New Deal Poster DBQ: Public Persuasion or Propaganda

Work pays America Prosperityjpg

My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol II. It features ten engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of multi-touch iBook version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. More in series here.

Essential Question: How did the WPA use art to influence public opinion?

The New Deal and the Art of Public Persuasion
by Kari VanKommer Download as pdf (6.6MB)

The Federal Arts Program or the FAP was one arm of the WPA solely dedicated to the creation and promotion of the arts in America. One of it’s major undertakings were the creation of promotional posters, today known as the WPA Poster Collection. Between the years 1935 and 1943, the WAP and FAB collectively created and printed more than 2 million posters on more than 35,000 unique subject matters.

There are several key techniques academics used when analyzing materials that is created to persuade and in this DBQ these techniques will be helpful to use as well. The most import questions to ask yourself when looking at all of the posters in this collection are below.

  1. What is the ideology and purpose of the propaganda?
  2. What is the context in which the propaganda occurs?
  3. Who is the propagandist?
  4. What is the structure of the propaganda organization?
  5. Who is the target audience?
  6. What techniques for persuasion are being used?
  7. What audience reactions are the techniques hoping to elicit?

Reflection by Kari VanKommer Twitter/@MissKVK

This project was such a great opportunity to try my hand at creating the type of relevant history lesson that I want to include in my curriculum as a future social studies teacher. Unfortunately, I did not fully take advantage of it as I wish I had. Initially I struggled narrowing down a subject, I wanted to land on something I felt a strong personal connection to which would also be relatively simple to construct a DBQ project around. Quickly settling on the topic of communism and the Red Scare, I felt confident, perhaps a little too confident. When I realized that someone had focused on that topic last year for this project, I decided that topic would no longer work for me. I could have carried on with the communist angle and perhaps focused more specifically on one aspect of it such as the Rosenbergs or the Cuban Missile Crisis, but my internal drive to be as close to original as possible forbid me from this. Instead I decided to switch gears entirely.

After debating various topics in my head from Civil War Reconstruction to the often forgotten historical figure of Noah Webster, of that dictionary we refer to from time to time (who I discovered in my preliminary research may have been a thoroughly unlikable fellow which is why his contributions to the founding of the USA have largely been forgotten…) but I digress. After bouncing around a variety of ideas after the Red Scare topic fell through, I finally settled on focusing my DBQ on the New Deal and the various forms of propaganda and art that came out of that time period in American life.

This period in history is complicated and filled with difficulties and political initiatives that mirror our own times to such a degree it is almost unsettling. Much as President Obama has needed to sell his ideas for recovery and change in the last six years such as the Affordable Care Act, so FDR needed to sell his plan for getting America out of the Great Depression. The poster collection created by the WPA and FAP between 1933-1943 is one of the first things I re-discovered when researching this topic. They are beautiful, modern and striking. The have an agenda, often times more than one and they have much to tell us about what art can do to shift public opinion, and what those responsible for creating those posters believed needed to be shifting.

Once I settled on a topic my drudgery through this project was not alleviated. I did not have a focused point of view or purpose for the posters though I know I wanted to use them. Peter Pappas helped me collate my thoughts on what things could be asked of students in relation to the artwork and what conclusions or inferences could be drawn that might be helpful. My resulting DBQ project is not the best thing I have every produced, but it is definitely a place to start. As one of my favorite authors Elizabeth Gilbert has said “You must be very polite with yourself when you are leaning something new.”

If I could do it again I would get started much sooner, put my head down and find a topic I felt was original and interesting. I might have focused on maps or the layout of cities in America or something closely related to that. The good news is I hope to be at this for a while and I think the benefit of DBQ questions can not be understated, so I might just get me do-over shot after all. For now it’s about doing the best you can and learning that procrastination does not a stellar project make.

Image credit: Work pays America! Prosperity.
Library of Congress: LC-DIG-ds-04632

Exploring History in 10 Interactive Lessons

Exploring-History-VolIII’m very pleased to share a new iBook just published by my Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland. Free at iTunes. Static pdf version of the iBook.

It features ten engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. The units draw from a fascinating collection of text and multimedia content – documents, posters, photographs, audio, video, letter and other ephemera. “Stop-and-think” prompts based on CCSS skills guide students through analysis of the primary and secondary sources. Essential questions foster critical thinking. All documents include links back to the original source material so readers can remix the content into their own curated collections.

All of my students assignments had a public audience on our class blog and were designed to meet our three class goals: 

  • Learn to think like a historian.
  • Become a skillful Instructional designer
  • Develop technical skills for production, reflection, growth and professional networking.

