Fifth Piece of the Puzzle

Continuing with conceptualizing my project, I want to work with the Cold War and mapping through that.  That is ambitious for the short amount of time this class provides, so I am simply picking one event from the Cold War to map and have students analyze: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I have already chosen an image and a video clip that I think will be used within my project.  To add to this, I have found a text document that I would also like to include.  It is a New York Times article from October 23, 1962, titled “U.S. Imposes Arms Blockade on Cuba on Finding Offensive Missile Sites; Kennedy Ready for Soviet Showdown.”  It describes what was going on in the United States at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is valuable for students because they can read exactly what American citizens were reading at the time.  They can also see how this is framed from an American point of view.  They can start to ask historical questions about the document as they read through it, and continue their research based on their historical questions.

Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

The image that I want students to analyze in relation to my project is an image of missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  At first glance, the students may not understand exactly what they are looking at, but if they look further, they can see that the locations of the missiles and launch equipment is marked, thanks to the Department of Defense.  I would want them to analyze the photograph and examine why exactly the United States would be upset about finding them in Cuba.  What does this mean for the greater context of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union?  This helps them come to their own conclusions about the situation, prior to really discussing the details.

PX 66-20:16 Medium Range Ballistic Missile Launch Site 1, San Cristobal Cuba, 25 October 1962. Briefing board #16 of Secretary of Defense McNamara's Special Press Briefing on Cuba, 06 February 1963. United States Department of Defense photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

PX 66-20:16 Medium Range Ballistic Missile Launch Site 1, San Cristobal Cuba, 25 October 1962. Briefing board #16 of Secretary of Defense McNamara’s Special Press Briefing on Cuba, 06 February 1963. United States Department of Defense photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

A video I might want to include is the following newsreel footage from the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I might show this to them after discussion on the image above.  They would need to analyze the perspective of the footage, as well as the greater message that is being conveyed as part of the Cold War.  Students tend to struggle with perspective or bias, so having them examine how this might be biased would be an interesting exercise for them.

Film and Historical Images in the Classroom

Images and film are powerful messengers for historical information.  How they are portrayed helps influence how the public perceives that information.  Frequently, the public is so engaged by the film or image, that they fail to question the historical accuracy, merely being entranced by the method of storytelling.  As a social studies teacher, it is my job to help students analyze what the sources are telling them and to determine the accuracy of the sources.  Even though images can be doctored and films tend to err on the side of watchability as opposed to factuality, I still think that both are highly valuable in the social studies classroom.  They just need to be framed appropriately through discussion and analyzation.

In my history and government classes, I already show my students the film Iron Jawed Angels.  In history, we discuss the women’s suffrage movement as part of the general civil rights movements.  In government, we discuss its relation to the Constitution and the civil rights movements.  In both classes, I can have the students analyze the film and work to understand the historical accuracy.  In order to do this, I need to frame the film for the students, first introducing the women’s suffrage movement to them through lecture and activities.  Then, I can show them the film.  Afterwards, we can discuss what they took away the most from the film.  I can also have them analyze primary source documents from the women’s suffrage movement, including newspaper articles, pictures, political cartoons, personal correspondence, meeting notes, etc.  Through these media, the students can analyze a complete story of what happened in the women’s suffrage movement, who was involved, and how the rights came to be.

Students are absolutely able to come to their own opinions of what happened historically, framed through their own moral context.  As previously stated, every man can be his own historian.  My job as a history teacher is to help hone the analytical skills of my students, so that they can use them in their own future endeavors.  As the year goes on, we can gradually build from analyzing a single image or document, to combining analyzing primary sources with film.  By the end of the year, they should be able to think critically about what they see, and question the authenticity and accuracy, while demonstrating analysis of the item (be it document, image, film, etc.).

Third Piece of the Puzzle

The audience I have in mind for my project is my own classroom of 10th grade students.  I came to this audience because I wanted my project to be applicable to my life, and engaging my students is something that I want to be able to do on a regular basis anyways.  This project is a perfect way to blend those two needs.

