Writing Freedom

Writing Freedom Summative Project


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Students will analyze advertisements and campaign literature from two presidential campaign years. In the process, they will learn how ads reflect their historical context while also addressing themes and concerns common to most modern presidential campaigns.  Student have the choice to create their own fictious campaign literature, or they may write an argumentative essay reflecting the themes of the American Revolution.


Presidential ads are products of the time periods in which they were made, and they can be  inspired by domestic and world events. Effective campaign ads refer to the events and issues that concern the voting public during an election, but they do so in limited, casual, and fragmentary ways. Because ads are made to persuade voters, they usually focus on just a few major issues-those each campaign believes will be most important to voters. At the same time that ads address these specific issues, they make more general arguments about the candidates’ personalities and leadership qualities.

Campaign ads are historical artifacts. In some instances, students would need to do additional historical research in order to understand an ad’s content and the historical information it conveys. In other instances, an ad’s meaning is not historically specific. Whether ads address timely issues or more general themes, they can help teach us what mattered to voters in a given campaign. As such, they are valuable primary sources.

Part 1

Students will be looking at ads from the 1952 election- the first election that featured televised advertisements.

Background: In 1952, the Eisenhower campaign identified three key issues to focus on in its commercials: the Korean War, corruption in government, and the high cost of living. Though these issues were specific to 1952, many subsequent campaigns would take a similar approach, focusing on a handful of important issues related to foreign policy (like the Eisenhower campaign’s use of the Korean War), the need for change in government (corruption), and the economy (high prices) in their advertisements. Since the Eisenhower ads have a direct style, students should be able to easily identify these central campaign issues. However, students may also observe that like most campaign ads, neither Eisenhower’s nor Stevenson’s ads provide detailed information on the candidate’s policy proposals.

View the following four ads:

As the ads are playing, students should take notes on the issues raised.

Questions for consideration (Virtual students do not have to answer separately or specifically, but they will help in your thinking about your final products):

  • Based on these four ads, what issues do you think were most important to voters in 1952? How do you know?
  • How much information do you get about each of these issues? Is it a lot or a little?
  • What is each candidate’s position on these issues? Do you know? What do you learn from the ads?
  • If you were a voter, would these ads give you enough information to decide which candidate to vote for? Why or why not?
  • What historical sources could we consult to get more information about this election?

Part 2

Consider ads from the 1988 Presidential campaign.

Background: In early 1988, the biggest concerns of the campaigns included the October 1987 stock-market collapse; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which U.S. government officials illegally routed profits from arms sales to Iran to a military group in Nicaragua called the Contras; and the apparent thawing of the Cold War as the Soviet Union announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. Like the 1952 campaign, the 1988 campaign touched upon the economy, corruption and the need for change in government, and foreign policy. Unlike the 1952 ads, however, the 1988 ads make little mention of these central campaign issues. Instead, the ads focused on the character, track record, and leadership qualities of the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and the Republican nominee, then Vice-President George H. W. Bush (NOT to be confused with his son George W. Bush who served 2000-2008).

Republican VP Bush was not very popular within his own party, and Dukakis initially showed a strong lead over Bush. In his ads, Bush portrayed Dukakis as an ineffective liberal, weak on defense and soft on crime. Although the ads addressed few pressing policy issues, they contributed greatly toward shifting the perceptions which led to Bush’s ultimate victory. Since these ads give less information about events and issues than the 1952 ads, students will probably need less context to understand their content. Yet these ads are valuable primary sources for studying the 1988 presidential election, since they dramatically influenced its outcome. They are also useful for understanding how some campaign ads make only limited reference to specific events and issues, but instead address common themes of character, leadership, and experience.Next, do some preliminary research on the 1988 election.

Questions for consideration:

  • Who were the major parties’ candidates?
  • What were the most important issues in this election?
  • What were the candidates’ positions on these issues?

View the following four ads from 1988

As the ads are playing, students should take notes on the issues that are raised. Questions for consideration:

  • Based on these ads, what issues would you say were most important to voters? Why?
  • How much information do you get about these issues? Is it a lot or a little?
  • Did the ads mention or depict the issues you read about while doing your research? If not, what did they leave out? What did the ads focus on instead?
  • Imagine that you were a voter in 1988. Do these ads give you enough information to choose which candidate to vote for? Why or why not? What other information would you like to have had?
  • Did these ads give you more or less historical information than the 1952 ads?

Part 3

  1. Do primary research about this election year, locating newspaper articles, news broadcasts, books, and popular songs from the era and compare the information they get from each source with the information presented in the campaign ads.
  2. Consider how news outlets such as The New York Times or television networks reported on a historic campaign or on campaign ads when they appeared. Do the ads drive the coverage of issues?
  3. After completing the above research activities, write and storyboard your own political ad for an historic election year using the information you found through your research.
  4. Reflect on the role of debates in the context of the current election.
  5. Consider:Demeanor – The way someone looks and acts, outward appearance or behavior Domestic policy – Laws and decisions related to what happens within a country and its economy

Foreign policy – Laws and decisions related to other countries, like defense



Campaign ads reflect the concerns voters have, and they can also greatly influence the outcome of an election. They do so by addressing important political issues, while also presenting a picture of each candidate’s personality, experience, and leadership abilities. After completing the above activities, students will make up a fictional candidate and share their candidate’s beliefs with the class through creating their own VIDEO campaign ad in which they promote their candidates through a :30-:60 second commercial.  Students may choose to work with ONE other student (NO more than 2 people in a group – don’t even ask if there can be more).

OR students may create a :30-:60 second radio commercial AND do a one page mailer.

OR students may write an 800-1200 word essay based on these instructions ON THEIR OWN (no partners, and you don’t HAVE to submit to the contest, but I think you should).  OR prepare, deliver, and record a 5:00-6:00 minutes speech.

The Sons of the American Revolution High School Essay and High School Orationcontests.  The High School essay must be an 800 to 1,200 word essay based on an event, person, philosophy or ideal associated with the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, or the framing of the United States Constitution. The High School oration must be a five to six minute speech which shall deal with an event, a personality, or a document pertaining to the Revolutionary War, showing the relationship it bears to America today.  High School essay awards are from $1,000 to $5,000; and the High School oration awards are from $200 to $6,000.


Submit these first to Dr. Hyatt via the itslearning DropBox, and then he will select the best to submit to the SAR.


Any all projects are Due by 4:00 Nov 6:00.


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