Monday, February 3, 2014

Doodle Your History

I've used the National Archives document analysis sheets, the guided questions and charts from the DBQ Project, and lots of other formats of primary source analysis with my students.  They are all excellent tools, but they aren't FUN for kids.  I want students to be fascinated with evidence from history the same way I am.  I want them to see a connection between what a document says and what life may have been like for the people who wrote those words.  I've posted in the past about how non-traditional note-taking can be more valuable for student learning than previously thought.  I thought I'd apply that concept to primary source analysis.

Last week I asked them to create some kind of image representation of a primary source document and how it helped answer our essential question:

Was the Antebellum North really morally and economically opposed to slavery?

You see, my New England students have traditionally been taught that the South favored slavery and the North opposed it.  But that is not entirely true.  Our nation's history of racial discrimination is anything but black and white.  So, here are the instructions they received based on primary sources from Lowell, Massachusetts:
Students used apps like Paper, Penultimate, Educreations, and the Camera Roll to carry out this short activity.

Here are some examples of the documents and their analytical images:

Excerpts from Lowell Patriot's coverage of Lowell's Anti-Abolitionist Meeting, August 28, 1835

The article reported that Lowell's leaders disagreed with abolitionists like Garrison and Thompson, who they thought were extremists, but also felt they needed to speak out against the practice of lynching in the South.  They strove to avoid conflict with the South so they could continue to benefit from the raw cotton slaves produced. The result was complacency.
A different group's analysis of the same source shows that they did not want to deny southerners their slaves because the U.S. Constitution protects citizens' rights to own property.  At the same time, anti-abolitionists claimed they were against extreme violence toward slaves like beating and lynching. They also use the scale on the bottom to show the attempted neutrality on the issue of slavery.

"Public [Anti-Abolitionist] Meeting" Broadside, August 21, 1835

These students used the banner image from the broadside along with clipart from the internet to show how mill owners were OK with slavery because of how it fit into their business plan.  Their resulting image gives me the creeps, but that just means they really understood the motivations at work when the broadside was created in 1835.

Cotton Production in Lowell/U.S. Slave Population

This graphic shows how Lowell textile factories needed cotton, and therefore their success demanded more slaves to produce that cotton in the South.

"Lowell Cloth" 1858-1859

Students who drew this representation of the document wanted to show how factory owners bought raw cotton produced by slaves and then sold the manufactured cloth back to plantation owners to clothe those same slaves.  A cycle of economic dependence on slavery in which both North and South participated.
The class discussion about each document were more engaging and students asked each other better questions because we were looking at color images that brought history to life instead or reading and copying from notes.  It took half a class period and students were talking, creating, and thinking the whole time.  It was certainly more interactive than filling out document analysis tables.  Of course, note taking has its place, but it doesn't have to be linear outlining 100% of the time.  Students can create to show learning.  They don't have to list to show learning.