Teaching & Learning History

When a plan comes together

In regard to my project I am pleased to report that this week has been very productive. First, I have moved closer to developing a lesson plan that leverages available primary sources and the learning objectives they will support. Second, I had an excellent online meeting with a classmate to discuss our projects and their progress. Third, the week’s module assignment was to explore interviews with former students and educational digital history projects. This provided some very useful reference material. Finally, while doing research on Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning I came across a very interesting concept called “unsupervised learning.”

The concept refers to an algorithm that permits a machine to learn patterns from untagged data. The hope is that, through mimicry, the machine is forced to build a compact internal representation of its world and then generate imaginative content. In essence, trying to teach the machine to “think.” While watching some of the interviews from former students, and reviewing several of the educational digital history websites, I could not help but see some similarities between the need to teach machines to think and the objective of our final project to help students to think.

The classic teaching model, is based on a “supervised learning” process. Students are assigned specific reading material, and then provided with questions that need to be answered. But “supervised” learning does not always encourage critical thinking. Our assignment this week demonstrates how learning models are adapting to technology.

Several of the educational websites that were listed, like Children & Youth in History, exemplify a “hybrid” model using document based questions. In this case the site provides “unsupervised” access to particular primary documents and then recommends suitable questions for the students to respond to. The Disability History Museum site encourages the use of reading primary sources, but this time it includes both class discussion (supervised) and also group discussion (unsupervised). Finally, the World History Commons presents a model of using primary sources to teach students about different historical perspectives. It accomplishes this goal by allowing the students (unsupervised) to compare and contrast sources. The process challenges students to explore “what was the actual truth” and what did the primary sources reveal.

The review of these educational sites confirms that to be successful students need some contextual historic background (supervised) before evaluating primary sources (unsupervised). In addition, in order to “think historically” there needs to be consideration to encourage students to study both individual primary source documents, as well as conduct comparisons. For introducing students to use primary sources, it may be beneficial to first start with “visual literacy” exercises. For example, studying historic photographs and learning how to focus on unique details.

The student project examples were also very useful. In particular, Kathy Carroll’s, Uncovering History had an exceptional teacher’s guide template. I found that it presented an excellent framework to assist both teachers and students with key learning concepts, essential questions, and the necessary primary sources. Another great student project was Katie Willard’s The First Wave at Omaha Beach. Her concept of having the student “choose their own adventure” is brilliant and a wonderful way to teach history. By providing “options” to select, students get to experience the very decisions faced by soldiers over 77 years ago. Requiring students to think through the consequences of their decisions “unsupervised” is by far one of the better examples of how next generation educational websites are evolving.

For my next steps I plan on incorporating some of the excellent ideas provided by the templates and models presented. I hope to create a working draft of my lesson plan during the next week. I am now convinced that a “hybrid” model of both “supervised” and “unsupervised” teaching methods will work best for my project. Not only will this provide the necessary historical context the students need but it will also encourage students to think independently and present their own interpretations.

Teaching & Learning History

Do you want some popcorn with your history?

Glory, 1989

Hollywood loves history. Over the years there have been countless movies that attempt to historically portray actual events and people that lived them. But inevitably movie makers have to compromise historical accuracy due to time and other storytelling constraints. Our assignment was to select a feature film that had a historical theme. For me it was an easy choice, I selected Glory, the 1989 Civil War film about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first all African-American unit in the Union Army. I was able to rent it online off of YouTube. The movie was directed by Edward Zwick, and co-produced by Tri-Star Pictures and Freddie Fields Productions. The popular film starred Matthew Broderick as the real life Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th’s white commanding officer. It also starred Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman as fictional characters representing the African American soldiers wanting to fight for their new found freedom.

The movie, which won three Academy Awards, is based on the books Lay This Laurel (1973) by Lincoln Kirstein, and One Gallant Rush (1965) by Peter Burchard and Shaw’s letters to his family during the war. The story traces the creation of the 54th regiment in early 1863 to their heroic fate at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The film’s major themes includes the battle against racism facing both the white and black members of the 54th regiment, and the need to prove one’s worth sometimes requires the ultimate sacrifice.

