First Ladies as Political Symbol: A Visual Literacy DBQ

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Posing with Big Bird

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.

First Ladies as a Political Tool by Emily Strocher Download as PDF (5MB)

We do not elect our First Ladies … but we can and do criticize them just as if they were politicians.

Some of the Presidential wives made great First Ladies and some did not, but, overall, the nation has been most fortunate in the caliber and charm of the women who presided at the White House table, stood beside their husbands in innumerable receiving lines and served, each in her own way, in what must be the most trying unpaid fulltime job in the country. We do not elect our First Ladies nor can we turn them out of office but we can and do criticize them just as if they were politicians. (And indeed some of them are!)” ~ Sadler, Christine. “America’s First Ladies,”

As you proceed through this section of the book, answer the multiple choice questions about what category each photograph should be placed in.

  • Why did you choose to place the images in the categories that you did?
  • What is the importance of these themes? Why would photos that support these ideas be important to have?
  • How do you feel these photos illustrate how the First Lady and First Family can be used to spread an idea?
  • What do you notice about where the First Lady is standing in each of these photos? Do you think this photograph was staged or candid? If it was staged, why would the individuals in it be posed as they are?

Reflection by Emily Strocher

In addition to being practice in how to go about making a DBQ, this assignment has also been a solid lesson in how not to create a DBQ. I feel that as an actual practicing teacher, this will be easier as I will have a better idea of what I want and need the DBQ to do. I will have a topic in mind, and a message that I am trying to convey to the students, or messages that I want them to come up with on their own. There will be more structure in place. Creating a DBQ in the manner that we did for this class allowed me too much freedom, I feel. I needed a more concrete goal, as my DBQ turned into doing whatever I wanted to with it, not trying to meet specific requirements for student learning.

Going along with that, I decided early on that I wanted to create an image based DBQ. I found my resources, and shaped my DBQ around what I had discovered. If I were to do this again, I would reverse my work flow. The topic would come first, and then I would find documents that fit with it. There would be more diversity in the sorts of documents that I included, rather than just using images.

While I do like my DBQ, and feel that it would get students to think about something that wouldn’t normally cross their minds, I am less pleased with the process that I went through to create my DBQ. My problems aren’t so much with my content as with my process. If anything, I became too attached to my content, and struggled to make changes because of that. ~ Emily Strocher AboutMe

Image Credit: Photograph of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Posing on the Big Bird Nest Set with Big Bird  to Celebrate the 25th Season of Sesame Street , 10/14/1993
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: P08630-13

The Marshall Plan: Altruism or Pragmatism?

Europe_Plan_Marshall._Poster_1947My 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: What does it mean to be the victor in war? Is there a responsibility to rebuild the enemy?

The Marshall Plan: Altruism or Pragmatism?
by Samuel Kimerling Download as PDF (11.7MB)

After WWII the United States gave more than $12.5 billion in aid to Europe. Was this all in the name of humanitarian aid? Or were there other economic and political goals behind the plan? This monumental effort raises some important questions regarding the nature of post-war policy.

  • What does it mean to be the victor in war?
  • Is there a responsibility to rebuild the enemy?
  • Does the price you pay for victory entitle you to spoils?
  • Did the Marshall Plan represent altruism on the part of the U.S. or pragmatism in gaining economic and strategic advantages?

We will examine original documents to answer these questions.

Reflection by Samuel Kimerling

After switching my topic from the more obscure food history topic to the much more document rich Marshall Plan, my issue was not where to find documents, but just the opposite. There were so many great documents, I found myself following lead after lead on possible directions to take the assignment.  While I learned a tremendous amount about the Marshall Plan, the state of Europe after WWII, and the different opinions throughout U.S. and Europe about the plan, I didn’t feel like I was getting any closer to completing the assignment. But I was finding photos, documents, and getting more information. Through this research I was able to narrow my focus and choose an angle on which to focus: the differing views on the Marshall Plan from Europe, Russia, and at home in the U.S.. My next challenge was to step away from the history and just look at the documents.  What was I trying to say? What were the documents telling me?  I finally focused on assembling documents that could tell a story.  Once I had a clear narrative of what I wanted the students to see, the guiding questions practically wrote themselves. This assignment has been exciting for me on two main levels.  First learning how to write this type of assignment for my students will be something I will continue to work on throughout my career. I am a big believer in having students think like historians.  The other facet is just how much I enjoyed researching the history surrounding the Marshall Plan. Reading all the documents and seeing all the photos was like a DBQ itself.  I will continue to practice, learn, and hopefully inspire my students to do the same.
~ Sam Kimerling Twitter/@kimerlin171 

Image credit: ”Europe Plan Marshall. Poster 1947″ by Reijn Dirksen, published Economic Cooperation Administration – Source. Licensed under Domini públic via Wikimedia Commons

Combat Troops in Context: A Visual Literacy DBQ

Howard_Chandler_Christy_-_Gee_I_wish_I_were_a_Man,_I'd_Join_the_Navy_-_Google_Art_Project

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.

Combat Soldiers in Context by Kristi Anne McKenzie Download as PDF (6.9MB)

This DBQ project will explore documents that contribute to the popular image of the soldier in the minds of the American people. As you examine the following documents, remember to keep in mind both the source of the document and the point of view that is being expressed.

