The unit will ask students to reflect on who they are in the real-time world that surrounds them – urging them to become careful observers of their own environment and to reflect on the meaning of the spaces they occupy. I will ask students to consider the meaning that a particular space and place holds and creates for them. And then, as a class, we will move on and examine the places of other people, the places that Puritans and colonists, and homesteaders and gold miners have experienced as America grows into a nation with a global outlook. We might wonder if we can ever really understand a sense of place from the past or do we need to experience it?
exploring American landscapes,
will begin with student explorations of their own spaces and places, in descriptive, narrative and evocative poetry and in short narratives that are concrete and detailed. Students will compare their own ‘language’ about New Haven with descriptions of New Haven written by contemporaries (such as in tourist information guides or in newspaper stories). We will read about New Haven from the view of its early founders and make some comparisons. In this way, students should be able to understand that perceptions of the landscape change over time, as the use of the landscape changes.
Students will locate their neighborhoods on a map and move from the local to the larger context up to a national map. We will use the map work to review some basic geographic concepts and terminology. We will generate a class list of ‘landscapes’ that are familiar to the students from their own experience; every time a ‘place’ comes into the conversation, we will record it. This discussion will allow us to talk about the meaning of a ‘cultural landscape’. We will return to the words on the class lists throughout the year – to sort them, define them, connect them and explore them and to see how and if, their sense of place has changed or developed
Students will explore ‘places’ in American history in a similar approach as we work our way through the year – the ships, towns, town halls, farms and plantations, trails and factories of landmark locations, and less familiar locations, will be mapped and then investigated with a context, growing away from isolated meanings as vocabulary terms, to an implicit link to the cultural landscape of a place. Students will attempt to discover through primary sources how people felt about the spaces they lived in and experienced, and vocabulary terms will gain conceptual and perhaps evocative meaning.
Students will express their understanding in a yearlong journal of ‘place’ narratives and poetry. Aside from explorations of the sites themselves, either physically, online, or through resources, students will read poems of place, will examine diary entries and personal letters, and will look at images from the National Gallery of Art, and other online and local museum collections, to uncover feelings about a locale captured in paint or watercolor or words.
Continuing our project with archaeologists from the Pequot museum, I hope that this approach to learning about cultural landscapes will make our fieldwork at the Pequot fort site more meaningful. At our last visit, students dug at the site and some found tool flakes, charcoal, and burned nuts. The questions the archaeologists had for the students were basic: what do these artifacts indicate about life at the site? And yet, such a basic question opened up Native American life and social history in the 17th century. The question remains though, will students be able to reach into the past and really understand a sense of place as experienced by Americans and Native Americans in the 1800s and earlier? Will they be able to develop questions about what they read and see in order to unbury a sense of the past, and a sense of place relevant to that past? What does ‘sense of place’ mean after all?
It is hard to come up with a definition for ‘sense of place’; I can put my finger on its meaning in my mind, but could not explain it to a student other than to say ‘you know what I mean’, which of course, they may notat least not consciously. So how can I have my students work on a ‘sense of place’ unit if I cannot define the term? Understanding a sense of place, someone else’s place, means leaving your own biases behind, and this is not an easy task for 8th graders – nor for any of us really.
We will develop a classroom concept map that will reflect our growing understanding of ‘sense of place’. Just as the word lists will note concrete locations, this concept map will show students how they are learning to think about an idea in a new way. It will be a metacognitive exercise for the students.
The method I want to introduce into the classroom will require students to ‘make meaning’ out of the places we investigate. We saw how the students wouldn’t just visit Plimouth Plantation, but they would
as a cultural landscape. The study becomes inquiry-based as students make a connection between a problem or issue in their own life with the topic they are studying. I would organize the investigations of the ‘cultural landscapes’ around themes in order to make the inquiry more manageable for the students. The visit to Plimouth might focus on “survival” asking perhaps, how the site shows the way the community survived? Students might think about the interaction of man and environment with this theme in mind. Another theme might be “conflict”, or “innovation/invention” or “governance/social order”. These topics make it easier to create essential questions.
What if we traveled to the Lowell Mills in Massachusetts north of Boston on another trip (and if not on a bus, at least online) what would we learn about the cultural landscape of the factory site if our theme remained one of ‘survival’? And if we move closer to home, and look at the Augusta Lewis Troup School, built in 1926, what can we learn of the neighborhood and the community that built it, what values are preserved in it? Can we learn more about the people who are connected with the school (past and present) and its Edgewood neighborhood if we approach the site with the theme of survival in mind?
Each student will create and maintain a journal for reflection, journaling, poetry and self-evaluation. Each student will spend a great part of all activities reading, researching and writing either individually or in small cooperative groups.
1 Each student will recall five geographic ‘places’ and be able to define these terms with examples from an American history context. (Note: the numbers and details for all objectives can change depending on how the unit is specifically structured. This is level one Bloom recollection of facts; the objectives should carry the student through the levels of Bloom’s revised taxonomy)
2 Each student will organize the places we have studied, classifying them as examples of any of the four themes of exploration, conflict, governance, and invention.
