All workshops can be adjusted to meet the language level of any class, just ask!
1. The Decision to Drop the Bomb
This is a history lab workshop. Students will work in groups to understand why the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Each group will have a document to analyze closely and then the class will discuss how to make sense of these different pieces of evidence. Documents will include the Potsdam Declaration, portions of the Yalta Agreement, and a selection of documents from the Harry S Truman Presidential Library. This workshop is best for students with good English reading skills. It will work well in VG3 social studies classes and also in history classes where it fits between World War II and the Cold War.
2. Loaded Questions: Guns in the United States
The United States has the highest rate of gun homicide anywhere in the developed world and also has high rates of gun suicides and deaths from accidental discharge of a firearm. This school year, there have been three horrific high profile mass shootings—Las Vegas, NV; Sutherland Springs, TX; Parkland, FL. Between Las Vegas and Parkland, there were 99 other mass shootings, incidents affecting 4 or more victims, and there have been more since. While there are mass shootings in other countries, gun violence and the political and cultural response to gun violence in the United States are distinctly American. Explanations are difficult. The United States has, by far, more civilian-owned guns per capita than any other country. For most of American history there has been gun control, and there is broad popular support for more gun control now. However, the divide between gun-rights advocates and proponents of gun control is one of the most bitterly contested political divides today. This workshop will examine the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, the emergence of judicial originalism, federalism, the gun lobby, the “wild west,” race, symbolic patriotism and the emergence of student activism in favor of gun control.
3. Count on It: The Politics of the American Census
The US Constitution requires a decennial census that is used to determine representation in Congress and the Electoral College. The constitution says little about what kinds of information can be collected during the census. Census questions have, in the past, often furthered explicit or implicit political and racial agendas. Today some groups see the census as an opportunity to highlight multiculturalism and are therefore pushing to expand the basic census questions about race and ethnicity. Changes to the census are usually trial tested extensively before a census year, but the Trump administration has just announced that the 2020 census will include a question about citizenship, which raises concerns about undercounting. This workshop will explain the American census, look at its past, address some general theory about national censuses and fit the upcoming US census into today’s political climate. As we gear up for the next census, immigration politics, partisan politics and the politics of the family will all play out in an intersection of statistics and the culture wars. That, you can count on.
4. HAMILTON: The Politics of Belonging
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical HAMILTON, called it the “story of America then told by America now.” Miranda’s interpretation of the founding fathers, use of contemporary musical styles like hip-hop, and multi-racial casting reclaim the American past for Americans who may not have seen themselves reflected in the typical history books. HAMILTON has won 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize. First lady Michele Obama called it “the best art I have seen in my lifetime.” Amateur and professional artists have made hundreds of HAMILTON parodies, interpretations and additions. HAMILTON also inspired angry tweets from president-elect Donald Trump and calls for a boycott after the cast addressed vice-president elect Mike Pence from the stage. Political demonstrations feature signs and posters with quotes from HAMILTON. Reactions to this musical reveal deep divisions about who owns both the nation’s past and its future. This multimedia lecture on HAMILTON and the politics of belonging is adaptable to larger groups. There is an optional follow-up exercise.
5. History Lab: Norwegian Americans
There are almost as many Norwegian-Americans as there are Norwegians. Norwegian immigration to the US began in the 1820s but peaked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was a clear Norwegian presence in New York City, Texas and the Pacific Northwest, but most Norwegians headed to the prairies, the area now the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. This lesson examines these Norwegian immigrants to the prairie frontier, farming areas and small towns. The workshop includes a group project using letters between immigrants and their families in Norway—Amerikabreve. We’ll use their findings from the letters to discuss both immigration and the process of studying history from primary documents. This workshop involves reading in both English and Norwegian. It works for classes up to about 30 students.
