Tag Archives: History

10 History Lessons from Savannah Georgia

This past weekend I was able to visit Savannah, Georgia for the first time. I was enamored by all the history around me and thoughts of all the take aways that I was immersed in to bring back to my students to help understand all aspects of history as it relates to this town.

1. Ships of the Sea – Since Savannah is located along the river and includes a major global portal across centuries, the Ships of the Sea Museum exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great Era of Atlantic trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, founded in 1966, exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great era of Atlantic trade and travel between England and America during the 18th and 19th centuries.The Museum features nine galleries of ship models, maritime paintings and artifacts.The vast majority of ship models were commissioned by the Museum to interpret the rich story of Savannah’s maritime history.The collection of models includes, colonial vessels, ironclads, ocean-going steamers, and modern navy ships. The models have been strenuously researched and intricately detailed.

Designed in 1819 by English architect William Jay, the Willian Scarbrough House is one of the earliest examples of domestic Greek Revival architecture in the South. Now home to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

2. Slavery – The arrival of the slave ship Wanderer to the Georgia coast in 1859, involved the illegal capture and transport of Africans, a conspiracy, the hierarchy of both Savannah society and the United States government, over 40 years of failed U.S. policies, and a capital punishment trial. 

The Ships of the Sea Museum offers an online exhibit the chronicle of the Wanderer is explored, along with the historic context within which this intriguing story unfolded. The history of the slave trade is examined along with U.S. legislation regarding slavery, such as the abolition of the Slave Trade Law, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the influence of John Brown’s abolitionist actions and the historic Dred Scott Supreme Court decision.  

3. Sugar – “A most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind” 

– William of Tyre, 12th century

The sweet culinary habits wealthy Savannahians is exhibited at the Jepson Center Telfair Museum dedicated to the consumption of sugar in the port city. This unique display gives visitors a glimpse into humans’ connection to sugar and its complicated history, dependent on slavery, and the city’s socio-economics. Porcelain and silver were shipped from Europe and beyond into the Port of Savannah, providing the elite of this city with purchasing options far surpassing those of any inland towns of the 19th century.

4. Revolutionary War – The siege of Savannah, the second deadliest battle of the Revolutionary War (1775-83), took place in the fall of 1779. It was the most serious military confrontation in Georgia between British and Continental (American revolutionary) troops, as the Americans, with help from French forces, tried unsuccessfully to liberate the city from its yearlong occupation by the British.

5. Yellow Fever – Savannah’s first major yellow fever epidemic occurred in 1820 when 666 people died. In the 1854 epidemic, 1,040 people died. Locals who could afford to leave fled the city and businesses shut down.

6. Civil War – Hundreds of antebellum houses, buildings and churches abound with Civil War history in this city. The Savannah area has three historic forts once occupied by Confederate and Union forces, and miles of coastal channels where gunboats and ironclads sailed and slithered through the marshes, inlets and backwaters of historic Chatham County.

The Civil War is more than what happened on the killing fields of battle. The old city is woven with the stories of generals, planters and brokers, enslaved (and later free) West Africans who lived in the historic lanes. And there are the families — regardless of color or nationality — Savannah’s diverse multicultural population is another side to Civil War history in Savannah that is more than worth the time to explore.

Civil War Savannah is also a place where Union General Sherman, and 60,000 Union troops entered in December of 1864.

Telfair Museum

7. The 3rd Oldest Art Museum – Designed for Alexander Telfair, the Telfair mansion was constructed in 1819 on the site of the former colonial Government House, the official residence of Royal Governor James Wright. Alexander commissioned William Jay, a young English architect, to design his new home. Jay had recently arrived in Savannah from England to oversee the construction of the residence of Richard Richardson (now Telfair Museums’ Owens–Thomas House & Slave Quarters).

In 1875, Alexander’s sister Mary – heir to the family fortune and last to bear the Telfair name – bequeathed the house and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. The Society hired German-born artist Carl Brandt to create the new institution. Working with New York-based architect Detlef Lienau and Savannah-based architect Augustus Schwab, Brandt remodeled the old Telfair home and constructed an addition to house a new collection of art. The museum opened to the public in 1886, making it the oldest public art museum in the South and the first museum in the United States founded by a woman.

