Tag Archives: Teaching History

Field Trip: George Washington’s Mount Vernon

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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

In John Trumbull’s painting of George Washington the artist blends history and portrait. George Washington was the commander in chief during the Revolutionary War. This painting epitomizes heroism and nobility.

In the same Yale University Gallery, upstairs from the American paintings, stands Titus Kaphar’s Shadows of Liberty in the Modern Art Gallery with similar characters and colors. Yet, his painting tells a very different story and tone. The golden yellow cape wrapped around Washington is a shredded list of enslaved people held up with rusty nails like a collar and covering his mouth.

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You will not find Kaphar or Trumbull’s painting at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, what you will find is an “authentically interpreted 18th century home,” lush gardens and groundsmuseum galleries, and immersive programs.

Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home. It was also home to hundreds of enslaved people who lived and worked under Washington’s control. In 1799, there were 317 men, women, and children enslaved at Mount Vernon’s five farms, which covered 8,000 acres. They made up more than 90% of the population of the estate. The exhibit states, “Washington’s views on slavery changed over time. Economic and moral concerns led him to question slavery after the Revolutionary War, though he never lobbied publicly for abolition. Unable to extricate himself from slavery during his lifetime, Washington chose to free the 123 enslaved people he owned outright in his will. He was the only founding father to do so.”

Both the Enslaved People’s tour and the museum gallery “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” offer a watered down view of slavery and set the tone that the first president of the United States had conflicting views about slavery.

George Washington, ca. 1787–1788 wrote, “The unfortunate condition of the persons whose labour in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret.”

History is not one-sided. When teaching about this time period it is important to look at history from multiple perspectives and voices. If you are teaching this time period, here are a few additional resources to add to your repertoire about George Washington.

Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive. 51eu07btpel._sx330_bo1204203200_

Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons’ when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

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For older students, Dunbar’s original book was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction offering a startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family. When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he brought along nine slaves, including Ona Judge. As the President grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t abide: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Hmmmmm, that is very sneaky, Mr. Washington! So, when teaching this time period. Let’s just be sure to paint the whole picture. We can bring in artifacts and texts from multiple perspectives and people.

In your are in the Washington, DC area, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate is worth visiting. Also, online there are multiple resources for teachers with lesson plans, virtual tours, a digital encyclopedia, and artifacts. For those who are fans of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton the Musical, there is a webpage on the Mount Vernon website that looks at how each song from the original cast recording relates to Washington.

 

 

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Holocaust Memorial Day: Why It Matters

Our child and students are the “last link” to Holocaust survivors. Many survivors are in their mid to late 80s. They will not live forever, but their stories will.

Technology has allowed us to capture the stories and testimony. The Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City has introduced virtual reality and virtual conversations with Holocaust survivor testimony. Dimensions in Testimony allows visitors to experience a “virtual conversation” with Pinchas Gutter, a survivor of six Nazi concentration camps. When you ask questions, Pinchas—in the form of a pre-recorded projection—provides answers in real time.

To create this experience Pinchas answered approximately 1,500 questions for the creation of Dimensions in Testimony. Your unique questions prompt his recorded responses—made possible by specialized recording and display technologies and next-generation natural language processing. As the JHM states on its website, “Dimensions in Testimony ensures that future generations will still be able to speak with and learn from survivors.”

The current Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away “exhibit brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil—one that arose not long ago and not far away.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, there is a virtual reality experience for visitors. The Last Goodbye is a 20-minute immersive virtual reality testimony experience produced by USC Shoah Foundation. It represents unprecedented advances in storytelling through technology. During the VR experience Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter tours the Majdanek concentration camp where his parents and twin sister were murdered during World War II. As Pinchas recounts his experiences, you walk alongside him—seeing what he sees, hearing what he hears, and learning as he guides you through an account of his own history.

Why Remember?

The entranceway to the Museum’s Core Exhibition has two biblical quotations carved into its granite walls: “Remember . . . Never forget,” [Deuteronomy 25:17, 19] and “There is hope for your future” [Jeremiah 31:16].

• What should we remember, and why?

• On what should humanity as a whole base its hope for the future?

• On what do you base your hope for the future?

 

Last week there was an opportunity for my students to hear two survivors. Henry Brecher was six years old in Graz, Austria in 1938. On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria to annex the German-speaking nation for the Third Reich. In early 1938, Austrian Nazis conspired to seize the Austrian government by force and unite their nation with Nazi Germany. As a result, Henry’s parents decided to send him to live with cousins in Croatia and for six years he was sent off to live with friends and family while his parents and grandparents stayed back and were later killed in concentration camps. At the age of twelve, Henry was sent to a refugee camp in Oswego, New York. Imagine your parents sending you to a foreign place with relatives you know little about.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan was speaking in our community for Yom HaShoah Commemoration. Following Hitler’s rise to power, the Blumenthal family  were trapped in Nazi Germany. They managed eventually to get to Holland, but soon thereafter it was occupied by the Nazis. For the next six and a half years the Blumenthal’s were forced to live in refugee, transit, and prison camps that included Westerbork in Hollan and the notorious Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Though they all survived the camps, Marion’s father succumbed to typhus just after liberation. It took three more years of struggle and waiting before Marion, her brother and moth obtained the necessary papers and boarded ship for United States.

Racism and bigotry continue today. These survivors speak to students because they know that today’s generation will be the last to hear first hand accounts of the dark time in our history. If you do not have access to a survivor you might ask students to read a Holocaust memoir.

Biography, Memoirs, and Diaries

Auerbacher, Inge. I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust. New York: Puffin Books, 1993.

Drucker, Olga Levy. Kindertransport. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Fluek, Toby Knobel. Memories of My Life in a Polish Village 1930-1949. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

 

Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne Frank: The Revised Critical Edition. New York: Doubleday and Company, 2003.

Frister, Roman. The Cap: The Price of a Life. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Grossman, Mendel. My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2008.

Heller, Fanya Gottesfeld. Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs. New York: Devorah Publishing, 2005.

Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

Michel, Ernest W. Promises Kept: One Man’s Journey Against Terrible Odds. New York: Barricade, 2008.

Neimark, Anne E. One Man’s Valor: Leo Baeck and the Holocaust. New York: Dutton, 1986.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Zapruder, Alexandra (ed.). Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Zeller, Frederic. When Time Ran Out: Coming of Age in the Third Reich. New York: Permanent Press, 1989.

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