Through a few emails and two Google Hangout meetings, Jennifer Rosenfeld and Nathan Sleeter from the Education Division of RRCHNM guided me to begin developing a project and helped set up internship goals. I was offered two choices: to finish and edit some of the ongoing projects at Hidden in Plain Sight or create my own module as a project. The site is designed to offer an online course for K–12 teachers that emphasizes an inquiry-based approach to learning about history. It attempts to emulate the way historians analyze evidence through primary sources and facilitates an active approach to studying history.
Although editing the already developed courses offered an opportunity to be able to complete my hours with feasable work and finish my internship this spring; after having examined several of the modules, I decided to create my own. It will not only give me a chance to put into practice some of the elements of historical thinking (Wineburg) previously discussed in the DH courses, but it will also allow me to explore a topic and a time period that ties in with my teaching. The modules are organized by time periods, such as 18th century or 20th century, and within the course each module is divided into five parts.
Initially, I was interested in developing a module that focuses on historical connections either to John Steinbeck’s works or to the history of Harlem in connection to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. So, I set out to search for an object as a starting point for the module. I had finished reading Invisible Man with my senior AP class in January and one particular scene came to mind where the main character walks the streets of Harlem, looks at objects in the shops and contemplates their worth and place in relevance to his own identity. Thus, I thought the Nubian slave statue he abhores would work well to begin, however, it did not seem to lend itself to the connections I was hoping to find. Reading through the chapters, I recalled a Smithsonian article published around the time of the opening of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The article, “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson tells the scarcely know story of the exhodus from the South. As I continued to search the novel for objects, I remembered a pivotal scene where the main character (who does not have a name) eats baked yam, and recalls the memory and feeling of home and origin. Later in our meeting with Jennifer and Nathan, I relayed these ideas and how I kept coming back to yams as a starting point for the module. They both confirmed that it would be a good main object precicely because its simplicity and for its deep roots in African culture. Nathan also recommended a book written by Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, which gives a detailed survey of the migration and its historical significance. Thus, my project was decided. I wil begin to explore the history of the Yam and its significance in African culture and focus on the great migration from the south leading to Harlem and to other places in the North. I will also read parts of Wilkerson’s book to gain a better understanding of the historical themes and connections relevant to this migration.