, 1903
Courtesy The Mark Twain House, Hartford

Objective: Students will explain and test the value and use of scrapbooks in writing and historic inquiry.

Activity Description

In this activity, students will gain an appreciation for the value of scrapbooks in Mark Twain’s personal and professional life, noting how portions of his collected memorabilia inspired some of his writing.

In Part A, invite students to identify and discuss scrapbooks’ typical contents and uses. You may want to follow this activity with a brief overview of scrapbook history. Explain that Mark Twain kept scrapbooks that not only informed some of his writing, but also offered descriptive historic presentations of life in the 19th Century.

Divide students into nine groups. Have each group review one chapter of the Interactive Scrapbook. Each entry not only identifies activities specific to Twain’s life, but also highlights broader dates and locations (Hannibal, MO.,1835-1853, Mississippi River, 1857-1860, and Virginia City and the West, 1860-1864) and themes (life on the Mississippi, life as a riverboat pilot, Carnival of Crime in Connecticut, and marriage, relations between the sexes, and domestic life) with relevance in terms of historic inquiry. What 19th Century events and themes can students identify? What does the scrapbook indicate about the life and times during the 19th Century? Do students recognize – and can they describe – the historic value of Twain’s scrapbooks?

In Part B, divide students into groups to create collaborative scrapbooks, which they will then analyze. Challenge students to broadly examine social, cultural, political, geographic and historic and other elements evident in their collective memorabilia to determine how these reflect the time and place in which they live. Students will then have two writing choices, both in Mark Twain fashion: to transform themes and concepts derived from their scrapbook memorabilia into a writing genre of their choice or write a newspaper article, written in the eyes of a 30th Century reporter. Once students begin writing, your students should work in small groups to read and revise their work.

Challenge students to consider how particular Twain writings were inspired either by the entries or the times and places represented. Encourage students to refer to specific Twain writings, such as Roughing It, to determine these linkages.

Extended Activities

1) Invite students to review scrapbooks of people from different generations, such as parents, grandparents, older and younger peers or siblings, teachers, etc. As they did with their scrapbooks, ask students to explore and describe what the contents say about the times in which the scrapbook collectors lived, particularly noting how things have changed over time. To expand this activity, students might opt to review scrapbooks of elders from other countries (now living in the United States), conducting similar analyses regarding time and change, but within the context of the nations in which the collectors lived and from which they migrated.

2) Direct students to locate and list references to geographic locations highlighted in the Interactive Scrapbook. Divide students into groups representing some or all of the selections and instruct them to conduct tourism research on their location. (For example, key landmarks, major attractions, scenery, unusual or important history, special traditions, cultural practices, etc.) Invite each group to write and send post cards to their peers that describe their fictitious visits to its location. Students may want to design original post cards or locate actual site post cards from travel or tourist bureaus.

National Standards

National Council for Social Studies (NCSS)

I. Culture

Middle & High School: Explain and predict how information and experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.

III. People, Places, and Environments

Middle & High School: Elaborate and refine mental maps of locales, regions, and the world that demonstrate understanding of relative location, direction, size, and shape.

IV. Individual Identity and Development

Middle School: Relate personal changes to social, cultural, and historical contexts. Describe personal connections to a place – as associated with community, nation, and world. High School: Articulate personal connections to time, place, and social/cultural systems. Identify, describe, and express appreciation for the influences of various historical and contemporary cultures on an individual’s life.

Related Web Sites

MT’s Most Profitable Book?

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

University Gets Mark Twain Letters

Virginia City: Territorial Enterprise

Mississippi Steamboat Men in Mark Twain’s Writings

The History of Scrapbooking


Student Activity


Clemens holding lighting current, 1894.

Clemens in the laboratory of electrical wizard Nikola Tesla, 1904
Courtesy The Mark Twain House, Hartford

Part A: Mark Twain was an avid keeper of scrapbooks, a hobby he reserved for Sundays. Existing collections of these scrapbooks reflect aspects of his private and professional life. Twain’s appreciation for scrapbooks eventually led to a business venture. In 1872, he patented the self-pasting scrapbook, marketing it as “Mark Twain’s Patent Scrapbook.” Published by Daniel Slote & Co. of New York, it had gummed, perforated pages designed to make scrapbook additions easier, cleaner, and neater to do. By 1901, at least 57 different types of his albums were available. There are those who argue that Twain’s scrapbooks were more lucrative than some of his book sales.

Twain’s scrapbooks hold items that reveal not only much about his life, but also about the times in which he lived. Most entries focus on Twain as a public figure and author: newspaper clippings of articles, book reviews, drawings and cartoons, photos and plates, magazine stories, letters and envelopes, and even checks. Others, maintained by his family who added items added after he died, include entries that discuss his children’s lives, last hours, funeral, will, estate, and bequests. Some entries examine issues of time and place, such as the political history of California and Nevada in the 1860s and 1870s.

With your partners, examine the Interactive Scrapbook entry you have been assigned or selected to review. What does this selection tell you about life in the 19th Century? What historic events does it highlight? What does it tell you about Mark Twain’s life and work?

Part B: It’s not unlikely that you, family members or friends have one or several scrapbooks. Take some time to examine (and enjoy) one or more of these collections. List the items you find, describe what they represent, and note what you can learn from them. Discuss with your classmates your conclusions about the uses and value of scrapbooks.

With your peers, create a unique scrapbook, much in the way Mark Twain did, adding to it memorabilia that best reflect your lives. You may focus on a specific location, like the place where you live, or on a theme, maybe being a teen in the 21st Century.

Some existing collections of Twain’s scrapbooks contain unique items, such as the writer’s only surviving clippings of letters and stories published in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in the 1860s. Others hold his stories published in periodicals like Harper’s, The Jolly Joker, and the Funniest of Phun. Twain used portions of these entries to later write some of his book collections. For example, Roughing It, Twain’s 1872 book about going to Nevada, likely has a strong basis in articles he wrote about the state and its political history.

Using the scrapbooks you and your peers have created, select an outstanding theme, place, event, etc., that inspires your creative thoughts. Begin to script a piece of writing, such as a short story, essay, speech, poem, critical analysis, or book chapter. Write notes in a journal, and be sure to jot down inspirational events, catchy phrases, and the characteristics of unusual people.

Or, in the role of a 30th Century historian, who discovers this unique scrapbook collection, write an original newspaper article, that showcases your “terrific” findings. Highlight what the scrapbooks reveal about the times, events, places, and individuals of the period in which they were assembled. Perhaps, in Twain fashion, you can write in a humorous tone. Make sure to build on all the relevant details found in the scrapbook entries you have chosen, and research what you need to know, especially if you are discussing a specific event or place.

Refer to your notes and research to write your piece. Work with your peers in writing groups to rethink and revise your work. After you have completed your piece, read it to the class and ask them to figure out which scrapbook entries you used as a backdrop for your writing.

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