All workshops can be adjusted to meet the language level of any class, just ask!
1. Hamilton: Politics, Belonging and the Fourth Wall
The musical HAMILTON pulls the public into dialogues about contemporary American politics and implicitly asks who owns the nation’s history. A multi-racial, multi-cultural cast uses Hip Hop, Rap and R&B to infuse the dusty past with urgency and interrogate controversial, unsolved problems about citizenship, power, and honor. The actors regularly break the fourth wall between stage and audience. When vice-president elect Mike Pence attended a performance, the cast addressed him from the stage. Following a mass shooting, they performed without musket props. This multimedia lecture on HAMILTON and the politics of belonging has a follow-up exercise and is adaptable to larger groups.
2. History Lab: Norwegian Americans
This lesson examines Norwegian immigrants to the United States in the nineteenth century. A short lecture leads up to a map and census exercise and the workshop will end with letters between immigrants and their families in Norway. Students will work in groups to translate portions of letters from handwritten Norwegian into English and we’ll use their findings from the letters, maps and census to discuss immigration and the process of studying history.
3. Melting Pot or English Only?
This lesson will focus on the tension between celebrating an immigrant past and understanding a persistent xenophobia. In this lesson, students will read excerpts from anti-immigrant documents from various parts of the American past. These documents demonstrate strong anti-immigrant attitudes but a scavenger hunt through the web-site of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation will show very different, but equally American, attitudes towards immigration. We will wrap up by discussing Norwegian attitudes and responses to contemporary immigration to Norway.
4. American Utopia: Robert Owen’s New Moral World in New Harmony, Indiana
This lesson is a role-playing game based on the utopian Owenite community at New Harmony, Indiana, in the 1820s. Roles 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. This workshop is for groups of about 25.
5. Thanksgiving: Beyond Pilgrims and Indians
Thanksgiving is the most symbolically important American holiday. In this workshop, we will examine the holiday’s putative roots in a meal shared by Pilgrims and Wampanoag, the fundamental Native American criticisms of Thanksgiving and the political motivations for establishing this holiday during the American Civil War. We will discuss Thanksgiving as a means of Americanizing immigrants in the early twentieth century. Students will do a typical Thanksgiving art project for young children and explore the holiday’s connection to shopping and football. This workshop could be adapted to a larger audience. It is especially appropriate for fall. Thanksgiving is November 23 this year.
Oppressions like sexism, racism, ageism, classism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia and xenophobia intertwine. Often, one system’s effects can’t be separated from those of others. This lesson uses a variety of short poems by American poets. After reading and discussing these poems in small groups, students assume the identity voiced in one poem to engage in an activity about power and privilege. The active part of the lesson is based on reading comprehension and empathetic understanding. Students finish by writing poems that reflect their own intersectional positions.
7. What Caused the Great Depression?
While the US had had depressions before, the one that began in 1929 was deeper and longer 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 cars, stoves, radios and Kotex. When Ford and Westinghouse put their products on sale to try to get more customers, they will have to lay off workers, who will in turn be unable to buy. This lesson suits groups of 20-40.
8. Rags to Riches: Horatio Alger’s message to a new Industrial Workforce
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, about 10 of the students will participate in a reader’s theater 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.