Second Piece of the Puzzle

I’m still considering geography one of the biggest struggles that students have right now.  In order to teach geography, a heavy reliance on maps is necessary.  In using the maps, I plan to show by example.  I would have to show them the maps and “walk” the students through them step-by-step.  Another way to get them to understand the relative location of places on the map is to let them explore the map and have them make connections between different nations.  In exploring for themselves, they get the hands-on experience of seeing where that location is on a map.  If I’m able to use digital tools, I could use Google Maps or Google Earth to help them see the relative locations of the places they’re looking for.

History of Teaching History

At the heart of history teaching, the idea of sharing history with younger generations remains. No matter how much the standards might change over a given period of time, the focus of history education is passing on the history of the world and nation to the younger generation in the hopes that they will be better citizens. Teaching students to think critically about history and try to understand history from the perspective of someone in the time period has been a part of history teaching for many decades. Having the students examine primary sources and try to understand what was happening in the country/world has been a part of history teaching as well.

External expectations have governed what history gets taught and how, for the most part, over the last hundred years. Over the last few decades, the state governments and national governments requiring teachers to teach to those standards have mandated standards and the students to all are able to pass those standards. Prior to this, the College Board and Educational Testing Service governed what were on the college entrance exams. While teachers maintain some academic freedom, they still are required to make sure their students know the required standards. The digital turn makes testing more digital and interactive, and not simply a paper and pencil test. Theoretically, digital testing is easier on the students and teachers, and grading comes back much more quickly. This does not account for the fact that many schools do not have enough in the budget to ensure that the testing environments are equal. 150 students may be taking a different version of a history test in a library at the same time. This taxes the servers, the computer equipment, and the students in such a high-pressure environment. Some schools, on the other hand, have classroom sets of laptops, in which students are able to test in the relative comfort of their classrooms. Hopefully, the digital age will help increase equity in testing, but until all schools receive equal funding for such technology, the gaps will continue to exist.

First Piece of the Puzzle

One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in my social studies classroom is that students don’t know geography.  And there is less and less time in the year to cover the non-standard-mandated geography lessons.  So students don’t understand basic map-reading and geography skills, much less the locations of states or countries.  I want my project to focus on some of these geography skills in conjunction with the world history curriculum.

In the basic levels of education, there are more and more state requirements, but less time.  And that spreads up to the higher levels.  Teacher see it on a regular basis that basic skills get forgotten or passed over for the state-mandated information that the students will be tested on.  Examples include poor writing skills and lack of knowledge of basic multiplication tables.  In the social studies realm, basic map skills have gone by the wayside.  There is a strong focus on the facts, but not necessarily how all the facts fit on a map or timeline.  So I want to focus my project on helping to build those map skills, in addition to the knowledge about the events that are able to fit on that map.

Thinking about Historical Thinking

As Sam Wineburg, Stephane Levesque, and Lendol Calder all point out, historical thinking needs to be modeled for individuals to understand how to do it for themselves.  Teaching history, whether in a museum, archive, library, or classroom, needs to involve individuals thinking historically and not just regurgitating a narrative of events.  History is more than just the timeline of events that has been taught, but it has individual stories and offshoots and connections that are all part of the complicated world we live in.  There isn’t just one straight x+y=z.  Many different perspectives and answers exist and help to form that all-encompassing story that we know to be history.  Individuals also must be able to form their own thoughts and opinions on historical events, people, etc. by thinking historically for themselves, using evidence and historical empathy to build it.

The questions this brings up, especially for me as a teacher, include how to get the students engaged in historical thinking.  How do I get the students to “buy in” to this method of thinking, especially when I can barely separate them from the thought that I’m supposed to feed them the answers?  Focusing on student-based inquiry is definitely the answer, but how to get from the question to the answer is the grey area I’m struggling with currently.

