Random Thoughts: Change, Primary Sources & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘History

Once or twice a month I work as a gallery greeter at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. First time visitors invariably make a bee-line to George Washington Crossing the Delaware by  Emmanuel Leutze,, one of the two surviving versions of the iconic painting. Last week a group of college students were absolutely giddy about being able to view. They looked, talked, asked questions and came back for a second look after touring the rest of the gallery.  I love historical art and seeing conversations like those take place.    What other paintings can

Are paintings primary sources? Can one painting stimulate inquiry and exploration? Can it be the centerpiece of a lesson or interdisciplinary learning? How can maps be paired with paintings?  In the November/December New Media Center column  I shared some ideas that illustrate the power of a painting, used alone or paired with another resource to provide a great learning activity.  For the Love of Historical Art!  

 

 

 

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Harlem Rens Poster Collage

A fun part of exploring primary sources is discovering unique artifacts  that are not what we typically expect.  One example is an  interview with James Naismith, the inventor of basketball that was recently discovered by a Kansas University Professor.

The interview inspired me to renew  my search for Library of Congress resources  about the Harlem Rens. I learned about the Rens while watching On the Shoulders of Giants: An Audio Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance,  a movie based on Kareen Abduhl Jabbar’s audio book.  The film is about so much more than basketball!  Primary sources support the fascinating narrative of segregation, civil rights and of course the Rens.  Jabbar was at the showing.  It was incredibly inspiring.

LOC has a few items related to the Rens.
Genial Robert Douglas, who operates the Renaissance Casino, with his cat Rennie  (Photograph showing Douglas, owner of the Renaissance Casino in Harlem and founder of the Renaissance Five basketball team, holding his cat.)
S.Con.Res.57 – A concurrent resolution recognizing the contributions of African-American basketball teams and players for their achievements, dedication, and contributions to the sport of basketball and the Nation.

I could almost hear everyone’s head spinning with curriculum ideas!
What are your ideas for incorporating sports and sports history into the curriculum?

More Resources
Today in History & New York mayoral proclamation (2013)
The Harlem Rens (Black Fives Foundation)
LOC:   Primary Source Sets , eBook Student Discovery Sets and teaching ideas
Harlem Renaissance
Jim Crow and Segregation

On the Shoulders of Giants: The Story of the Greatest Team You Never Heard Of,  2011 historical sports documentary film directed by Deborah Morales, written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse.

KU professor discovers only known audio recording of James Naismith, inventor of basketball

Learn more about using Primary Sources in your classroom

 

This crew was like a band of brothers” Husky Crew Foundation photo: University of Washington

The Boys in the Boat  (Penguin, 2013) is the newest addition to my “memorable books” list. Daniel Brown’s nonfiction account of the University of Washington’s competition at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is almost as exciting as listening to a broadcast of a tie-breaker basketball ball game. While Washington the team was victorious, winning and getting there was not easy.  Brown describes life in Seattle and America during the Great Depression, the life-long struggles of Joe Rantz (the team member most highlighted) team training, competition with a rival California team, competing against prestigious Ivy League teams, and the art and physics of rowing.

Hitler’s emerging power and the conniving put into creating a positive impression for visiting teams are woven throughout the narrative. The work of Leni Riefenstahl, a producer of Nazi propaganda films, and the massive work dedicated to building the Olympic stadium are especially intriguing. I was also interested in the depictions of East vs West (reminded me of The Great Gatsby) and lt a “younger” and yet unknown Seattle.  The art, woodworking skills, and influence of George Pocock who built the shells are another fascinating part of the story.

As with other non-fiction, I was curious about the author’s resources. They are extensive, including interviews with surviving family members and friends, letters, diaries, photographs, Universal Newsreels, other films, newspapers, log books, and unpublished manuscripts. The end notes provide exhausting insight into just how much research goes into researching and writing a book like this. A few of these many primary resources are:

Read the book about this band to brothers to learn just how hard the team worked and how close the Olympic competition race was!  You will learn some new vocabulary and gain an appreciation on rowing along the way.