There are many significant moments in the film, but I have selected two worth noting. The first occurs around 55:00 into the movie, when the soldiers are lining up to get paid for the first time are told that they are not going to get paid the same as white soldiers. The 54th soldiers start to protest and refuse to accept their pay. This scene is based on historic fact. But the movie producers added a dramatic moment when the white officers, especially Colonel Shaw, fearing a mutiny fire a warning shot in the air, and show their support by agreeing not to accept their payments as well. Fictionalized or not, it dramatically captures the spirit of the 54th and how both the white and black members had to “fight” to be accepted and allowed to fight.

The second moment takes place near the end of the film (1:52:00) and it is the dramatic conclusion (spoiler alert you might not want to read the next paragraph if you want to watch the movie). The movie is entitled “Glory” since it is what the 54th regiment was fighting for equal opportunity, to earn their glory. The second attack on Fort Wagner was a real event. However, the scene in the movie when the African American troops, led by a white officer, breach the Confederate ramparts is very Hollywood. In a dramatic moment, the soldiers are able to demonstrate all they were able to learn through training and how they became an effective fighting force. For a brief moment it appears that they are going to make it, but unfortunately historical accuracy prevents a different Hollywood outcome.

The movie Glory, produced in 1989, is still popular. Its theme of racial integration and the military is still relevant. Throughout American history the problem of asking those to fight for their country, despite not being treated equally, is persistent. Many Americans are still unaware of the contribution African American troops had in the Civil War. Over two hundred thousand U.S. colored troops fought in the war. The battle scenes are realistic, especially the opening scene of the Battle of Antietam. There are several opportunities in the film for teachers to show that will stimulate conversations and encourage their students to think historically. In regard to some of the questions that I might encourage the students to ask:

  1. Over 160 years later scholars are still debating the cause of the war, states rights, slavery, or both? At the start of the war in 1861, Union soldiers may have not be certain, but how does the movie represent the attitudes of the lead character Colonel Shaw?
  2. Many northerners did not believe that African American soldiers could be taught to fight, and they w0uld not be willing to lay down their lives. What does the title “Glory” mean and how does the movie portray the real life characters and fictional characters in their struggle for “Glory.”
  3. Research the regimental histories of several USCT regiments. What battles did they fight in? How well did they fight? After the war, Union veteran organizations allowed USCT members to join. What does this finally say about how white Union soldiers felt about African American soldiers and their military record?

Teaching & Learning History

Recruiting Historical Thinkers

My attempt at creating a poster to assist Arlington teachers to promote
Mapping the Civil War in Arlington
Teaching & Learning History

Visualizing History

Lobby card provided to moviegoers for the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation.”

It has been over a century since D.W. Griffith’s controversial film, The Birth of a Nation (1915) made its cinematic debut. The movie about the origin of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), was a huge success at the box office and it played an important role in the development of the American film industry. But it also represents a significant problem with Hollywood and history. Since the advent of “moving pictures” audiences have gone to theaters to be entertained and not necessarily to be taught history. In fact, in the art of filmmaking, historical accuracy is usually left on the editing floor. That is why we must approach the use of films as educational resources carefully.

The Birth of a Nation represents a major turning point in the evolution of “public history.” Until the film’s release in 1915, the history of the Civil War was confined to academia and the publishing of autobiographies and biographies of historic personalities. The timing of the movie is significant, since the war had been over for 50 years and many of the northern and southern veterans were starting to pass away.

Scene from The Birth of a Nation (1915)

From a 21st century vantage point it is easy for us today to be critical of the 106 year old film. Yes, it significantly distorted historical fact, it was racist, and unfortunately supported the South’s “Lost Cause” narrative. But for audiences (at least white audiences) in 1915 the film was compelling and and racial integration was still a work in progress.

