Sunday, May 18, 2014

Building Historical Empathy: Finding the Stories in Hi-"story" and Historical Artifacts


A.C.:  Would the Titanic still be famous if it didn’t crash and sink?

Observation is an essential research skill.  We began our Titanic research by looking at and reading books on the subject, but getting the children to narrow their attention to focus on smaller parts of the Titanic's story would help them connect to it in a deeper way.  Aside from the event itself, what could we learn about the people on board?  The role of story in the creation of history connects us to the past in a personal way, and using photographic documents and artifacts allow us to develop historical empathy.  What was it like to live in the past?  What did it look like?  Starting with the familiar -  people and the objects of an ordinary life, photographs and documents that reflect that life and its transformation into historical artifacts - allows us to really feel history and care more about it.  What makes a watch just a watch?  How does it become more important when it is tied to an historical event?

When allowed to develop their own ideas and theories through observation and discussion, children begin to own their research - they experience that their research is important and worthwhile.  Consistently reiterating to them that they are researchers and that they are historians builds this identity as they work.  
Many of the girls in our class now call themselves "Doctor" or "Professor"
when signing their names to their work
What is history?
I:  Time that happened before the present. 
Why do we care about it?
E.S.:  We care about it because it was an important story.  Like the Titanic was important because it was a sad story, people died.
I:  Many parts of history are close to us, we care about it.
N.B.:  People think about history to predict.  They can think about what happened.  They could create an exhibit.  So people can learn and know what it was like in the past. 
M:  People do history, found out more, and connect to other parts of history they already know, then they make more and more connections until it all makes sense.
R:  History can’t be stuff that is made up.  Because it it’s made up, it didn’t actually happen.  If you say that it did and it didn’t, that is lying.  That story isn’t history.
I:  History is like a path for the past.  It’s like the path to people, so that people know about it.  It connects us.

Why are photographs important?  How do they connect us to history?
E.S.:  It shows a story behind it.
A.C.:  It shows us pictures of history.  How they took it is almost history.
W:  There is no such thing as too much information, the more you get, it’s all the better.  The more you get, the better you get at learning and your brain is just getting stronger.   
I:  You might have an object you want to observe, it might be something that is part of your subject but it might not.  You have to figure out if it’s true. You have to take what you already know and build from there.  You use what you know to figure out what you don’t know.

photos of people tell part of the story
What do you see?
What do you notice?
What do you think are the stories of the people in these pictures?
What were some of the people on the Titanic like?  What were their lives like?


E.S.:  She maybe wants to look fancy because someone is taking a picture of her.  I don’t know if the picture was taken on the Titanic.
M:  It looks like a portrait because it looks like she’s posing. 
J:  I think it is a first class person.  
What do you notice about the background?
J:  Maybe in a dark room?
M:  Maybe the wall was black?
A.L:  Back then the cameras took black and white pictures.
C:  In the olden days they only had black in white instead of color.
When did people start taking photographs?
R:  During the Civil War.  I also saw a picture of a person that was fighting in the Civil War.
Before photography, did the world look black and white?
T:  The way the camera worked back then is that it didn’t have color.  
M:  When I look at black and white pictures I really wonder what color it is.


The Astors 









J:  Looks like an apartment.
R:  I think that man is the captain but not in uniform.
I:  I think it’s not the main captain but one of the other ones.
L:  I think that can’t be the captain because he’s not on the Titanic.  This isn’t on the ship. 
I:  It  might be the grand staircase.  Maybe?
L:  But it’s outside.
G:  Outside?  Why would there be windows?  I’d say this is on the Titanic.
P:  I know it can’t be on the Titanic because that looks like a doorbell.
P:  That looks like concrete.  And the grand staircase on the boat was marble or something (she was paying attention to the materials and thinking about what might make sense).
T:  Those [the banisters] look different.  The ones on the grand staircase [on the Titanic] were fancier and curly at the bottom.

a room tells a story
Using our observational skills to tease out the
details of a room - what do we see?
What is the purpose or function of the room
and its contents?
What is an "educated guess?"
How can educated guesses help us 
figure out the visual clues?





artifacts tell a story 

G:  What is an artifact? 
E.K.:  A thing that you’ve already discovered. 
I:  An object, and I think it’s better to see what it looks like because you can get close up and you can see it.  


N.B. and L. record their theories about their artifacts





 C. and T. wonder: How could paper survive so long in the water?

E.K. and R. examining their artifact's details and sharing ideas
 R. tells the story of the watch's descent into the water - not quite 105 miles down, but it did fall a long way


Titanic Research:  Studying Artifact Photographs/ Observational Study Drawings


Once everyone had studied their artifact, created their theory, and then worked on an observational drawing of their artifact, we invited the children to conduct a silent gallery walk.  They were asked to quietly observe the photograph of the artifact and the accompanying renderings to see if the artists had captured essential details.  Afterwards we discussed the importance of really studying an object, turning it over in your mind, and thinking about it through drawing it as a way to build connection and knowledge.  Photographs and artifacts are a kind of "truth-telling" that are helping us to piece together the story as historical detectives.


1 comment:

  1. The children seem to be thinking very deeply about some profound questions: what is history? what is an artifact? why do we study history? This quote from M about how we learn history speaks directly to how a constructivist education works:"People do history, find out more, and connect to other parts of history they already know, then they make more and more connections until it all makes sense." Wow.

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