Deborah Aufdenspring and Sandra Mings-Lamar
New Technology High School Napa, California

Haiku about American History

Integrating U. S. History with Educational Technology
Deborah T. Aufdenspring
New Technology High School
Napa, California

(This is the haiku assignment page. Click here for student haiku about the 1920's.)

The Story Behind This Assignment

Combining haiku and U. S. history may seem pretty wierd. Actually there are good reasons to do it. Historical haiku are fun, they teach you about a form of poetry, and about at least one historical theme or topic. If you can distill an historical event into 17 syllables that evoke the essence of that event, or highlight someone's experience of that event, you've probably mastered knowledge of the event. With the multimedia potentials of the Web, you should be able to find out what you need to know to turn out a decent haiku.

We first came up with this idea after reading about a web page that attempts to summarize the daily news in Haiku, a Japanese poetry format. Directly below is a picture of that page's headline.

Until the page seemingly stopped daily publication, the page's author summed up the day's news in either his own haiku, or in haiku submitted by readers. The haiku were broken into news categories: national, international, sports, etc. Directly below is an example of the lead page of 12/9/96.

Do you know to what the haiku above are referring? Here are some more from that date:

When we were looking at these contemporary haiku, we saw one that made us wonder if this couldn't be done for historical events also. The highly partisan haiku below was triggered by someone's recent death, but you need to know recent history to understand the events implied, and why the particular metaphor was used.

That got us to thinking and we started writing some haiku about earlier history. Taking advantage of a costumed Victorian Christmas dinner the Aufdenspring's were going to, we videotaped the haiku in (somewhat) vintage costume. Since you've seen the tape in class, here is the text of those haiku (with photos) to use as examples.

Haiku about History Examples

(from the videotape shown in class)


Cross the sea of grass,
or take sail around the Horn.
Golden dilemma.
Click for 49'er reading. (196K download) clickme4.wav


Gettysberg. The fields
lie strewn with the silent dead.
Mr. Lincoln speaks.
Click for Gettysburg reading. (204K download)

John D.

Black gold in the ground;
John D. prowling on Wall Street;
Competition dies.
Click for John D. reading. (272K download)



Traditional English language haiku are supposed to follow a few rules:
3-short lines
1-season word
1-cutting word
no rhyme or metaphor
(17 syllables, 5-7-5)

For our historical haiku, though, we'll use fewer rules:
3-short lines
no rhyme
(17 syllables, 5-7-5)

You can learn about how to do haiku by going to the learning sites below. When you're done with that, you can see what other people have done with non-traditional haiku by looking at the journalistic/historical/editorial sites that follow.

Learning about haiku

Haiku for People
A great site for learning about haiku and how to write haiku - a good basic page. Besides descriptions and instructions, it has a full library of traditional haiku. This is a National Library of Poetry Top Site.

Introduction to International Haiku

Another beginner's site with helpful rules. A little more traditional than the previous site.

A Haiku Homepage

A nice site that has translated classical Japanese Haiku and an explanation of the haiku form. It also has many links to other Haiku pages, and a form to submit your own haiku for publication on this page.

Articles (and rules) on Haiku

A more difficult site with articles about haiku and its changing forms in the English language.

Journalistic/historical/editorial haiku

News of the Day
The site that sort of inspired this lesson. Daily news headlines are done in a haiku form.

Haiku Headlines of the Day
"All the news that's fit to print in 17 syllables and three lines."

Editorial Haiku Page

The page author (and other submitters) take on issues of the day. He suggests calling his editorial haiku "edkus".

The Assignment

1. Do background reading in your text on the 1920's.

2. Define the important people, events and concepts, citing 5 important things about each person/event/concept. Divide the terms among your group members, teaching each other what is important about each term.

3. Look for human interest, irony, motivations and causes/consequences associated with each person/event/concept.
-----These are things that take history beyond FACTOIDS to make a STORY.
-----These are the things that can make history poetic.

4. Each group will collaborate to write haiku about an historical event. Each group will perform the haiku and explain the historical significance of the event. You should also explain why you chose the details you chose to include in your poem.

5. Each individual will write a haiku on an event different from the one the group she or he worked in wrote about.

6. Individual and group haikus will be collected in both digital and hardcopy documents that poetically tell the story of the 1920's.

Themes and Topics for Your Haiku

Since we're studying the 1920's, we offer the following themes and topics for your haiku. You are not limited to them, but you are limited to the period from the end of WWI to 1930. We have included some sample pages for the first few topics, as well as (for review) the search pattern we used to find the pages. These are examples. Run your own search to find the basic information from which you can construct your haiku. (Some links to search engines are included below after the themes and topics. In addition to text search, we have included an image search engine link.)

Palmer Raids
Between the Wars: The Palmer Raids (from Who Built America, Volume 2)
A description of the Palmer raids from as an yet unpublished sequel to the Voyager CD-ROM we've used in class. Found by searching "Palmer Raids" (in quotes) on HotBot. Returned 106 matches, this was #2.