In 1906, Telfair Museums’ Board of Trustees asked American artist Gari Melchers to serve as the museum’s fine arts advisor and to make purchases on its behalf. During his tenure from 1906 to 1916, he facilitated the purchase of many of the best-known works in the permanent collection thanks to his many connections to the international art world.

Today, Mary Telfair’s unique gift to the city of Savannah has grown into an institution comprising three architecturally significant buildings, over 6,300 works of art, and a proud history of educational programming and exciting exhibitions.

8. Ghosts & Hauntings – Savannah is widely known as the most haunted city in America. Walk into any historic building or cemetery in Savannah and you may catch sight of ghostly presences surrounding you. Some say that the city was built on the graves of indigenous people and then over time built on top of cemeteries of slaves and those who died during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In fact, unbeknownst to us, we stayed at the Marshall House one of the top haunted hotels in the U.S. Since 1851, this hotel has been used as a hospital three times – once for Union soldiers and twice for 19th century Yellow Fever epidemics.

Civil Rights Marker

9. Civil Rights –  On March 16, 1960, black students led by the NAACP Youth Council staged sit-ins at white-only lunch counters in eight downtown stores. Three students, Carolyn Quilloin, Ernest Robinson, and Joan Tyson, were arrested in the Azalea Room here at Levy’s Department Store (now SCAD’s Jen Library). In response, African-American leaders W.W. Law, Hosea Williams, and Eugene Gadsden organized a nearly complete boycott of city businesses and led voter registration drives that helped elect a moderate city government led by Mayor Malcolm Maclean. Sit-ins and the boycott continued until October 1961, when Savannah repealed its ordinance requiring segregated lunch counters. The boycott continued until all facilities were desegregated in October 1963, eight months before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared Savannah the most desegregated city south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Davenport House presents the story and lifestyle of a young builder, Isaiah Davenport, and his household in the early 19th century.

10. Mythology of Moonlight & Magnolias – There are many historic mansions built in 1820s in Savannah. Whereas, when these museums opened in the 1950s, there was no mention of the people enslaved on the property. Like most house museums, the focus used to be on the luxury and aesthetic appeal of the lifestyles of the wealthy, centering and mythology of moonlights and magnolias. It has taken decades of labor, research, and collaboration to construct an honest interpretation of the history of this period. Many museums continue to hone their presentation as facts present themselves. Savannah’s historic homes can offer a closer look at the lives of its (mostly white and wealthy) residents in times past, an appreciation of the architecture and furnishings of a particular period.

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5 Teaching & Talking Points for Washington, DC January 6th, 2021

We ended 2020 with promise and possibility. A vaccine for the Corona Virus, a woman of color to be our next Vice President, Black Lives Matter at the forefront, a congress and senate that is diverse and representative of our nation. And then on Wednesday January 6th, 2021 a mob of pro-Trump people stormed the State Capital following a rally where President Trump “falsely claimed of widespread voter fraud.” The New York Times reports, “Hundreds of people barreled past fence barricades and clashed with police officers in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College results.” The mob smashed windows and broke through the main doors moving freely throughout the building, some vandalizing statues, carrying confederate flags, and taking pictures of their endeavors. The images displayed through social media and presented on news evoked feelings of terror, embarrassment, and appal.

Image from Leah Millis/Reuters Published in New York Times 1/7/2021

Reactions around the globe are of disdain, dismay, and doubt of the stability of the United States Democracy. It was the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the Capital building. And now in 2021, a collective of Pro-Trump Americans inciting violence and treason stormed the capital building. History is being made everyday.

How do we as history and English teachers address these events in a ways that promotes conversation, not division and greater divide?

Depending on the age level of your students, here are some possible avenues to engage in conversations in our classrooms relating to yesterday’s events.

