Faces of America

What made America? What makes us? These two questions are at the heart of the PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The lesson plans and media resources based on the series address a wide range of topics including historic waves of immigration, anti-immigrant sentiment, family genealogy, and state-of-the-art genetic research. Through this collection, students will gain a broader perspective of America’s immigrant history (both past and present) and learn what it really means to be an American.

  • A Cold Reception: Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in the United States

    This media-enhanced lesson plan will use video from Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s PBS series Faces of America to explore the hostile reception immigrants have often received from anti-immigrant "nativists" in an America not always eager to accept them and the change they represent.

    Grades: 7-9
  • A Colony of Aliens

    In this video from Faces of America, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. speaks with comedian Stephen Colbert about anti-immigration sentiment present at the time of his German ancestors arrival to the United States. Gates has Colbert read a passage from an objection Benjamin Franklin had to German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania and specifically of his fears that the new German immigrants would “Germanize” the population.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Faces of America | A Piece of the Pie

    In this video from Faces of America, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. examines how DNA can communicate ethnic identity in a manner that genealogy can’t always articulate. Gates meets with Joanna Mountain from the genetic ancestry firm 23 and Me to complete an admixture test. The test reveals not only ancestral geographical origins over a number of centuries, but also illustrates ethnic breakdown. Gates reveals the ethnic breakdown (in the form of a pie chart) of his guests including Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert, Eva Longoria and Elizabeth Alexander.

    Grades: 9-12
  • A Very Sad Period in Irish History

    This video segment from Faces of America highlights Stephen Colbert’s Irish ancestors, the Garins, and the reason they left Ireland--the Great Potato Famine of the mid-19th century. Colbert learns of the dreadful conditions the Irish people endured during the Famine. Historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. also travels to Limerick, where the Garins lived, and interviews present-day residents who shed further light on the extreme living conditions of the working class people of Ireland during the Great Famine.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Faces of America | All in the Family

    In this video from Faces of America, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses the difficult process of documenting family history and tracing linage back through the maternal and paternal lines, especially for African Americans. Gates examines his own family history—both what he knows about his great-great grandmother Jane Gates, who was a slave, and his great-great grandfather, a free white man about whom he knows nothing. Gates then meets with poet Elizabeth Alexander and speaks with her about her ancestral lineage and her ties to British royalty.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Exploring the Past

    Using video from Faces of America, this hands-on, media-enhanced lesson will challenge students to gather clues about the past through photographs, drawings and other primary source materials.

    Grades: 2-4
  • Faces of America | Frenetic Genetics

    In this segment from Faces of America, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. meets with leading genetic researchers to learn more about what his genome reveals about his health, physical features and life experiences. Through painstaking research, Gates learns that by studying his genome, the researchers accurately predict that he is lactose intolerant, that he will not loose his hair prematurely and that there is no genetic sign of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Faces of America | I Dream of Genome

    This lesson plan, using video from the PBS series Faces of America, explores the various types of genetic information contained in the human genome.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Journey from Jamaica

    Poet Elizabeth Alexander learns how her grandfather came to the United States from Jamaica, in this video from Faces of America. To uncover specific details, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. travels to Ellis Island and meets with Catherine Daly to shed light on Alexander’s grandfather and his entry into New York harbor. Through what they unearth, Alexander learns that her grandfather’s emigration from Jamaica to the United States was more sophisticated than the story of stowing away on a banana boat her grandfather told her as a child.

    Grades: 2-12
  • Ma Family History | Faces of America

    In this video segment from Faces of America, musician Yo-Yo Ma learns about his ancestors in China. Historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. also travels to China to meet with Yo-Yo Ma’s distant relatives to talk about the Ma family history and more specifically, how it has been preserved in traditional Chinese texts. Gates articulates the details surrounding these texts and describes information Ma's ancestors felt necessary to preserve, such as essays, linage rules, moral guidelines, poems and short biographies.

    Grades: 2-12
  • Faces of America | Migration Sensations

    This video segment from Faces of America follows the routes of human migration through the haplogroups. We learn that all humans have their origins in East Africa. Over time they migrated from Asia to Europe and later to North and South America. Historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. examines the haplogroups of Elizabeth Alexander, Kristi Yamaguchi and Meryl Streep.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Opportunity Beckoned in the New World | Faces of America

    In this video from Faces of America, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and comedian Stephen Colbert discuss Colbert's German ancestor, Hans Diebold Ledderman, and the reasons he and his family emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century. Gates points out the discrimination early immigrants faced—specifically Germans--in the 18th century.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Pioneers of the American West

    In this video segment from Faces of America, we learn about Chef Mario Batali’s Italian ancestors and why they left their Italian homeland in the early 20th century. Nostalgic for the land of his ancestors, Batali is curious as to why they left Italy when they did. Through extensive research, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. locates the reason his ancestors were looking for opportunity in the booming mining town of Butte, Montana. But with opportunity came hardship, too.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Tenant Farmers

    In this video from Faces of America, we learn about comedian Stephen Colbert and his Irish Ancestors, the Tucks. The Tucks left Ireland during the Great Potato Famine of the mid-nineteenth century. There are almost no records of the Tucks, but we find out that they were tenant farmers, like most Irish Catholics at that time. While still living in Ireland, they endured great hardships under the then British rule including laws prohibiting Irish Catholics from practicing their faith, buying land and even owning a horse.

    Grades: 4-12
  • They're Coming to America: Immigrants Past and Present

    In this lesson from Faces of America, students will explore the history of America -- a nation of immigrants.

    Grades: 5-7
  • To Hawaii from Japan

    In this video segment from Faces of America, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. talks with Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi about her grandfather, Tatsuichi Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi learns for the first time that her grandfather left his family in 1899 at the tender age of 21. Tatsuichi then settled on the Big Island of Hawaii and began working as a laborer on the Onamega Sugar Plantation. The conditions were harsh and unforgiving while the workers toiled through the planting, cutting and processing of sugar cane.

    Grades: 4-12
  • Who’s White | Faces of America

    In this video segment from Faces of America, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. speaks with Her Majesty, Queen Noor of Jordan, about the discrimination her Syrian ancestors endured in America at the end of the 19th century. Gates points out that Syrian immigrants at that time understood the value Americans placed on "whiteness" and therefore many actively campaigned in print and in the courts to be recognized as white rather than people of Asian descent.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Yamaguchi Photos

    In this video from Faces of America, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. speaks with Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi and offers insight into the life of her Japanese ancestors while looking through old family photographs she had never seen before. One photograph is of her grandfather, Tatsuichi Yamaguchi, as a young man. He sent the photo from the United States to his family in Japan almost 100 years ago and they had kept it safe for almost a century. The other photograph examined is one of her grandmother, Tatsuichi’s wife, on the family farm in California with Kristi’s father and two of his siblings.

    Grades: 2-12