Necessary Illusions: The Red Scare
A page about Palmer and the raids that is footnoted, hence probably more reliable than some.
Found by searching "Palmer Raids" (in quotes) on HotBot. Returned 106 matches, this was #15. Most of the intervening matches (between 2 and 15) were pages by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU pages have good and valid information, and you can use them if you wish. We mention them because they are an example of information on the web posted by a special interest group, and such information must be read with care.

Marcus Garvey
Poetry of Marcus Garvey
Garvey didn't appear to write haiku, but he did write a lot of poetry.
HotBot returned too many links. Rather than refine the search, we switched to Inference which groups returns into categories. We searched Marcus Garvey (no quotes). The engine returned the poetry page as one of three returns under the heading of "Boomshaka Site". Boomshaka turns out to be a reggae band from Los Angeles that has collected all of Garvey's poetry. Cool.

Marcus Garvey Film Clip
This black history site contains a brief description of Garvey's life and a playable film clip of Garvey. The film clip is not playable on our classroom machines as we don't have the right browser plug-in yet.
Found by searching Marcus Garvey (no quotes) on HotBot. Returned 2,707 matches. We would have refined the search, but this site popped out as #1 and since it was a film clip, we wanted to look at it. Haiku from images would be great, too.

Augustus Cesar Sandino
Biographic Notes (on Sandino) Note: Dead Link. Merged into next site below.
A listing, by year, of significant events in Sandino's life.
Found by using Inference. We used that engine because it would return links by categories and we were looking for pages that were on university sites, on the assumption (not always true) that university based pages would be less biased about historical political figures. The University of Calgary in Canada has a lot on Sandino.

The Augusto "César" Sandino Web Site
Another University of Calagary site, this extensive site is in both Spanish and English.
Found by searching Sandino on Alta Vista. This was return #2. The title indicated extensive information and the description of the page was in Spanish (possible original source material).

Women's Rights
The Fight for Ratification
A short PBS page that tells of the last desperate days of trying to ratify the 19th Amendment.
Found by using HotBot to search for women's rights (no quotes) with a must have modifier of roaring (for "roaring twenties"). There were 6,183 returns. Picking "U.S., 1865-1930" (return #15) led to "Suffrage History" which led to "The Fight for Ratification."

Flapper Culture and Style
A great page about those women of the 1920's known as "flappers."
Found by searching flapper (no quotes) on Inference. Should have been more specific as the majority of returns had to do with toilet parts. A flapper is also a part of your toilet. However, this site showed up in the middle of the toilet list, and since it was hard to conceive of a toilet part having culture and style, we looked at it. Lucked out.

This is the end of search examples for themes and topics for the 1920's haikus. The other themes and topics are listed below.

Sacco and Vanzetti


Steelworkers' Strike, 1919

Kellog-Briand Pact

1917 Race Riots

Calvin Coolidge

Harding's/Coolidge's Policies towards Business


Carrie Chapman Catt


African-American Migration to North

Teapot Dome Scandal

Republican Foreign Policy


Mitchell Palmer

Decline of Progressivism

The Dawes Plan

Search Engines

With the exception of the image search engine, the engines linked below are the same ones that we used with the music video project. If you favor another engine, please feel free to use it.

If you use the image search, and then choose to write a haiku about that image, include a seperate description of the image and/or a copy of the image.

Text Engines

Alta Vista
- We've been using this since it debuted. It takes some thought, though, to phrase your search in such a way as to not get 100,000 finds.

- Newer, larger and faster (or so they claim) than AltaVista, with a lot of the same virtues and faults. We're using it more and more.

- A brand new parallel engine that uses a number of other search engines for you at the same time. Unlike other parallel engines, it collates all of the finds and throws out the duplicates. It also groups the finds by the type of server (commercial, educational, etc.) and geographic location (Europe, North America, California, etc.) This is helpful, and we expect to use it a lot, but we don't think it is doing as extensive a search as HotBot and Alta Vista.

Specialized Engines search particular subjects or data banks. There are hundreds of them. Below are links to libraries of specialized engines, and a few particularly useful ones:

Beaucoup - This page has categorized links to hundreds of search engines, specialized and general. It also offers foreign language translations, including Espanol, of the major engines.

Sistemas de Busqueda - Netscape offers a wide selection of search methods in Espanol (Spanish).

Library of Congress - Searches all Library of Congress web pages and gopher menus.

Search an outline of American History
- Searches an outline of U.S. history (from the Revolution to Reconstruction and beyond) for keywords.

Handy Tools
Acronyms and Abbreviations
- If you run across acronyms (e.g., WPA, CINCPAC, etc.) in your search, here is a handy site that will explain the meaning for you.

Spanish/English, English/Spanish Dictionary
- This is a handy cross-language dictionary if you run across a Spanish or English word you don't understand. This same site also has cross-language dictionaries for Italian and German.

Image Engines

Image Surfer
- Enter your keyword(s) and get back miniature versions of pictures that correlate with your keywords. The engine only finds images that have filenames and whose filenames include your keyword. Click on the miniatures to access the full image on its web page. We didn't have much luck finding any images with this engine that related to the haiku topics, but you might do better.


(This is the haiku assignment page. Click here for student haiku about the 1920's.)

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