6. Guarding the Golden Door: American Opposition to Immigration
The United States is a “nation of immigrants” and many Americans warmly embrace their families’ immigrant past. There are, for instance, 4.5 million proud Norwegian-Americans. But as long as there has been immigration to the United States, there has also been opposition to that immigration. Recently introduced legislation, presidential orders and executive priorities seek to restrict legal and illegal immigration to the United States and also to re-write the fundamental basis for immigration that has characterized American immigration law since the mid-1960s. High-profile rhetoric opposing immigration seems to undermine a central core of American identity, as when Presidential spokesperson Steven Miller publically repudiated the famous poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. But today’s anti-immigrant sentiment echoes earlier periods of opposition to immigration. This workshop examines anti-immigrant attitudes through a comparison of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the various travel ban executive orders signed by President Trump since January 2017.
7. Playing American Utopia: New Harmony, Indiana
Role-playing games are a powerful pedagogy. Role playing enlists student interest and engages competitive natures. Role playing develops both empathy and interpretative skills. Students in role-playing games work with primary sources. They practice public speaking and networking. Some students can draw on skills not always recognized in academic classes. The Reacting to the Past Consortium promotes role-playing in history classes. This lesson is a very short Reacting-type role-playing game based on the utopian socialist Owenite community at New Harmony, Indiana. One-page roles and victory conditions will be sent in advance for students to study before class. In character, students will meet to discuss a plan for the re-organization of the community in 1825. As the class unfolds, new elements will be introduced to the game and students must respond in character and attempt to meet their victory conditions. This workshop is for groups of 16-25 students and cannot be adapted for large groups.
8. Diagnosis: Why doesn’t the United States have National Health Insurance?
Recent efforts to repeal Obamacare highlight current political divides in the United States, but Americans have struggled over national health insurance for more than a hundred years. This workshop will explore the historical reasons the United States does not have national health insurance and how those underlying causes are reflected in contemporary political positions. During this lesson, groups of students receive cards about events and documents relating to health insurance debates and then work together in groups to see what kind of interpretations emerge from their evidence. This workshop is about national health insurance but also about the use of primary documents and evidence and about developing analytical skills and evidence based interpretations in order to make sense of the past. This workshop is for classes up to 30 students and cannot be adapted to larger groups.
9. What Caused the Great Depression?
While the US had had depressions before, the one that began in 1929 was deeper and longer than others and had widespread global effects. This workshop explores the causes of the Great Depression: contractions in global trade, the effects of WWI reparations payments, speculation on Wall Street, and growing income inequality. Students will receive very unequal amounts of money to spend in a model mass-consumption economy role-playing game. They will attempt to buy Ford cars, Westinghouse stoves, Zenith radios and Kotex. Many students will be unable to participate in the economy, leading to overstocks. If companies can’t sell their products, they will have to lay off workers, who will then be unable to consume. This lesson concludes with a quick look at current income distribution in the United States. This lesson suits groups of 20-40 and cannot be adapted to larger or smaller groups.
10. Rags to Riches: The Meaning of Social Mobility in America
In 1868, Horatio Alger began writing short novels that each feature a good but poor boy who struggles until his efforts are rewarded, usually by a powerful older man. The “Gilded Age” saw rapid economic growth accompanied by extremes of wealth and poverty and a series of depressions. Horatio Alger’s destitute heroes go from “rags to riches,” benefitting from industrial capitalism. In this lesson, 9 students will participate in a reader’s-theater play based on an Alger novel. Following the reading, the students who formed the audience will discuss Alger’s advice to industrial workers. The workshop will conclude with a broader examination of the American belief in social mobility and reasons for regarding Horatio Alger’s prescription skeptically both when he wrote and today. This lesson works well for students with basic English and history backgrounds because the students in the play get scripts to read from. The scripts are very short and there is a lot of repetition. The plot is simple and the play provides a basis for the following discussion.
11. The Politics of Sex Education
The United States was once a leader in sex education but has long since ceded leadership to Scandinavian countries. In the US, sex education varies from state to state and from school district to school district so there are a wide range of approaches. However, in the past few decades the federal government and many state governments have offered incentives favoring abstinence-only education. Government policy and non-governmental organizations have also exported this approach to other countries. Sex Ed has become a key cultural battle between religious conservatives who are protective of ideas about morality and parental rights and others who worry that abstinence-only education leaves young people more vulnerable to teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abusive relationships. This workshop is reciprocal. We begin with American approaches and the political nature of sex education in the US and end with workshop participants explaining sex education in Norwegian schools.