It’s often said that “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The Library of Congress is helping us remember the past with a new tool that was recently released called the National Jukebox. At the National Jukebox, visitors can find streaming recordings of musical compositions, performances and speeches from the early 1900’s. While some of the recordings sound a little scratchy, the amount and quality of the content is honestly pretty amazing. With over 10,000 recordings available in a free, searchable repository, the National Jukebox offers comedy recordings, plays and other content that can help our students take a journey to the past. The site includes a disclaimer saying that some of the recordings may contain offensive or inappropriate language. While this may at first seem like a reason to avoid the site, I believe that most of the offensive content involves ethnic and racial stereotypes that isn’t acceptable in today’s society. These recordings could be educational for some of our students and could help demonstrate how our society has changed over the last century. It’s also educational to show how much our society hasn’t changed as well. Poking through the repository, I found a recording from Woodrow Wilson where he discusses democratic principles. Although the speech was from 1912, it’s moving to hear how Wilson’s words reflect our current national challenges.
The National Jukebox would be a great resource for educators who want to show historical events in context or want to highlight the earliest musical recordings and performances. While some of the comedy routines offer language and content that may be difficult to hear in today’s society, they also provide a lens to view our nation’s journey towards racial equality.