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National Parks for New Audiences

The article “National Parks for New Audiences” paints a picture of a slowly changing landscape of NPS properties that maintains and preserves aspects of American history and identity. It also attempts to educate visitors, therefore their interpretive programs require change to be more inclusive of all their “contributors and constituents.” While these NPS units are typically “overshadowed by the nation’s increasingly popular flagship wilderness parks,” these venues offer a more comprehensive interpretive techniques to promote historical thinking.

How well, if at all, do Coslett and Chalana incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay?

Coslett and Chalana discuss two NPPS sites by tracing their origin, historical background, and development over the years. They explore ways to rewrite the one-sided, predominantly white perspective of the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and the San Juan Island National Historical Park. They point out several challenges for each site to broaden their historical perspectives, such as diversity in staffing to engage historically marginalized groups. Both parks draw disproportionately white audiences/visitors even though the complete history at those sites came to exist because of a conflict between whites and Natives. They also voice that the NPS is “committed to both diversity and equity, and to better conveying to all visitors the full richness of American cultural history.” However, as they examine the sites, at each turn, and from every angle, thees goals seem to fall short. Coslett and Chalana raise important questions that challenge authenticity and interpretation. They attempt to bring a new kind of historical thinking to light when they reflect on both online and on site of the WM-NHS as it tries to update and modernize its presentation of the past, but “occasionally still suffers from inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory interpretation.” Further examining the website,  Chalana and Coslett, also point out that it both redeems and criticizes, “explicitly tether[s] the site’s past to the lived present” by pointing out that in the Cayuse attack, the federal government found ‘‘an excuse to set up reservations and restrict the movement of Native Americans.’’ The NPS not only attempts to acknowledge the problematic nature of the site’s history and interpretation, but features the larger ramifications of events. Moreover, Chalana and Coslett approves the site’s interpretation of Native American voices as they, unlike the physical site partnered with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. In the end, they conclude that ‘‘regardless of the changing judgments and interpretation of westward expansion, the Whitman story continues to be one of courage, commitment, and sacrifice for an ideal.’’  Thus, by laying out several other examples of controversy and conflicting viewpoints, Chalana and Coslett incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay. One that weaves the specific examples together is the controversy of historical thinking or representation. Although, by the end of the article they cite one NPS historian who has suggested that “the agency staff should ‘step back from the position of authority and become provokers, facilitators and encourage the public to engage with … [historical] material, consider multiple perspectives, and make their own choices.’’’ In their essay, Coslett and Chalana question perspectives, raise awareness of interpretation, and examine a variety aspects of the historical function NPS carries in representing the nation’s history. Although, they include the words of Marie Sanchez of the Northern Cheyenne regarding the infamous Sand Creek massacre, which resonate at WM-NHS and other NPS units with difficult pasts, in it she says that she knows ‘‘it won’t alleviate alcoholism and drug abuse and crimes of passion or suicides, but it would help our children understand what happened to us as a people.” Thus, the perspective of the Native is still largely lacking, the research from Native American Scholars, their view on the NPS as opposed to what NPS plans to change to better represent them as part of the complete history.

Given what you’ve learned thus far, what advice would you give the National Park Service on how best to use their historic sites to teach to a more diverse audience?

First and foremost, it is crucial that both perspectives of history are represented. When a historical site is presented from the perspective of the winners or the details their heroism, sacrifice, and commitment, it diminishes other views and makes those cultures less significant or valued as past of the existing society. The National Park Service must make it its own mission to facilitate by investing in research to equalize its representation of both perspectives. Then the sites will challenge or even provoke visitors to think critically and analyze the past by reflecting on it from the present perspective they hold. I believe that digital tools hold an important role in fostering this way thinking and interaction as they invite comments to further expand views.

Coslett, Daniel E., and Manish Chalana. “National Parks for New Audiences. Diversifying Interpretation for Enhanced Contemporary Relevance.” The Public Historian 38, no. 4: 101-128. November 2016

Historical Thinking and Digital Media

Given the current discussion about facts, real or “alternative”, how should we use what we know about historical thinking, public perceptions of the past, and what we can do with digital media, to promote a more accurate understanding of the past? Write a blog post that explores these questions.