  • Who created the document?
  • What was the goal in creating this document?
  • How does the document reflect the period in time?
  • How do the documents support or contradict one another?

Reflection by Kristi Anne McKenzie ~ AboutMe

Advice to Future Self on Undertaking a DBQ Project

1. Start with the document(s) first. Learn about it (or them), and place that document in a time period and look at everything that surrounds it. Follow the rabbit trail from MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” to Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” and see where it takes you. The themes will show themselves sooner or later. Humans are programmed to seek out patterns and find the stories. But starting with a theme and hoping to find documents to undergird that theme is risky. It could work, but it could also lead you on a search for something that doesn’t exist.

2. Be careful about trusting your crazy brain. Sometimes it does magic tricks when you least expect it. Sometimes it lets you think it can do the impossible. This is when you need to reach out to, and listen to, the friends who will be bluntly honest with you and tell you when you’re headed out onto unfruitful waters.

3. Don’t try to answer philosophical questions with a DBQ project. Yes, there is an inherent discrepancy between perception and reality. Great. But a DBQ is probably not the correct avenue to explore such an idea. However, don’t be afraid to present the unanswerable questions. Part of life is learning that not all questions have answers.

4. If you know how your brain works best, go with it. I tried to learn how to design a DBQ while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use Learnist and Evernote with my brain balking at me all the way. When I finally relented to how I learn best (paper and Pilot G-2 pen), my brain finally began to kick into gear. If I had accepted the truth of how my brain works sooner, I could have just gotten the work done and copied and pasted my work into these new programs afterwards. Trying to learn a design process while attempting to learn a new computer program was too taxing and, ultimately, unproductive.

5. Don’t let your heart get broken, don’t lose anyone you love, and don’t get ill. These will all interfere with your work.

6. Don’t be afraid to suck at something the first time you try it. Scarred knees are simply reminders that you now know how to ride a bicycle. Embrace the suck. Listen to Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

*** Now that the project has been completed, I might add that, in the end, everything came together fairly easily. My training as a historian turned out to be my secret sidekick. I will do this again, and next time I will do it better.

Image credit: Gee I wish I were a Man, I’d Join the Navy by Howard Chandler Christy (after 1917)
Cooper Hewitt Museum Accession Number 1980-32-1170

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

Perspectives on the US Immigration Debate: 1920s DBQ

Slavic Mother and Child

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.

What was the reasoning and motivations behind these differing beliefs?

Americans’ Perceptions of Immigration in the 1920s
by Ceci Brunning and Jenna Bunnell Download as pdf (9.3MB)

The Roaring Twenties signaled an era in American history in which modernity and progress were at the forefront of every American mind. Business was booming in the post-World War era and the new consumer- based economy catered to an ever evolving society, which rejected traditional social norms and and embraced modern notions of cultural and social freedoms. The famous “Jazz Age” has been immortalized as an age of unabashed creativity and liberation all set to the tune of a sexy jazz rhythm in a neighborhood speakeasy.

Of course, the image of the 1920s entrenched in the splendor of fictional characters like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, Jay Gatsby and in famous residents of West Egg are romanticized visions of a society that was in all actuality full of social and economic disparities between American urban areas and American farmlands. Fear and paranoia swept through the more conservative epicenters of America, and many people experienced a period of backlash against social change, foreign objects, and foreign peoples. 

This DBQ assignment is meant for students to view the issue of immigration through various primary sources based on the perceptions of different individuals and groups from the 1920s. As you look over them, consider the various perceptions of immigration throughout the 1920s.

  • What was the reasoning and motivations behind these differing beliefs?
  • How did different groups or individuals view immigrants and immigration?
  • What did these same individuals and groups believe should be done with immigrants?
  • How are their arguments similar and different?

Reflection by Ceci Brunning and Jenna Bunnell
We have learned a lot about teaching history as well as history itself through this DBQ project.  First off, we were reminded about how vast history is and how deep you can go with a topic.  Our topic developed and changed over the course of the semester, but it always stayed within the realm of America in the 1920’s.  The reason we switched around so much was because we realized there was so much going on in the 1920’s in America and had to decide on a corner to focus on. We eventually decided upon views of immigration in the 1920’s in America, not only because there are a lot of primary sources on the topic but also because it directly connects to the hot contemporary topic of views of immigration today in America.

Some difficulties we encountered were sifting through all the primary sources out there.  We also struggled with coming up with a narrow, specific question for our DBQ. Additionally, we struggled with time management in devoting more time to this project, due to the impending due date and demanding assignment of our work sample. If we were to do this over, we might select an even more narrow topic to make it easier to decide which primary sources to include.

We did learn over the course of this project, though, the value of having students examine historical documents.  It is vital for students to be placed in the role of historian, in order to immerse them history and see it as more than memorizing facts.  It is also important to come up with narrow, specific questions for historical document examination.  We look forward to using “historical labs” in our future classrooms, by having students examine evidence and conduct their own observations and inferences of what that historical evidence means and says.  It is equally important as well to help students make connections between past and present events, in order to see how the past affects today through similar contemporary events.

Image source: Preus Museum NMFF.003730
Hine, Lewis Wickes
Slovak gra..h- Ellis Is-1905
Slavic Mother & Child, Ellis Island (George Eastman House)
Portrait of three women and a baby. Just arrived to Ellis Island along with hundreds of other immigrants that day. In search of a better life. USA 1905.

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