Since the release of The Birth of a Nation, Hollywood has been telling and retelling the story of the American Civil War. There are dozens of popular Civil War movies (, including the 1939 epic Gone with the Wind, the 1951 adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage, Glory 1989, Gettysburg 1993, and Lincoln 2012. The problem for most audiences, is they are easily convinced that what they see on the screen is historically accurate and often don’t bother to check the facts. For those teaching history this presents both a problem and opportunity to use these films to point out, and have students reflect on, these historical inaccuracies.

In regard to digital storytelling, we now live in a world that online media technologies permit anyone to become their own D.W. Griffith or even a Ken Burns. His popular 1990s historical documentary The Civil War, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. For historians, Ken Burns is the gold standard for visualizing history. In fact Apple’s IMovie has a special effect called “The Ken Burns Effect” that allows users to replicate the motion of the camera panning over old photographs.

But even 30 years later Burn’s historical interpretation is being criticized for not questioning southern historians like Shelby Foote, and their persistence in advocating the “Lost Cause.” This is a stern warning for anyone that wants to enter into the realm of scholarly storytelling. The popularity of Social Media, and the ease to create visual content, provides students with some creative learning opportunities. The very nature of media production and editing, forces students to be selective and stay focused on arguing the major themes or historic interpretations they want to support. But unlike The Birth of the Nation, over a hundred years ago, today’s media also permits audiences to react to historical thinking almost immediately. This forces film producers, amateurs and professionals alike, to be on their guard and do the historic research.

Good storytelling, at the expense of bad history will no longer be tolerated, or at a minimum ignored. The “long tail” of the digital humanities world will eventually expose or at the very least embarrass would be “Ken Burns” of the future. Hollywood is finally taking note that “historically thinking” is here to stay. Historic films will continue to be popular, and hopefully continue to be more accurate.

Teaching & Learning History

3rd Piece of the Puzzle

During the past week I have really enjoyed the readings on how to analyze historic photographs. It has helped me to refocus my final teaching history project. In addition I had the opportunity recently to interview a retired Arlington teacher. She was involved in standardizing county history curriculums, especially teaching the Civil War. I had her review my site “Mapping the Civil War in Arlington.” We discussed how a local history project could help Arlington teachers encourage their students to learn more about Civil War history. She expressed regret that “Mapping” was not available years earlier when she was teaching. She said that teachers will appreciate the site. But added that most teachers do not have the time to be creative anymore. They are under tremendous pressure to adhere to Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL).

One interesting fact that she pointed out is that since Arlington is a multilingual community many students come from families where English is not their first language. As a result, teaching some subjects, especially Civil War history, can be difficult. We discussed that getting students to “think historically” is difficult if you can’t get them to think about history in general. She explained that teachers use several methods to engage their students. These include auditory, visual, and kinesthetic lesson plans. Of the three, kinesthetic or “hands on” is the most effective. But in the case of students struggling with English, visual literacy projects can be very useful in helping them learn.

For this reason she encouraged me to consider developing a lesson plan that would leverage visual primary sources. She also suggested that a lesson plan that encouraged students to collaborate with other students to review select images, and create their own historical analysis would have several benefits. First, leveraging local historical images would make the subject matter more relevant and interesting. Second, conducting the research and analysis as a team would support the students with weak language skills, and provide them to leverage visual literacy skills they already may have. Third, the core Civil War SOL material could be interwoven in the digital project.

8th New York Militia in Arlington, Virginia June 1861

The photograph above of the 8th New York, represents dozens of early war photographs that were taken of Union soldiers in Arlington. “Mapping” includes several already, but I realize that to better support the teaching project I should add at least a dozen more images. This particular image of the New York soldiers is very detailed and provides a variety of topical subject matter that can be easily analyzed. These volunteer New York troops were part of President Lincoln’s original request for 75,000 troops. Overnight, the roughly 2,000 people living in Arlington found themselves hosting over 30,000 Union soldiers. Telling this story of how these troops came from all over the North to Arlington, after the attack on Fort Sumter, would satisfy some of the SOL requirements.

