American Tourists in the Holy Land, 1865-1900

October 18, 2020
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The idea of the Holy Land, roughly the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, loomed large in the imagination of many 19th century Americans. Most Americans were avid readers of the Bible at this time and were well aware of locations such as Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, and Golgotha. With the arrival of the industrial revolution and especially the invention of steam-powered ships, travel to these locations finally became possible for many Americans. Companies emerged to plan trips for eager tourists, but when they arrived the reality often did not match their expectations. Ottoman Palestine was different from the United States in many ways and very different from the holy land Americans had long imagined. In this module, teachers will be introduced to learning activities that allow students to explore this engaging episode in the history of the U.S. and the world.

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Section 1/3

Primary Sources

For Bell Ringer: 

To Analyze:

To explore motivations to visit the Holy Land: 

  • Millard Fillmore letter
  • Broadside
  • A Twain letter on the Tomb of Adam
  • Robinson’s Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838, p. 46-49 Robinson dives into what drove and directed him and his companions both to go to Palestine and how to interact with the land once they got there. 

Section 2/3

Lesson Plan for 11th Grade U.S. History or 12th grade U.S. Government

Lesson Plan for 11th Grade U.S. History or 12th grade U.S. Government

Lesson Length: One 90-minute period or two 45-minute periods

Compelling Questions: How were Americans able to visit the “Holy Land” in increasing numbers in the 1865-1900 period? What reasons did they have for going?  

Materials needed: 

  1. Primary sources (below)
  2. Primary source analysis sheets (one per student): 
    1. For the posters
    2. For document sources
  3. Map of “Holy Land” (1815)
  4. Map of the World (1854)


  1. Bell ringer: Pose question to the class – What are different reasons people travel? What makes travel possible? How might these reasons be similar/different in the past versus today?
  2. Explain to the class that they will be taking on the roles of promoters of travel tours for Americans who are travelling to what was then called Ottoman Palestine in the 1880s. For background, have students view “American Travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th Century” video (4:36) from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation website. 
  3. Orient the travellers for their trip. Using a large map (either a classroom or a digital map projected on a screen, teachers may use a historical map like this one or a more modern map like this one) teachers should point out the location of present day Israel and have students think about how and why Americans in the late 1800s began travelling to visit this area more and more (get them thinking about religious reasons and also technology like trains, steamboats etc. teachers can use this opportunity to connect increased tourism to the industrial revolution). Encourage students to recall what they learned in the video and pulling from their own knowledge of past units in U.S. History (e.g. Second Great Awakening, the Industrial Revolution) and current events (Israel, the Middle East). 
  4. To spark ideas about why Americans might have travelled to the Holy Land at this time, pass out the following sources or if students have access to laptops or tablets, provide the links. 
  5. Think-Pair-Share: Students examine one source and then talk with a partner about the author’s reason for visiting the Holy Land. Students then share their reasons with the group. 
  6. In groups of 4, students will plan travel itineraries which will include:
    • A paragraph promoting travel to the Holy Land.
    • A route of a trip they are advertising traced on a map Map of the World (1854)
    • 4 locations in the Holy Land their travel itinerary visit that they find on Map of “Holy Land” (1815).
  7. Analyzing the sources
    • Formative assessment: Each student completes a Primary Source Analysis Sheet (Written documents or Poster) on one source. Students may help each other but each student should complete a sheet.
  8. Elements in your travel brochure or advertisement.
    • A cover with a title.
    • A paragraph explaining the reason for the trip
    • Two maps: One showing the overall route traced on it (World map) and one of the Holy Land showing sites visited (Holy Land map). Students can decide how they want to annotate the maps to show their trips, but they should try to be as clear and as informative as possible.
    • At least 3 visual sources (rail ticket, travel posters, photographs) arranged throughout with one sentence captions explaining what they are. 
    • Digital Alternative: Students may create a tour on Google Earth using sources and locations from the map. More on information on how to teach with Google Earth can be found here.  
  9. Once students are done with their scrapbooks they can share them with the class either by presentation or via a gallery walk. 

Credits: Analysis sheets from the National Archives. Maps from the Library of Congress.

Section 3/3



Complete Lesson Plan with all attachments 

Primary Source Analysis Sheets – for documents, for posters

Assessments – for Simple, for Quantitative  

Document-Based Question

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