I never imagined a book about rowing could be so informative, interesting, and exciting!

WatchFobWhat was in Lincoln’s Pockets the night he was assassinated? 

Lincoln’s Pockets, a Library of Congress professional development activity  answers the question. These artifacts are available to teachers and students digitally in Lincoln’s Pockets, a LOC Teacher’s Page Professional Development Activity. The complete packet includes facilitator directions, participant questions, and links to the artifacts. Some objects are easily identifiable, most, such as the object on the left,  are not. (What do you think it is?)

The engaging (and easy to implement) activity generates interest and questioning as participants try to identify each object and decide what they have in common. The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the evening of his assassination are part of the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniania

Numerous museums and cultural organizations are holding special events and exhibits to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.  Remembering a Fiendish Assassination is an especially unique event sponsored by the The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. One commemorative experience will be a reenactment of Lincoln’s funeral train procession from its arrival in Springfield, Illinois, to Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. Funeral Train Reenactment website.

JohnWilkesBoothThe 10-year old Springfield museum is incredibly fascinating and educational. Visitors enter the  extensive Presidential Journeys Gallery through a replica of the White House entrance. John Wilkes Booth stands off to the side, watching the Lincoln Family, Frederick Douglas, and other White House visitors.

An especially moving exhibit is a recreation of the Ford’s Theater assassination and a recreation of Lincoln’s closed casket.

The museum utilizes extensive technology to heighten the visitation experience. A  battlefield scene is loud and intense; in another live presentations it is hard to distinguish a live actor from a hologram. The museum and nearby Lincoln sites such as his home and office are well worth the visit.  There is a lot to see in Springfield. Allow at least two days!

I can remember the time I spent in this state park. We had to work at Plainview in the cannery. I enjoyed very much the landscape surrounding us. The trees, the rocks. It was similar to Germany.
Ernst Kohleick, former POW, 1974.

A major character in Chris Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast is a Scottish prisoner of war working on a family estate in Eastern Germany as Russian forces are invading at the end of World War II. German internees are employed on a farm during an episode of the British detective series Foyle’s War. Both situations renewed my interest in learning more about the German POW camp at Whitewater State Park in Southeast Minnesota, a short distance from my home. Housed in a former Civilian Conservation Core barracks, POWs worked on area farms and in canning factories. They were paid a minimum wage so they could resettle in Germany after the war. Friendships developed between POWS and county residents, including some of German descent. Some POW returned to the area in the 1970’s to revisit the former campsite; some oral interviews were recorded.

German_POW

Wounded German prisoners being loaded aboard a United States Army transport plane at an advance air base in North Africa (Library of Congress)

Camp Whitewater POWs were from North African and Normandy campaigns. Whitewater was one of 20 POW camps in Minnesota and a “branch” of the Algona, Iowa base camp. On Veterans Day an area television station broadcast a video featuring the camp setting, an interview with the park naturalist, and historic photos.

 

A tornado destroyed the Whitewater camp barracks in 1953 leaving few visible remains. There are, however, primary sources about camps in Minnesota and other states available in digital collections.  A comprehensive starting place is The Library of Congress State Memory Collections Portal.  One Minnesota Reflections artifact is a Letter from Alois Sauer to Henry Peterson in Moorhead, Minnesota. Sauer shared fond memories of his time at in Minnesota:

AloisSauer_1The time I lived in America, especially on your farm, was the best of my life. I learnt [learned] this, when I came as a prisoner from the U.S. to France. What a contrast! In the U.S. we had plenty to eat and the people were so good to us, and there in France we met only hunger and hate. And when I returned at home the conditions were not much better. Our food-rations were and are still today terrible small, and I often wanted to have only a small amount of the foods I got in the USA.

More resources

German POWs, treatment of POWs and unlikely friendships between POWS and civilians are timely classroom topics!