Wineburg points out the effects of change in how the public receives history and by that how it perceives and thinks about it. While “Back in the uncomplicated pre-Web days, libraries and archives were places of quiet stability and authority,” (Wineburg) today “The Internet has obliterated [this} authority.” Does this allow the public to know more history? Does easy and instant access to information promote a broader perception of history? Wineburg shows the pitfalls and dangers of real or alternative facts as they are circulating in the media. Surprisingly, digital natives do not seem to question the facts presented. When anyone who wishes to comment or contribute to past or present history is able and allowed to do so, our level of caution and skepticism should rise.

I can personally relate to Wineburg’s example of high school students being persuaded by articles floating on the web that the Holocaust never happened or it was  Jewish propaganda. Several years ago, after having 6th grade students read Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams, they gave presentations about Nazi camps that resembled a youth summer camp today. They believed that people who were imprisoned had a fairly good life, having food, bed, and friendship. The fictional account of the Holocaust, the hunting of Jews, and their research in the Internet did not paint a “real” picture. As a person who was born not so long after the war and grew up in Europe surrounded by reminders of it, I could never ignore or not know the atrocities of the Holocaust. It was ever present and never doubted. I was simply shocked by my students’ interpretation. How could they not see the obvious facts? What was missing? What aspects of their readings derailed the thinking and perception of history? What could I do to enable their thinking and ability to question and have an opened mind? Wineburg iterated historical thinking by explaining the “treshold concept,” when he discussed students’ difficulties making sense of the past. He noted thatwe are called to expand our conception and understanding of what it means to be human and examine seemingly irrelevant material to discover the relevance of the past. Thus the question arises, How could we make, for example, the Holocaust relevant to their present?

Wineburg refers to Thomas Jefferson in his article, “Historical Thinking is Not About History” saying that Jefferson “argued for the wisdom of the yeoman farmer, a person who would think, discern, and come to reasoned conclusions in the face of conflicting information. Teachers of history should keep this in mind as they set students free on the Internet for historical research and educate them about what informed citizenship means in the digital age. They should question the credibility of sources, what information should be believed, and caution them about the massive amount of facts and the equally large amount of bias. Using his two highly recommended tools (whois.net andwww.website.com) to incorporate in student research should be a must for history teachers. We must teach students a critical/analytical approach to media, the Internet, and historical research in general to avoid becoming a “a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both”. As Wineburg concludes, knowledge is power, and we should empower our students to seek that knowledge above popular belief. We must teach historical thinking, the query, the analysis, the discussion of facts so students will become informed citizens who are able to make sense of history in the digital age.

 Wineburg, Sam. “Why Historical Thinking is Not About History.” History News 71, no. 2. 2016.

Fifth Piece of the Puzzle

The text I would like to use in my final project is  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Since I am interested in having students examine history as a memory, combining local with national and world history, the story of a young pilot would allow students to look at these aspects through a personal narrative. His story combines the personal with the national and extends the commentary to broader historical questions.

Students will examine the text through close reading, asking questions, collecting quotes, and keywords. They then will research other places in the war, listen to interviews with WWII veteran pilots, and read transcripts to ask questions and draw conclusions regarding the effects of the war on the war and on the home-front from the perspective of the pilots and the people who remained home.

Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

Select an image or video file that is related to your final project idea. Post it in your blog and describe why you chose it and how it might be difficult for students and others to make sense of.

The image I consider using as part of my  final project is the photo of a young 16-year-old German boy being captured. He was an German anti aircraft soldier of the Hitler Youth.

This photo appears on the World War II Pictures in Details blog that hosts hundreds of WWII photographs from around the world. However, the photo also appears on the Rare Historical Photos site. I chose this image as an introduction into the war and its uncommon and uncomfortable details. Students will be reading Unbroken, learning about the U.S. presence in the war not just from the political stance, but also from the human perspective, and they will be considering how it connects to their hometown and its flight training school. I feel that this image will first parachute students in the middle of the events of the war.

Step 1: Students will be asked to examine the photograph and create their own details  and narrative of it. I will ask them to think about, Who is on the photo? Where was it taken? Who took the photograph? They will then share and discuss their findings. I anticipate that students might be confused about the identity of the young boy. However, if they guess his German uniform, they might have a variety of explanations of why he is crying. Dating the photo might also be difficult, although if students study the timeline of WWII, they might place the photo toward the end of the war.