The lesson design process began early in the semester when students designed lessons in historical thinking skills based on the work of Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). They focussed on three key skills – Sourcing, Contextualizing and Corroborating. Then students identified essential questions worth answering and gathered documents to explore the question in an extended DBQ design process.

Exploring History: Vol II was our PBL capstone and is available on iTunes in 51 countries around the world. Here’s a post (from last fall’s class) that describes our project workflow (including how we utilized iBooks Author). Here’s Exploring History: Vol I created by my fall 2013 class.

I’ll be doing a future blog post that features each student’s DBQ, but for now here’s the US and World History lessons in chronological order:

  1. The American Revolution by Scott Deal
  2. The Pig War by Andy Saxton
  3. Cesspool of Savagery by Michelle Murphy
  4. Chemical War by Erik Nelson
  5. Americans’ Perceptions of Immigration in the 1920s by Ceci Brunning and Jenna Bunnell
  6. The New Deal and the Art of Public Persuasion by Kari VanKommer
  7. Combat Soldiers in Context by Kristi Anne McKenzie
  8. The Marshall Plan: Altruism or Pragmatism? by Samuel Kimerling
  9. Little Rock Nine: Evaluating Historical Sources by Christy Thomas
  10. First Ladies as a Political Tool by Emily Strocher  

Thinking Like A Historian: Student-Designed Lessons

History of SpringfieldOver the last few weeks my University of Portland EdMethods students have been designing lessons in historical thinking skills based on the work of Sam Wineburg and the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). They focussed on three key skills – Sourcing, Contextualizing and Corroborating.

The lessons were designed in a shared Google presentation. Below you will find the project workflow and links to each lesson as an individual blog post.

Flip the introduction:

I used TEDEd’s video curation tool to turn an existing YouTube and into a flipped lesson introducing historical thinking skills. Students also read Thinking Like a Historian by Sam Wineburg.

Deconstruct the model:

With that background, students spent a portion of our next class deconstructing a few of the assessments found in SHEG’s Beyond the Bubble. They were asked to find three questions that focus on any of these skills: Sourcing, Contextualizing and Corroborating. With their team they explored how the assessments are designed:

  • How many historic sources, what types?
  • What additional information are students given?
  • How many prompts?
  • What are students asked to do?
  • How is the assessment designed to support the skills?
  • Be prepared to share your finding with the whole class.

Design your own lesson:

Students were then assigned to design their own historical thinking lesson based on the Beyond the Bubble assessment model. They used a shared Google presentation to host their lesson. Since not all students were familiar with Google tools, I used SnagIt to create a YouTube playlist: Working with Google Presentation

Guidelines for the lesson included:

  • Title slide for your mini-lesson. Make it catchy!
  • Your name as author of the mini-lesson on your lesson title
  • Target students – by grade level
  • Indication of one (or more) of the historic skills to be studied – Sourcing, Contextualization, Corroborating
  • One or more historic documents. Text, image and videos can be inserted into the slide. Longer documents can be linked to via URL or saved in Google drive with link to it.
  • Source URLs for all documents used
  • Guiding questions for students to use with document(s)
  • Brief description of how the document(s) and question(s) should reinforce the targeted historic skill(s)

Peer Review /  Reflection / Blog post

At our next class, students did some peer editing of each other’s lesson using Google doc’s comment feature. They used the peer feedback to do a final version of their lesson. Students were then asked to write a brief reflection on the process – it could include their take on historic thinking, the specific lesson model borrowed from SHEG, working with a shared Google presentation, peer review process, etc. They then used the content from their lesson (plus their reflection) to write an authored post for our class blog.

Ceci Brunning - March 5, 1770: “Massacre” or “Incident?”
Jenna Bunnell - Arriving in the Land of Plenty
Scott Deal - My Big Symbolic Colonial Wedding
Samuel Kimerling - American Adobo: The Fight for the Philippines
Kristi Anne McKenzie - Dr. Seuss on Domestic Security
Michelle Murphy – We Found a Lot of Naked People
Erik Nelson - Damming the Nation
Andy Saxton - Implications of the First Amendment: “To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance”
Emily Strocher - The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Not Being Able to Correctly Identify These Speeches (and Fear Itself)
Christy Thomas - Who are we? A Mini-Lesson on Assimilation through Education
Kari VanKommer - Words From War: Two Soldier’s Accounts of War in Europe
 

Image source: Image from page 126 of “The history of Springfield in Massachusetts, for the young; being also in some part the history of other towns and cities in the county of Hampden” (1921)