HM - May 2014 - Fanelli

Annual Conference

Historical Thinking Equals Creating the Story from Evidence
by Jenny Fanelli
Project Director, Teaching American History Grant
OCM BOCES, Syracuse, NY

This past week, we had a meeting of the Teaching American History Teaching Fellows, a group that has been meeting this school year to talkabout the scholarship on the teaching and learning of history and to develop action research projects on historical thinking in their classrooms. We talked about the idea that all of history is a narrative, created from the evidence or, as Bob Bain calls it, “residue” that is left to us. Historians need to base their narrative and make inferences that build logically on their sources. This idea of historical narrative led me to think about the piles of materials and books that I brought back from the March conference of the National Council for History Education. I had the privilege and pleasure of attending three days of presentations and keynote speakers and returned to Syracuse with way more luggage than I left with! I wonder what historical narrative we can create based on that evidence. Let’s take a look at some of the residue accumulated by a certain plucky traveler (me!)…

In our first set of primary sources we see a visitor’s guide to Albuquerque and a rental car company map. Apparently the conference took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico and our plucky traveler (PT) either rented a car or stole a map from a rental company. (I traveled to warm and sunny New Mexico for the conference which was held at the university of New Mexico. I rented a brand new car and found the city very easy to navigate. The map was a gift with with the rental.)
Our next set of sources consists of a ticket for the Sandia Peak Tramway, a handout about the geological history of the Rio Grande Rift Valley, and a brochure about the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. This is an interesting group of documents. PT may have taken life in hand to travel to the top of Sandia Peak, 10,378 feet above sea level, and seems to have received information about the fascinating geological origins of the area. The brochure could indicate a visit to the Museum. (I enjoyed the ride to the top of the mountain. The expert on the geology of the rift valley pointed out features including other mountain chains and extinct volcanoes. It was an amazing panoramic view! The Museum was the site of an evening reception. It was a fascinating and sometimes disturbing look at the development of nuclear weaponry and energy. The first half of the museum dealt with the events leading up to the development and deployment of the first atomic bomb including a replica of the bomb and a video of the aftermath. The rest of the museum had displays on the Cold War, the development of nuclear energy and nuclear medicine.)
Moving to the next set of sources, we see several brochures, perhaps from merchants, showing materials and resources for teaching history andsocial studies. We can infer that PT spent time looking through the displays to gather resources and ideas that might be informative to others. (The conference always has a scavenger hunt where conference attendees are encouraged to stop and engage the vendors in conversation about their products and services. I find this part of the conference to be a great way to make contacts and also to get some free stuff to pass along to teachers! Many of the resources that were displayed this year are digital, with online databases and textbooks being offered by many vendors.)

This set of sources consists of four books. PT apparently felt that these were worth the purchase price and the cost of traveling with heavyweight articles. The topics of the books, The Devil in the White City, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I Wish I’d Been There, and World War II do not seem to form any kind of cohesive theme other than some connection to history. Perhaps they were giveaways or prizes of some kind. (The first two were giveaways from a publisher and are two books that I want to read. The third book was a giveaway at an author signing. I actually received two books from the author because I was last in line and he had extra books, but I have already loaned the other one out. I haven’t had time to start reading any of these, so they will go on an ever-growing pile!)

Our final set of sources is a mixed group of handwritten notes, handouts with titles such as Declaring Independence…Again and Again, Everyday Life in a Dutch Colony, and The Real Ambassadors: Jazz Greats, Jazz Diplomacy and the Globalization of Jazz along with some brochures, stickers and a CD entitled Frontier Life. Based on the presence of the handwritten notes that match several of the handouts, we can hypothesize that these might be from presentations that PT attended while at the conference. There is no clear pattern to the topics of these presentations other than, similar to the books, some connection to historical subjects. (These are some of the materials from the sessions I attended. I tried to choose sessions that have relevance to my work with teachers through the Teaching American History Grant, but once in a while I stray into something that has personal interest, like the presentation on jazz. The presenter made a fascinating connection between Dizzy Gillespie, civil rights and the Cold War that I had never considered. In every session I attended, I received information and resources that I will pass along to teachers. All in all, the conference was a great way to spend a few days learning, meeting new people and finding out about another part of our country!)

Based on the evidence, our plucky traveler attended a conference in Albuquerque, went to the top of a mountain, saw a replica of an atom bomb, schmoozed vendors for freebies and attended sessions on the teaching and learning of history. (I also returned with new friendships, and information and resources that I will share with teachers. Now that’s good residue!)