Since these photographs are preserved in high resolution, students can zoom in and observe many details. They can analyze uniforms, weapons, and even how the soldiers were interacting with one another. To help the students analyze this and other images, I intend to follow some of the examples from the readings. The assignments have provided a significant guidance on how to review and analyze historic photographs. I will edit this and other photos and decompose the images into several sections. Each section will provide students to observe certain details, and in the case of the 8th New York, it will included weapons, uniforms, musical instruments, and even the young enslaved African American boy.

The reading assignments have also helped me to start developing a prototype curriculum and lesson plan designed for both 4th and 6th graders. One of the challenges I will face is making sure that my lesson plan aligns with Virginia’s Civil War SOL guide. The other challenge is finding suitable local images that will encourage students to learn more about what happened in their own backyards. The Civil War was well documented and digital collections, such as the Library of Congress, provide teachers and students with a treasure trove of images. Students will learn about the Library of Congress and its primary source collections. My final challenge is to research and review other “visual literacy” lesson plans and adopt best practices to teaching students how to analyze images. These best practices, including teaching students about using primary sources, and “thinking historically.” For example how did early photographers like Mathew Brady use the new medium of to influence public opinions about the war?

In regard to next steps, I will need to evaluate visual literacy templates, and identify lesson plans appropriate for 4th and 6th grade students. The lesson plan must also be based on an inquiry based methodology, that will permit teachers to engage students with all levels of English proficiency. The success of the project will be determined by how easy it is for students to examine an old image, and answer pre-defined historical questions that encourage them to search for details, and even come up with some of their own questions. Finally, the project has to support independent study for those students interested in learning more about their local history. This activity could be promoted by introducing a “webquest” to search other well known historical websites, or even a photo contest by having students visit some of the local historical sites in Arlington. Their photographs could be part of a “before and after” photo essay amd encourage students to create their own digital collections.

Teaching & Learning History

Teaching History in the 21st Century

Grant Wood; “Parson Weems’ Fable”; 1939; oil on canvas; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; 1970.43

In the early 19th century students were taught the story of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree. When confronted by his father Augustine, Washington quickly confessed, saying something like “I cannot tell a lie.”  Well, so said Parson Weems who published a book entitled The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington in 1800.  This book was sold as a biography of Washington, but in truth, it was a book of fables, meant to use the great Father of the United States as an example of moral behavior.

This example represents the challenge facing history teachers today. Technology on the one hand has provided new venues for research and access to information. But unfortunately, like our entrepreneur biographer Mr. Weems, there are many people posting “fake history” or skewed interpretations that need to be carefully reviewed before accepting them as fact.

During the past twenty years the field of Digital Humanities has been witness to a steady introduction of information technologies that is empowering both teachers and students. These include 1) Cloud based IT services, 2) the growth of APIs or application programming interfaces, and 3) Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning and searching. The availability of the public Internet, and mobile devices, now makes online historical collections ubiquitous. Teachers are no longer bound by the classroom. In fact, the recent COVID pandemic demonstrated the need for more asynchronous learning. All at a time when the “Internet of Things” or IoT has become so commonplace that classroom teaching will never be the same.

At the core of this new shift in teaching methodologies are the introduction of a few important technologies. First, all IT services are now in the cloud, this especially includes the hosting of databases and applications. This means that historical research is available anytime, anywhere, and for anybody. Second, APIs or application programming interfaces, are easier to use and integrate with stored data, both structured and unstructured. Finally, AI or Machine Learning as a service, is improving the way people search for information. It is called “Cognitive Searching.”

The rapid development of all three technologies will dramatically change the future of historic research. But more importantly the growing availability of online collections are providing students access to primary historical sources, including photographs, drawing, diaries, and letters. This is dramatically changing the way teachers are able to get their students to “think historically.” In addition, the the adoption of these technologies is now providing a new way collaborative way to learn by creating “digital projects.”