I am also curious how to apply this historical thinking method with the constraints of state-mandated standardized testing with its requirements on what bullet points students need to know or not know.  History is certainly about more than George Washington being the first president of the United States and that the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor.  How do the time constraints imposed by a school year in addition to the required facts allow me to teach the necessary processes for historical thinking to my students and not just teach them to regurgitate the “facts”?

Also, having listened to Sam Wineburg’s interview, how can I get students, who lack a lot of empathic thought to begin with, to think empathetically about events and people and places of the past?  How do I get them to care?  (Which I suppose ties back into my first question of how to get them to buy in.)  Part of my job as an educator nowadays is to help model empathetic thought, so how can I apply that to the historical inquiry methods, all while ensuring the state-mandated knowledge is imparted?

I hope these questions will find their answers as this course progresses, but I have a feeling that some of them are a bit too big for most teachers to conquer in a single semester, and that they really are the big questions that the teaching profession is grappling with in our current state of affairs.


I am a high school history teacher in Prince William County, Virginia.  I’ve taught World and American histories, as well as American government.  I got my bachelors from Old Dominion University, and I earned my masters from George Mason University, both with concentrations in history.  I am currently in the Digital Public Humanities Graduate Certificate Program with George Mason University.  While I love teaching, I would really like to get into the museum world, working with artifacts and the stories that come along with them.  I was an intern at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, in their aviation curator department, as part of my masters program, and I really loved being able to work with artifacts and the stories and how to share them with the public.

I hope to learn more strategies for using digital public history in both my classroom and potentially in museum work.  I’ve already learned so much about the digital tools that institutions have available to them, so I’m interested in hearing how they can continue helping in the education realm.  Having used Omeka the past two semesters has helped with creating digital exhibits about different events, so hopefully that can be used this semester in planning educational lessons for students of any age.

This entry was posted in General.

The Process of Digital History

Over the course of the semester, we have built digital public history projects from the ground up, so to speak.  We created an idea for a project, prototyped it, storyboarded it, and actually created the digital exhibit.  There were headaches and tears, learning curves, far too many Cokes and candy bars consumed, and, ultimately, celebrations of successes as the project came into fruition.  I’m sure that’s all very similar to working on an institution’s digital history project.  At first, the frustrations came from the hosting site and the Omeka site, and the lack of knowledge about how to work them.  Once that learning curve was handled, creating the exhibits came much more simply.  The more I worked with the software, the easier it became to manipulate.  The image in my head of what I wanted the exhibit to look like and what it actually looked like came together at the end of the semester, which was exhilarating to finally have it all work and make sense.  Journey to the 1936 Olympics is the product of my efforts, and I am very proud of it.

Digital public history isn’t an easy field.  The collaboration that is necessary is staggering.  Just trying to teach myself basic coding and Unix skills to work the hosting and Omeka sites was exhausting, so I can only imagine building a site completely from scratch.  That’s why the collaboration between disciplines is so necessary, or at the very least DPH projects should consult other disciplines.  I enjoy the fact that anywhere in the world, someone could be looking at my DPH project and learning about the 1936 Men’s Olympic 8+ from the University of Washington. There’s something amazing in that realization.  I can imagine that’s how digital public historians feel as they see their projects become public, spread throughout the world with their strategies, and evolve.

Throughout this past semester, I learned a lot about myself and my skills (or lack thereof).  I also started a list of what more I want to learn (basic coding skills is very near the top).  Through the readings and activities of this semester, I learned a great deal about DPH and how institutions are able to spread their messages and exhibits through the digital world and connect them to the tangible world in their museums or collections.  Through networking and social media, these projects can be shared and connected with so many different people that wouldn’t necessarily be able to see them in the tangible world.  Museums and institutions should absolutely take advantage of the increasing technologies and increase their audience by reaching out into the digital world.  DPH is definitely the way of the future, and museums and institutions should plan accordingly.  I’m very glad at the knowledge I have gained through this course, and I’m proud of the project I was able to create.