Step 2: I will ask students to revise their narrative based on the discussions they had after the first look at the photo. Then I will provide them with a variety of clues to expand the narrative. At this point, it would be interesting to see if dividing the class into four groups and giving a different set of clues to each would make a significant difference in the outcome of the narratives. I might ask each group to formulate one common narrative they agree on as a group.

Step 3: Groups  will share their narratives and as a class discussion, we will discuss and decide which one seems most likely. Then, I will share the websites and the full story with students along with a few more of the photos taken of the same young boy, which in turn will create the final discussion of the photo. I am interested in hearing how after viewing the other photographs, they would consider adding on to their narratives.

Step 4: Student will write a reflection on the process of thinking about the image and what assumptions they may have had. I will be interested in seeing how their historical thinking manifests in viewing the photo from the understanding of the present and perhaps reflecting on how they would have behaved or made choices of their own. Also, I would hope to see their thinking as they consider living in Germany during WWI in contrast to looking back on it from the 21st century. Additional questions might be reflected upon: Does the fact that the boy is crying make him seem more innocent? How would students’ opinion of the boy be different if he were resisting, showing anger, or smiling?

Step 5: Students will write a journal entry or a letter home from the boy’s perspective in which they relay the events leading up to the photo being taken.

 

Historical Inquiry in Films

Robert Brent Toplin discusses in “The Historian and Film: Challenges Ahead” the way films have been viewed as supplemental materials for studying history, but not necessarily counted as a window into better understanding, analyzing, or inspiring historical thinking. He refers to E. O’Connor, who identified four broad ways historians can work with film, “they can study film as a representation of history, use it for insights into the social and cultural values of the past, examine it as a form of historical evidence, and study the history of the film and television industries.” Toplin points out that until recently the focus of utilizing film in teaching history has been  on elements in the plot and visual presentation, it concentrated on the movie. Thus, historians are expecting and demanding greater depth and breadth in the analysis of motion pictures as historical evidence.

In order to dig deeper into creating a broader historical analysis, students need to consider how filmmakers have interpreted the past and how much fictionalizing is acceptable in a given film. Toplin suggests that the production itself must be the subject of analysis examining  the personal background and viewpoints of the producers, directors, and writers. The production experience should also be part of analysis such as the economic and political pressures that might influence historical interpretation. Therefore historians should include scripts, unedited film clips, notes, business correspondence, interviews, and other circumstances that enhance understanding the completed film cannot possibly illuminate.

For instance, I have used The Great Debaters movie for several purposes in my middle school and high school classes. We watched the movie  to gain knowledge of debating techniques and how they may or may not have changed over time. Students have examined the historical context of the debaters, looking at segregation, discrimination, a snapshot of the Jim Crow South, and the determination of the human spirit to prove its greatness as it resonates with peaceful perseverance. To elevate and increase the depth of historical inquiry, in future lessons, I would assign a research aspect to examining the movie. Students would consider the director (Denzel Washington) and his  views on the big themes and issues of the movie. They could watch interviews and reviews of the movie to gauge its reception. In addition, students would consider other collaborators on the movie and their influence. Researching the movie myself, I have found curious details of the production regarding location and characters. Since the movie is based on a real story (some details of that are included in the credits at the end of the film), students would investigate how closely the film stayed to the actual story or how accurately were the characters portrayed. Then, students will need to step back and consider the film in its larger historical context, zooming out from the main story of a small black college overcoming adversity and becoming champion debaters. What other historical events were taking place during the 1930’s? What was left out? Why? How would the film be different if it was made before the events of the Civil Rights Movement?  Finally, students need to then re-examine their initial take on the film and evaluate not only its historical accuracy, but also its place in presenting history, people, and events.

 

Third Piece of the Puzzle

Describe the audience for the final project that you have in mind and why you chose that audience.

