A new exhibition at the National Archives in Washington explores the stories behind the famous and little known signatures that have made their mark on history.
Watch this BBC video clip and answer the questions below about it. The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 and Advanced students?
1 What document of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun can we see on the video?
2 What new law did Bill Clinton sign digitally in 2000?
3 What says a lot about us when writing emails?
Signatures are deeply personal. For centuries we’ve used them to make our mark on the world. Even the humble ex can be legally binding while the flourishes and swells of famous names have become linked with moments in history.
Jennifer Johnson is the curator of an exhibition about signatures at the National Archives.
The signatures on the document carried the force of law and can impact many people.
On display a shoe pattern signed by the pop star Michael Jackson. A card from the former Iraqui dictator Sadam Husseim and (1) the marriage certificate of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.
Gives you goose bumps, and that one is especially unique in that it is what I call… its multiple signatures, on one page you have Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun but Joseph Gobbles and Martin Boardman signed as witnesses.
But technology is replacing pen and paper. In 2000 President Bill Clinton used a smart card encrypted with his digital signature to e-sign (2) a new law that made online contracts legal.
Just imagine if this had existed 224 years ago, the founding fathers wouldn´t have had to come all the way to Philadelphia on July 4th for the Declaration of Independence. They could have emailed their "John Hancocks" in.
The US National Archives now collects millions of pieces of digital data every year.
If we were to look at the same exhibit a hundred years from now, it would have a combination of some of the quaint artifacts of today, the paper with the signatures and a really interesting and creative, I think, snapshot of the various ways people have been communicating and making their mark in an electronic environment.
But what technology could replace a signed sports shirt? And what do we learn about a person whose signature includes, excuse the typo, sent from my cell phone. Experts say electronic signatures can still create a unique impression.
What do you use as your closing for your email, your signature line, then we have of course options of fun. Now getting too out of control would be, you know, using the colours and the exciting pastel backgrounds and things that dance around. But I think that (3) just showing what signature line you use and how you close out your emails says so, so much about you.
What historian will make of our electronic communications is anybody’s guess, but one thing is already certain: the pen maybe mightier than the sword but it’s no match for email.
Jane O’Brien, BBC News, Washington.