Historical fiction suggestions

  • Bohjalian, Chris. Skeletons at the Feast. Crown, 2008. For older readers.
  • Greene, Bette. Summer of My German Soldier. Puffin Modern Classics, 2006. Story of a young Jewish girl in Arkansas and a German POW. For middle level readers
  • Dallas, Sandra. Tallgrass. St. Martin’s, 2007.  Weaves the story of an unlikely friendship between  internees at a Colorado Internment Camp and a beet farmer’s family throughout the book. A parallel plot is the anti-Japanese behavior and attitudes of other community citizens. Upper middle level and senior high readers.

Primary sources offer exciting possibilities for all content areas
Learn how to find and use primary sources in your classroom!

 

For-Adams-Sake-Amazing! 

I’ve  just read For Adam’s Sake; A Family Saga in Colonial New England. It is extremely interesting, packed with detail (some juicy) and highly readable. Historian  Allegra di Bonaventura meticulously researched an abundance of primary sources but relied heavily on the detailed diary Joshua Hempstead  kept for nearly 50 years while living in New London, Connecticut,

The lives the Hempstead family, other families of English ancestry, and the Jacksons, an African American family, are interwoven.  Adam Jackson, was Hempstead’s slave for 30 years. Informative accounts of Native Algonquins are also part of the saga. Family and daily life, farming, occupations, hard work, disease, travel, Colonial slavery, and disagreements over religion and land are just some of the many facets of late 17th and early 18th century life in  Colonial America. Rich detail and intense narratives captured my attention throughout.

The Hempstead name and my ancestors’ experience Colonial New England piqued my interest when I read about the book.  I have known Hempsteads all of my life; my Ford ancestors immigrated to Colonial New England in 1621.  I dug out a family history and discovered that Hannah Dingley, wife of James Ford, a 4th generation family member, lived in the New London. The Ford family is not part of For Adam’s Sake, but there is a crossover of the names (Beebe, Winthrop, Rogers, and Harris) and similar situations are included in both.

di Bonaventura’s sources span an extensive range of primary source documents and pictures from New England Historical Societies, The Library of Congress, and beyond. The Hempstead family homeHempstedHOUSE was occupied by 8 generations of Hempsteads into the 20th century.  It is now a historic site.

  • For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England by Allegra di Bonaventura.  Liveright, 2013. More info.
  • The Ancestry of the Children of William Arthur and Nellie Clara Ford Van Alstine; Part 2; Ford Ancestry in America, 1620-1976.
    Compiled by James Neal Van Alstine, Center Conway, New Hampshire, 1976.
  • Hempstead Houses, Connecticut Historic Site
  • Excerpt from the Joshua Hempstead Diary, New London County Historical Society
  • Ebook Version of Joshua Hempstead’s Diary (Google Books)
  • Mary Johnson’s Primary Source Librarian blog alerted me to this intriguing book.  She also has a personal connection with the book! Amazing!  Thank you!

housegirlTara Conklin’s House Girl is a popular book club book and appropriate for high school students. The historical fiction novel tells the story of Lina, a contemporary New York attorney working on a slavery reparation case. Through her work she discovers connections between art, a client, and a slave. As Lina begins her research she compiles a list of the slaves, making a comparison chart of the harm they received.  Several names caught my eye.

The familiar names were drawn from  Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, an AmericanLukeTowns Memory collection of more than 2000 first-person accounts. These interviews were collected as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930’s. Take a look at Luke Towns, a centenarian, born in Georgia in 1835.

When I read historical fiction I am always curious about the author’s source.  These primary source interviews clearly tie in with the novel. They support the study of slavery,  inquiry, and reading/understanding/comparing informational text

Conklin cites the slave narratives and other collections  in her list of sources.  There are countless primary resources to complement The House Girl and movies such as Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.07.29 AM12 Years a Slave.  For starters,  The Emergence of Advertising in America collection has powerful, thought-provoking flyers from slave auctions. Voice from the Days of Slavery from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center has recorded interviews of former slaves.

Primary sources like these offer engaging learning opportunities for  classrooms. Learn how!

Images: Luke Towns selection from Born Into Slavery: Slave Narratives From the Federal Writers Project and The House Girl, p 75


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