My final project will be aimed at high school students, predominantly studying American history in their junior year. I will specifically design the unit to suit my AP English Language and Composition students who are reading nonfiction novels, articles, essays throughout the year with a small sprinkling of poetry and fictional pieces. These readings designed to raise questions regarding political, ethical, cultural, and social issues, thus we will look at how a virtually unknown local flight school that operated during WWII in their town affected local history and their assumptions and views on pilots, patriotism, and more. I believe that this lesson in local history will enable students to look beyond the textbook and realize that history is constant and living.

Second Piece of the Puzzle

How will digital media and/or digital tools be important to teaching my target audience one of the essential lessons I’ll be focusing on in my project?

My project will aim at teaching high school students about American history during WWII in connection to local history. While the knowledge of historical events and places are important to the lesson, students will mostly rely on primary sources and first person accounts to piece the puzzle of this time period together from the local front. Digital media will play a role in watching interviews,  documentaries, reading diaries of WWII pilots, and analyzing images using the following websites:

  • The WWII Combat Diary of Lt. Kermit D. Wooldridge – https://sites.google.com/site/ww2pilotsdiary/
  • The WASPs: Women Pilots of WWII – http://www.radiodiaries.org/the-wasps-women-pilots-of-wwii/
  • Diary of Bruce Johnston – http://lancasterdiary.net/
  • World War II First Person Accounts, Letters Home, Diaries, & Journals – http://www.teacheroz.com/WWII_Oral_History.htm
  • What did it take to be a fighter pilot? – http://www.talkingproud.us/Retired/Retired/WWIIfighterpilot_files/becoming-a-wwii-fighter-pilot.pdf
  • Aviation Cadet Training Program – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aviation_Cadet_Training_Program_(USAAF)
  • Pilot’s Log at Mesa del Rey – http://acsleonard.org/pilotslog/
  • Life Magazine Covers:
    • https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/160516-female-wwii-pilots-life-magazine.jpg?w=560

What, specifically, about the digital environment will influence what you do and why?

The digital environment will provide the literature, images, and overall the resources for the lesson. Students will be “mining” sites and browsing for material to compare, to ask questions, and to be better informed about the the journey of pilots. Then they will create their own site about one of the pilots who were trained at Mesa del Rey similar to the Bruce Johnston Diary website. Since they will be inventing a life for a person after training, it will be crucial that they understand what it took to become a pilot, to serve during the war, and to make the sacrifices.

 

History Teaching

How have external expectations constrained teaching and learning in history, and how might the digital turn disrupt those constraints?

The readings in Module 3 directed our attention to the elements of historical thinking in regards to how they have remained at the heart of history teaching over the past decades of the 20th century. They also painted a vivid portrait of a stagnating discipline that is in dire need of change. In Everyman his Own Historian Becker lays out the essence of history and how it has been and should be approached in teaching. As he explains, “that every generation, our own included, will, must inevitably, understand the past and anticipate the future in the light of its own restricted experience, must inevitably play on the dead whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.” Thus, he encourages teachers and professors of history to not only consider the rigid facts, but also allow for the historical thinking process, model and have students practice this thinking, which may yield a variety of interpretations. Furthermore, he alludes to history being  an “imaginative reconstruction of vanished events.” Becker elaborates on how, “It is thus not the undiscriminated fact, but the perceiving mind of the historian that speaks: the special meaning which the facts are made to convey emerges from the substance-form which the historian employs to recreate imaginatively a series of events not present to perception.” Keeping these ideas in mind, external constrains, such as knowing the facts and showing progress in historical thinking based on standardized test greatly undermined the success of teaching history.

Kelly’s article of Teaching History in the Digital Age, points out again that our teaching methods have not changed over the past century. Students’ struggles in the 21st century seem to ironically echo students from the 1917. He quotes Bell saying that “Too many other students take all statements with equal emphasis, keep all parts of the discussion upon the same level, and become hopelessly confused by the multiplicity of details.” Kelly then adds, “If Bell’s description of his students from 1917 sounds much like descriptions we often hear (or purvey) of our own students, at least some blame should lie in the fact that our teaching methods have not changed much since 1917.” The common vein that runs through these readings is the focus on factual understanding, not necessarily the promotion of historical sense, thinking, or practice. Moreover, some general assumptions of teaching history also presented constrains in student learning. As Kelly notes, “factual knowledge is often conflated with correct understanding—we assume that if our children know the facts, they will understand the facts.” In addition, students also assume that they know history whether it is the knowledge of main events in the nation’s history or the understanding of people who played part in it. I agree with Kelly’s recommendation that we should “destabilize their assumptions about the past” not to make it strange, but to force students to grapple with historical evidence on its own terms, “not based on stereotypes they bring to that analysis,” so they can begin to question the broad generalizations and formulate their own views. A dangerously misleading aspect of the same assumption is what James Axtell calls assuming self-knowledge, when students assume that because they are women, blacks, immigrants, or Republicans, they have a unique insight into how these groups of people thought and acted in a certain time in history. Thus, the recent attempts in teaching history guide students in the direction to “alienate the familiar.”

