Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Propaganda and the Sinking of the Lusitania
Crista Burnett
American, World History
Time Frame:
Two 45 Minute Class Periods
World War I
World War I

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

A Cooperative Learning Activity- Analyzing Primary Resources in small groups


It is important for students to learn the reasons for the US entering WWI, as well as being exposed to WWI propganda which can be related to wartime propaganda in general 

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

KANSAS STANDARDS (High School-US History)

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

6. (A) analyzes the reasons for and impact of the United States’ entrance into World War I.

7. (A) analyzes how the home front was influenced by United States involvement in World War I (e.g., Food Administration, Espionage Act, Red Scare, influenza, Creel Committee).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Chapter 5 “The Lusitania” from H. C. Peterson’s Propaganda for War: The Campaigns against American Neutrality, 1914-1917.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
Technology Required:

Computer and Internet Access

Full description of activity or assignment.

1.   Introduce the concept of German submarine warfare as a cause of US entry into WWI.

2.    Hand out or read to students the warning issued by Germany which appeared in New York papers, next to the Cunard departure schedule on the morning the ship set sail (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/eyewitness/flash.php?section=18).

Notice!  Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk. --Imperial German Embassy

3.    Students will read/watch Robert Ballard’s National Geographic “The Last Voyage of the Lusitania.”   

4.   Primary Source Activity:  Looking at Propaganda

  • Place several primary sources related to the Lusitania around the room.  Divide students into small groups.  Students will rotate every 15 minutes examining each source and completing several analysis sheets. (http://www.trumanlibrary.org/psource.htm)
  • Source 1:  Fred Spear “Enlist” World War I Poster (depicting woman and child drowning) Students will complete the War Poster Analysis Sheet
  • Source 2: British produced Lusitania medal (replica of the originally produced German medal) Students will complete the Artifact Analysis Sheet.
  • Source 3: Song lyrics “When the Lusitania Went Down” (recording available on http://library.umkc.edu/spec-col/ww1/textversion-listings.htm) Students will complete the Multi-Media Analysis Sheet


5.   After the students complete the analysis sheets, discuss the findings and speculate on the impact of this propaganda on America, Great Britain, and  Germany.

6.   Students will then examine Woodrow Wilson’s May 13, 1915 response to Germany (http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/1915/lusitania1.html)

7.   Students will read Chapter 5 “The Lusitania” from H. C. Peterson’s Propaganda for War: The Campaigns against American Neutrality, 1914-1917.

8.   Conclusion: Students will discuss their observations about propaganda and how it is used in war.  How did propaganda relating to the sinking of the Lusitania influence the United States entry into the war? Did the Lusitania continue to be used in propaganda after US entry?  If so how?

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Collect and grade analysis sheets.