According to Allison Robinson in “Narratives and Counternarratives”, through collaboration, students can create their own community of scholars. Ms. Robinson advocates that getting students to design and implement digital history projects instead of writing traditional papers, serves a dual purpose. Not only does the new media require students to conduct their own original research, but teaches the students to how to see the bigger historical picture by developing their own interpretations.

The adoption of digital technologies in the classroom, is changing the way students are taught and think about history. Now everyone can learn history by trying to be a historian. But like the stories of George Washington, historic myths are still around. In fact the Internet makes it only easier to spread them. However, teachers and students now have the tools and resources to challenge them.

The role of a teacher is changing. Instead of just trying to get their students to memorize a volume of names, dates, and places, they can now encourage them to think like a historian. In fact, by encouraging students to get involved with digital projects, teachers are becoming more like guides. Helping their students to navigate both the positive and negative aspects of the emerging information technologies of the 21st century.

Teaching & Learning History

Second Piece of the Puzzle

In my previous post I wrote about three technologies that will have an impact on teaching history. These include 1) Cloud based IT services, 2) the growth of APIs or application programming interfaces, and 3) Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning and searching. The widespread adoption of these technologies is transforming the field of Digital Humanities, and most importantly how we will be “thinking historically” in the future.

The COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on our lives, including the way we teach students. For example, asynchronous teaching and learning has proven itself. Remote and distance learning is here to stay. For history teachers, this means that they can now access a broad range of primary source material available through museums and their online digital collections. As a result, students can now be part of a non-stop learning experience, whether it is from the classroom or at home. Also, students are now able to collaborate and develop digital projects online. But more importantly, the emergence of machine learning based”cognitive searching” is going to change the way history students will be able to search for, gather, and store primary source material.

In the past only museums, historical societies, or higher level education institutions, could afford artificial intelligence or machine learning services. But in the not too distant future these technologies will be provided as a service, and accessible to all. But in the meantime, the goal is to teach students how to access and leverage centralized collections of primary sources.

These collections provide a great opportunity for teachers and students alike to gain experience with searching and discovering historical primary sources, like letters, diaries, images, and official documents. By already having access to a collection of these sources, students can than focus on asking the broader historical questions that are important to “inquiry based learning.” Teachers in essence become facilitators by helping students to learn how to “think” historically. The goal is to leverage these digital collections to encourage the students to answer these broader questions and develop their own historical interpretations.

In creating “Mapping the Civil War in Arlington” it became self-evident that a centralized collection of local primary source material is a valuable teaching resource. However, to be a better resource, the site needs to provide an “educational” framework over the content. This framework will permit teachers to establish higher level historic themes and recommend the important and high level questions that the students will need to ask.

In Arlington, the Civil War curriculum, is taught to both 4th and 6th graders. Obviously there are some differences in age appropriate levels of historical thinking. So I will need to ensure that there will be sufficient questions developed for both groups.

In regard to the digital environment and how it is influencing the project, I realize that searching for primary sources is one of the most important functionalities. Most of the existing curated content data is structured. This is based on how Omeka supports the Dublin Core. However, with the inclusion of text based files, like letters and diaries, there is a certain amount of unstructured data. Since the site does not currently have any advanced cognitive searching capability, it will be important to aide students in this process. To accomplish this it will be necessary to review and modify the metadata, keywords, and tags of the curated items in order to support identified historic themes and student searches. By aligning the the sites searching functionalities with predetermined historic themes I can ensure that the student’s experience on the site will be optimized.

In reviewing the educational goals of the project, and how to develop the final pitch, I recognize that teaching students how to search for primary source material is an important project goal. “Mapping” will support Arlington’s history teachers “inquiry based learning” methodology and will be an important resource to support their Civil War curriculums. The site offers an opportunity to teach local history by researching an Arlington focused primary source collection. Since the collection is centralized and available to all students, the classroom experience will be a shared experience. And most importantly, students will be able to develop and share their own historic interpretations online.

Teaching & Learning History

First Piece of the Puzzle

In Virginia, 4th grade is when students get their first introduction to the American Civil War. For teachers there are many resources and guides to help them navigate through the complex and difficult themes associated with the conflict. However, in Arlington, there have been recent historical discoveries that makes the war even more relevant for students.