I believe that the digital turn does offer a disruption in the assumptions, stereotypical thinking, and false knowledge and offers a new way to investigate history with an open mind and with a fresh look at people even if things don’t make sense at first. Wineburg, in addition, offers his assessment of the changing scene for teaching history in the future: those who teach it must know it, the “great human interest” of history must translate into the classroom activities, and reconsider the way we assess historical thinking. Teaching history in the digital age allows access to multitudes of information, documents, primary sources, interviews, images, and more at a mouse click away. The abundance that surrounds factual history not only makes it more interesting or makes history come alive, but it also enables students to expand their thinking, the way they experience, compare, or question certain aspects of events or reactions of people.

While Levesque offers a definition: “Historical thinking is, indeed, far more sophisticated and demanding than mastering substantive (content) knowledge, in that it requires the acquisition of such knowledge to understand the procedures employed to investigate its aspects and conflicting meanings …”He also adds that “To think historically is thus to understand how knowledge has been constructed and what it means. Without such sophisticated insight into ideas, peoples, and actions, it becomes impossible to adjudicate between competing versions (and visions) of the past.” Technology aids us in helping students achieve that desired sophisticated insight, as Kelly concludes in his article, “The best way to use digital media to teach them[students] … to create learning opportunities that make it possible for our students to do history—to practice it as we practice it—to help them make history, using their own creative impulses, rather than simply giving us what they hope is the correct answer to a question we have posed.” Although technology is not the sole solution for eradicating teaching problems, it could however offer more resources and a new way of teaching, learning, and assessing historical knowledge that may direct our children to become the kinds of citizens we want and need for the future.

Bibliography

Becker, Carl L. “Everyman His Own Historian.” American Historical Review 37, no. 2. December 29, 1931. p. 221–36.

Kelly, T. Mills. “Teaching History in the Digital Age.” Digital Humanities. 2013.

Wineburg, Sam. “Crazy for History.” The Journal of American History 90, no. 4. March 2004.

History in 2023

The ideas expressed in “The History Curriculum in 2023”  on the future of history curricula are rooted in the ways historians have approached teaching content knowledge over the past century , but the essay proposes the the procedural knowledge that need to be taught, so that students can prosper in the information and service economy they will live in once they graduate.  Thus, the essay focuses on how students will most benefit from learning historical thinking and knowledge, but it also emphasizes a more engaging way to teach history and allowing more freedom to explore historical thinking by combining real world practices. History will always present “the memory of things said and done,” however the way we think about it, make it accessible to students, and evaluate it through our twenty-first-century lens requires change, so our future history teaching does not look or function “like an underfunded archive: stale, musty, and increasingly forgotten.” (edwired)

Initial Ideas for Project

Historical mindedness.

  • Moral significance of historical events.
  • What is the story of American History?
  • Who are Americans?
  • What have we accomplished?
  • How do we judge what we have done?
  • Are things getting better or worse?

“By hitching our own stories to the stories of those who went before us, the past becomes a useful resource in our everyday lives, an endless storehouse of raw materials to be shaped for our present needs” (Wineburg 490).

Why are they difficult questions or issues for students and others to make sense of? What makes it difficult and why?

  • How to have students establish kinship with people we study to engage their interest and develop a connection?

Project ideas:

  1. Use Pilot’s Log to teach WWII history, U.S. involvement in the war, pilots contribution, local history…

Wineburg, Sam “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts” The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 7 (Mar., 1999), pp. 488-499