  1. Examine The History of the US Capitol Building through Architect of the Capital website published by the government. On the website it states, “The history of the United States Capitol Building begins in 1793. Since then, the U.S. Capitol has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended and restored.. . . it stands as a monument to the ingenuity, determination and skill of the American people.”
  2. Teach a lesson on Fake News. So much of what Trump has posted on Twitter and spoken about to the country is false. He throws around the concept of “fake news” since the beginning of his presidency. But what really is fake news and which information is correct? Check out the New York Times Fact Checks website that details the falsehoods and misleading statements from our political leaders. Although the Newseum in Washington, DC closed its doors last year, their resources for Fake News lesson plans and resources from the Education Department are very valuable.
  3. Re-examine the Constitution and the 25th Amendment. Right now the conversation is whether Trump is fit to hold office for the remaining 13 days. Trump has shown over the past four years his disregard of the Constitution. Allow students to closely study the Constitution and decide whether or not Trump should remain in power. For more historical details and debates, check out Representative Barbara Jordan’s speech on impeachment back in 1974.

4. Read a Dystopian Text. Right now my students are reading Animal Farm and although Orwell wrote this book to parody the Russian Revolution, there are so many passages that connect with our political parties today. Whether addressing propaganda or rebellion, revolt, and revolution, these fiction tales of dystopian communities are a mirror to current events. Essential questions can address, Does power have to corrupt? and Can we protect ourselves from manipulation?

5. Parlay, a discussion based platform and learning tool, showcased two lessons reflecting on January 6, 2021. Both addressing topics of government and civics. In one discussion prompt students respond to the provided questions or post a question of their own. The following sources are used to kickstart the discussion:

Parlay has many more government and civics related lessons. The questions designed by Parlay can also be used for online discussions on a Google Jamboard, Padlet, or Flipgrid responses.

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Hidden History

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In the Author’s Note of Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea she writes,

Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past.

What determines how we remember history and which elements are preserved and penetrate the collective consciousness? If historical novels stir your interest, pursue the facts, history, memoirs, and personal testimonies available. There are the shoulders that historical fiction sits upon. When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them.

Please give them a voice.

Sepetys’ work of historical fiction is a collection of vignettes told in alternating voices of young adults who are refugees trying to escape their war torn countries during World War II and hoping to board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that will take them to safety. Caught between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia’s Red Army, many of these young people left their homes and families behind on a quest for freedom and safety.

During World War II the Wilhelm Gustloff was carrying more than 10,000 refugees, five thousand who were children,  when on January 30th, 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the ship, sinking with majority of the passengers on board. That is more than the lives lost on the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet I did not know any of this until I read Sepetys’ book. In fact, she writes that “in the year 1945 alone, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea due to ships being bombed and sunk.”

I want to hone in on the idea of “Hidden History.” What is the history that gets told and taught in our schools. This concept sparked two different projects for a history/humanities class.

Hidden History Project –  Students research and uncover a piece of “hidden history.” Students can write about or create a video about some aspect of history that has been lost (like a piece of art or artifact), uncover a mystery, or share the story of a survivor or witness.

For example, National Geographic’s video on the mysterious Amber Room, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, was lost during WWII when it was looted by the Nazis. The Amber Room, a world-famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, originally constructed in the 18th century in Prussia.

Historical Testimonies – When I taught a middle school drama class I asked students to interview a family member one or two generations older than the students and then turn the interview into a monologue to present to the whole class. This assignment has two parts. First students select a family member to interview and brainstorm a list of questions to ask the person about an important time in their life — See the Great Questions from StoryCorps. The second part of the assignment would be for students to read through and edit the interview responses to create a monologue that tells a memory moment of this particular family member. Students can dress up and bring in an artifact of the person when presenting the monologue.

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West Coast Treasure: Resources for Adventure, Discovery, & Wonder

I have just returned from a week long vacation in San Francisco with my family. The benefits of my children having a teacher for a mother is that our vacation will be a fun filled adventure filled with discovery, wonder, and learning.  Hence, our trip to the west coast included jam packed days for exploration and inquire about the world. Below are the places that we visited and the array of resources that all teachers and parents can utilize online or in person that encourages science inquiry and an interest in American history.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods – Muir Woods National Monument is a sanctuary of Redwoods and ecological treasure. The ginormous trees are breath taking with the tallest tree is Muir Woods over 250 feet. Some of these trees are over 1,000 years old. This destination offers scientific facts about the California Redwoods, the role of Fog and Fire, the anatomy of the trees, and the history of the National Parks Service that protects this forest.