As part of a historic preservation campaign to save the Febrey Estate located on Upton’s Hill, researchers “rediscovered” the property’s connection to the Civil War. As a result, an online collection of primary resources are now available for teachers and students to review and analyze.

The project called “Mapping the Civil War in Arlington” provides students with a asynchronous digital learning opportunity. Using the site’s map, students can explore a multitude of primary sources, including historic photographs, letters, official records, books, and diaries.

The site also encourages teachers and students to collaborate and make contributions to the site if they discover an unknown primary source. The following list of competency questions have been generated to assist Arlington County elementary teachers develop their own Civil War lesson plans that focus on local history. The goal is to make the Civil War more relevant to Arlington’s students.

Upton’s Hill 1861

1) What are some of the unique geographical features of Arlington County that made it so strategic during the war? (Arlington Heights, hills, valleys, Potomac river).

2) Compare and contrast a modern map with one from 1861. What roads existed then? What bridges existed then? What about transportation like canals or railroads? How long did it take people to travel a mile compared to today?

3) What cities or towns existed back then? What was Arlington’s relationship with Georgetown, Alexandria or Falls Church?

4) When was the Alexandria, Loudon, and Hampshire railroad built and why was it so important during the war? What battle took place on the railroad early in the war (Battle of Vienna)?

1) What was the Retrocession of 1846 and what were the root causes? What was slavery’s role in the return of Alexandria to Virginia? What impact did the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation have on Arlington?

2) Who were the radical republicans and why were so many people living in Arlington at the time considered Unionists?

3) Why did President Abraham Lincoln wait until May 24, 1861 until sending Union troops into Northern Virginia?

4) What did the Virginia vote on May 23, 1861 (Referendum on the Ratification of Succession) decide?

Civil War
1) What were some of the strategic objectives of the Union Army in occupying Arlington? (Construction of forts, protecting bridges, establishing camps)

2)Identify some of the fort and camp locations from early 1861, what is located there today?

3) What is the closest camp or fort to where you live in Arlington?

4) Who were some of the famous Civil War personalities that spent time in or around Arlington during the early war? (Robert E. Lee, President Lincoln, George B. McClellan, James Longstreet, Jeb Stuart, and Irvin McDowell?

5) What military technology innovations were first tested in Arlington? (the use of gas filled balloons for aerial observations, the use of rubberized telegraph wire to link fortifications)

Impact of the war on Arlington
1) What was life like for the 2,000 people living in Arlington during the war?

2) How did all of the camps and fortifications impact the countryside? (destruction of Arlington forests)

3) Were there any military engagements that took place in Arlington? (Arlington Mill Skirmish, Ball’s Crossroads Skirmish)

4) Where did the Union soldiers come from? Which northern states sent the most troops? What did they say about Arlington and their experiences while staying there?

5) How did soldiers drill and live in camp?

6) What are some of the types of Civil War artifacts that have been found in Arlington?

7) What was the Army of the Potomac and why was it important in the ultimate Union victory?

For Arlington’s 4th grade students “Mapping” brings the Civil War to their backyard. Long forgotten, many primary resources are being rediscovered and they are helping both teachers and students alike to think historically. By “localizing” the Civil War students will be more interested in learning not only about what happened down the street, but why.

Teaching & Learning History Uncategorized

Historical Thinking

U.S. Army officers on a staff walk at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The United States military uses staff walks at Civil War battlefields to teach new officers that history matters. While military tactics and technologies have changed in 160 years there is still much to learn from the past. These staff walks demonstrate a few of the principles we are learning in our class about teaching history.

Author Sam Wineburg, (Thinking about Historical Thinking) states that reading about history and truly experiencing it are two different things. He points out that it takes an extraordinary amount of effort to conjure up or imagine a world that we have not lived in. For Wineburg “Historical Thinking” requires students to be immersed in the range of opinion in the day and become familiar with ideas or logics that seem “anathema” in the 21st century. For officers in 2021 it is difficult to comprehend how soldiers fought side by side in ranks and willingly exposed themselves to enemy fire. Yet, in the 19th century that is how armies fought.

