Boosterism and Manifest Destiny

Connecting with History
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
History, Art
Analysis, Small Group, Individual, Pre-reading


  • Students will understand grandfather’s “westering” stories in their larger historical context.
  • Students will improve their analytical skills, particularly in evaluating visual documents.
  • Students will practice artistic methods previously learned.


In “The Leader of the People,” Jody’s grandfather comes for a visit and regales the family with stories of how he led a wagon train west, presumably during the late 19th century. What was it that drew people west during the 19th and 20th centuries?

In this activity, students will analyze 19th century broadsides that advertised moving west. After gaining an understanding of the methods used, students will create their own broadsides to entice people to move west. This is an interactive activity that can be done regardless of student artistic ability.

Materials Needed/Preparation

Estimated Time

1-3 class periods


Day One

Journal/Discussion topic

  • Why did Americans migrate west during the 19th century?
  • Discuss student responses.
  • ~Depending on the time period, migration west occurred for a variety of reasons
  • ~~Fur trapping, land squatting, homesteading, gold, adventure, health, jobs, etc.
  • Discuss: Why did Jody’s grandfather come west? What was his experience like? Skip this step if doing this activity is pre-reading.
  • ~Students should cite specific examples from the novel.

Visual documents

  • If doing this exercise in a small group setting, put students in their assigned groups.
  • Distribute copies of the images (see “Materials Needed/Preparation” above and “Additional Information” below)
  • ~If the option is available, have students view the images on a computer (in a computer lab, on classroom computers, etc.)
  • If students have never analyzed a visual document before, model analyzing one of the images together as a class
  • ~Have students analyze what they see in the image (see Document Analysis format).
  • ~If students are not ready for an in-depth document analysis, consider simplifying the process:
  • ~~What images and symbols are shown? Why? What is the main message of the image?
  • ~Ideally, project a copy of the image on an overhead projector, interactive white board, or LCD projector.

Have student groups present their findings.

  • Be sure to time for rehearsal.
  • All students should be taking notes.
  • Student interpretations need to be supported by what is found in the image. Be certain to correct any interpretations that are historically inaccurate.

Day Two

  • Discussion/review topic: What elements were used in the images viewed yesterday to advertise the west? What kinds of exaggerations were used?
  • ~“Boosterism” refers to what these images did—used advertising techniques, symbolism, and exaggeration to draw people west. Oftentimes this was for profit (boosters were often selling plots of land in the west, travel supplies, etc.).
  • Have students return to their groups.
  • Depending on the abilities of students, assign each group to create 1-3 broadsides advertising “The West.”
  • ~Exaggeration is acceptable, and encouraged
  • ~~Must be within reason, however.
  • ~~Must be historically accurate. (No advertising ski resorts, working for Google, etc.)
  • ~Groups should focus on drawing people to a specific place, not just the west.
  • Collect broadsides at the end of class.

Day Three

Art gallery

  • If possible, scan student art and build a slide show presentation.
  • Or display student artwork on a wall in the classroom.


  • Focus the class on a single broadside (use of an LCD projector and a slide show presentation is ideal for this).
  • Allow a few moments for the class to examine the image.
  • Have the students who created the broadside explain it to the class.
  • ~Be sure to allow time for students to rehearse.
  • ~Students need to be specific. What symbols and images did they use? Why?

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • After reading “The Leader of the People,” have students create a dialogue (or monologue) in which someone talks about what drew him/her west.
  • ~Be more specific than grandfather’s “westering.”

Have students write reactions by people who came west. Did they find that the broadsides were true?

  • This can be done in any style the teacher sees fit.
  • Have students collect some advertising examples. Discuss what methods the advertisers use in their ads. Compare those to what students used in their broadsides and to the original images students examined on Day One of this activity.


  • Students should have an understanding of how boosterism worked, and how it is a form of advertisement.
  • Students should see the stories of Jody’s grandfather in a larger historical context.



  • How accurate were student broadsides? Did their exaggerations fit with the style of the times and remain historically accurate?
  • Taking into consideration individual student artistic abilities, how well did the student incorporate artistic elements that have been learned (perspective, shading, etc.)?
  • Were students able to explain the elements included in their broadsides? This is a way of assessing how well students stayed on topic.

California State Content Standards Met

  • Visual Arts: Content Standards 6-12
  • ~Artistic Perception: 1
  • ~Creative Expression: 2
  • ~Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5
  • History and Social Science Content Standards 4
  • ~Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood: 3
  • ~Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s: 3, 4, 5
  • History and Social Science Content Standards 8
  • ~Students analyze the divergent paths of the American people in the West from 1800 to the mid-1800s and the challenges they faced: 2

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2
  • ~Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1, 2, 3
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7, 8

Additional Information

Related Lesson Plans for this Work