California Museum of Science

California Academy of Sciences – This Museum in Golden Gate Park is an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. With hands on exhibits and virtual programs, the museum promotes science in both theory and everyday experiences. There is a host of programs and curriculum available online for educators.

de Young Museum of Fine Arts – Another great museum in Golden Gate Park, this art museum boasts a collection of Modern Art from around the world. The Marcus Garden of Enchantment is playful and mysterious and encourages people to explore its different pathways, structures, artworks, and natural features. Don’t forget to take the elevator to the top of the tower for a 360 degree view of all of San Francisco if you visit the museum. Online you can find an abundance of curriculum resources for educators covering teaching guides and lessons.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz – My 10 year old son would tell you that this was the best part of the vacation, visiting the island and listening to the stories of those who experienced Alcatraz as guards, inmates, and families. Alcatraz has a broad history from first being established as a fort during the civil war, a prison from 1859-1963, occupied to make a political statement for Native Americans, and now an ecological preserve. It is amazing to go inside the prison and hear stories from an array of people who worked there before it closed as a prison. There was also a unique exhibit on the island titled “Portraits of Resilience: Children of Incarcerated Parents” that brings to the forefront the impact of incarceration on families today. The NAACP reports that there are more than 2 million people in prisons. Criminal justice is a critical topic in education that plays a role in teaching history and literature. Books like Jason Reynold’s The Boy in the Black Suit and Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore paint a different picture from the Al Capone Does my Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Whereas the image of the gangster in the 1920s brought a romanticized picture of outlaws, over crowding in jails and racial bias in our prisons today offer a very different image worth exploring.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium – I know so many people who wanted to be marine scientists when they were younger. Monterey Bay Aquarium would be a dream job for many. Where else can you see so many differently kinds of Jelly Fish or Sea Stars in one place? This aquarium is an amazing center that specializes in researching and educating about marine life in order to co exist and sustain our oceans. The educator’s tab on the website offers an abundance of curriculum materials for all grade levels addressing current exhibits.

All around us are amazing cultural centers that promote learning, science, history, and an appreciation for nature around us. You do not have to take a trip to San Francisco to experience all the great resources that abound the city. Online one can take virtual field trips and peek into an ant colony, swim with the sea otters, or be inspired to write a poem about the beauty of the photographs of national landmarks.

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On the Go: New York Transit Museum Sparks Creative Lessons for Diverse Content Areas

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Whether you have children or students obsessed with anything that moves (i.e. trains and buses), teach about the turn of the 20th Century, or are looking for an awesome museum that is off the beaten path . . .  The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, New York is the place to go.  

My family and I spent the afternoon exploring throughout this hands-on museum learning about history of the New York City Transit from omnibus to elevated trains to trolleys to the subway.   Did you know that the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit System) began constructing the first subway line in 1900 and in 1904 the first subway line carried as many as 100,000 people on its very first day!  Most of the subway system that is in place today was built from 1916 to 1931. Today, New York City subway lines are one of the most extensive and busiest in the world.

The mission of the New York Transit Museum is ” to collect, exhibit, interpret, and preserve the history, sociology, and technology of public transportation in the New York metropolitan region, and to conduct research and educational programs that will make the Museum’s extensive collection accessible and meaningful to the broadest possible audience.”

But the museum is not all history, there were science connections with an exhibition on Electricity.  From a math standpoint, there is also an exhibition about the tokens.  At one time, it only cost a dime to ride the subway!  For a music connection, Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video was filled just a few blocks in a nearby subway station twenty five years ago. 

Hands down, the best part of museum happens to be the vintage subway cars.  The lower level includes more than a dozen subway cars from the Brooklyn Union Elevated Car, to the Money Train and more.

The museum’s website offers the history of the transit system, lesson plans for teachers, and historical documents on the teacher resources webpage.  Additional online activities include Gallery talks, magnetic transit poetry, and transit artifacts .  The museum is available for school trips and open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays.

 

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