In “Thinking Historically,” Stephane Levesque challenges the old paradigm of teaching memory-history. In this model teachers are more concerned about students accumulating information, such as dates of events, and names of people and places, rather than being taught how to critically investigate. Instead Levesque proposes that teachers guide their students to create their own “defensible” historic interpretations. In essence, teach them to be historians by learning how to become more empathetic. To accomplish this students need to see the connection between primary source material and interpretation.

During their staff walks, these young officers can draw upon the readings of first hand accounts and official records of the battle from those that actually fought. These primary sources allow the officers to draw their own conclusions or interpretations as to whether the historical participants acted accordingly to military doctrine and tactics of the day. Walking the battlefield provides a brief but important immersive experience to better understand the event.

Finally, Dr. Lendol Calder, in “Uncoverage,” identifies the historical paradox in teaching history. Instead of trying to “Cover” history, by providing volumes of information, teachers should instead be providing their students the means to “Uncover” history. Calder believes this can be accomplished by focusing on a “signature pedagogy” that provides students with ways of being taught that requires them to “do, think, and value what practitioners in the field are doing, thinking, and valuing.” According to Calder, students can be taught this signature pedagogy by encouraging them to ask the big questions, such as “what is history, why study it, and what problems trouble historical knowledge?”

So, what are some of the questions about teaching history we can learn from these staff walks? First, in teaching students about a specific historical period why is it important to have them study relevant opinions drawn from primary sources? Second, while studying events, people, and places is important, how can we also teach students to interpret history? Finally, how can we get students to think like a historian, and ask relevant questions?

As you can guess, the answer to these questions lies in a better understanding of “historical thinking.” In order for us to be better history teachers we need to provide our students with the tools to not just learn what we already know, but how to go deeper and retrieve what is not yet uncovered. To do this, we have to help our students construct a more accurate picture or framework of history., This can be accomplished by demonstrating and encouraging students to do the following in their history projects:

  • Seek out multiple accounts & perspectives
  • Learn how to analyze primary sources
  • Better understand historical context
  • Establish “claim-evidence” connections

The military has understood these concepts for years. They know that studying old Civil War battles is not always relevant to today’s modern warfare. But as Levesque points out the student who is led “to look at matters historically, has some mental equipment for a comprehension of the political and social problems that will confront him in everyday life.”

Teaching & Learning History

Intro Post

In addition to being a Civil War reenactor I sometimes portray Mathew Brady.

Hello, my name is Peter Vaselopulos. I am recently retired from the federal government as Deputy Chief Information Officer at the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM).   While serving 35 years at USAGM I worked as a broadcast journalist, international television producer, and new media and information technology specialist.  Prior to working at USAGM I was a videographer for Cable News Network.

I am a 40-year resident of Arlington County in Virginia and very interested in local Civil War history. I am a Civil War reenactor and teach adult education history courses for Arlington Encore.

I am currently a board member of the Alliance to Preserve the Civil War Defenses of Washington, D.C., Vice President of the 3rd US Infantry Reenactors, and was a member of Arlington County’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee.

I am a graduate of George Washington University and American University, with masters’ degrees in Managing Information Systems and International Communications.

Currently I am working on a master’s certificate in Digital Humanities from George Mason University.  I am also working on a digital history project called “Mapping the Civil War in Arlington.”  The project’s goal is to generate a greater awareness of Arlington’s military history during the first year of the Civil War.

I am very interested in the backend systems that support online historical collections, and the impact that they are having on the future of teaching history. In particular, I am tracking AI and machine learning, and interested to see what role these technologies will play in promoting public history and the humanities.

Finally, I am interested in how information technology is empowering individuals to become digital historians. I am hoping to use the skills that I am learning in these courses to start the next phase of my career. This could either be through starting my own public history company, or finding a position with an established firm.