3 Each student will apply one of the themes to answer an essential question in the form of an essay elaborating the study of a cultural landscape.
4 Each student will evaluate a cultural landscape through a role-playing performance task
5 Each student will create a persuasive response to a current issue where a present day cultural landscape becomes the focus of a controversy- preservation or progress? (Students could explore the recent eminent domain ruling of the Supreme Court in the case
Kelo v. New London
Range of Topics
I am including the ‘places’ I would focus on in order to cover the four themes. The places are selected to cover certain topics in the American history survey but to investigate them from a ‘sense of place’ and cultural landscape perspective. If I were following the regular survey framework, much of the same material would be covered, but more chronologically rather than thematically. I could use all four themes and have the students spend the entire year exploring these landscapes; I could also follow my regular survey and select only one ‘cultural landscape’ to study for each block of time, or 9 week period. This unit really develops a method rather than a particular set of lesson plans and activities. What I have learned from the seminar is a social history approach that can be as flexible as possible.
Anchoring the students in the vocabulary of place will keep that flexibility from becoming too open-ended. In other words, the students need to be looking for common threads regardless of the landscapes they explore. They need to look for building plans and maps, structural designs, location and function of a place; they should be aware of the surroundings of a building or a location, the topography and the land-use. Students should become observers, and to that end it is important to look at photographs and prints and maps and images.
Theme of Exploration: bridge and harbor
We will explore the landscapes created around a bridge and around a harbor. We will begin by defining a bridge in our own words and then expand our definition to thinking of bridge as metaphor. We will examine some famous and familiar bridges, such as the Q bridge in New Haven (including the days of fishing for blue fish or unloading the circus trains) and the George Washington bridge in NYC. We might read the story
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Big Grey Bridge
by Hildegarde Swift, because it shows the landscape of the river and how it changed with the arrival of the new bridge.
We will look at maps and records about the land bridge in Beringia and talk about the landscape created by early migrations. We can read some entries translated from Jose de Acosta about the early theory of the land bridge. We will also pay heed to alternative explanations offered by Native American ‘ways of knowing’ and talk about origin stories as explanations for the populating of the North American continent.
Using the idea of bridge as a metaphor, we will expand and look at ships that ‘bridged’ Europe with the new world. This approach will allow us to study the Columbian exchange – seeing the ‘landscapes’ on either side of the Atlantic and perhaps examining (through sailor’s and ship’s journals) the life created on board the ships of early explorers.
Investigating ‘harbors’ will begin with Amsterdam in the 17th centurythe Golden Age of Dutch trade when the city opened its arms to the persecuted from around the world, not only the Puritans from England. After reviewing the geography of Europe, the connection of harbor and trade and an economy, and reading about the religious problems that drove the English to the Dutch shores; we can look at the harbors at Jamestown and Plimouth and explore the differences. The use of harbor will lead us to a discussion of colonies, and here we can look into the cultural landscapes of historical Plimouth and Jamestown. We can look at the expansion of settlement in the Americas at the harbor sites of Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston and explore the stories that appear.
Theme of Conflict: forts and trails
The Inca built massive forts of stone slabs, still extant in the mountains of the Andes; the survey approach to this great civilization often studies it as a ‘victim’ rather than viewing the world of the Inca in its own sense. We will study the landscape of the Inca before the arrival of the Europeans and then, through the story of Guaman Poma, we might have an insight into the ‘sense of place’ experienced by this native Andean writing to King Phillip III. We can study the recently excavated fort at Jamestown Colony and explore the archaeological and written record to understand the purpose and function of a fort and its role in conflict. In Connecticut we can visit Fort Trumbull in New London (interestingly the Supreme Court case mentioned above revolves around homes and a private development in this same area). Other forts for all time periods abound – in fact, concentrating only on a study of forts could take the class through a survey of American history from the early days to the current war in Iraq and soldier training at Fort Bragg, Kentucky.
Exploring trails of exploration and expansion will naturally lead to ‘conflict’ with those whose lands the trails cross, including the disputes over territories claimed by rival explorers as in the case of the French and Spanish along the Mississippi River. Students can investigate the Lewis and Clark journals, Oregon Trail diaries, exploits of Daniel Boone and the opening of the Wilderness Roads in Kentucky. What towns were built up along these trails? The Trail of Tears is another example of cultural conflict leading to an example of the destruction of a cultural landscape in the name of ‘progress’.
Theme of Governance: settlements (a hierarchy)
All settlements from the smallest to the largest exhibit some form of social organization. We can look at the Iroquois League through Native American village structure or the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut by studying early Hartford or Wethersfield history. We can examine early colonial life by visiting the Plimouth Plantation or explore the landscape of revolution by examining the activities that inform the social world of Boston or Philadelphia in the 1700s. Life in a mining town says something about social order and governance, and its rich cultural landscape will be recorded in journals of early gold miners.
Theme of Invention and Technology: cities and transportation centers
The theme of invention and technology develops around transportation and the growth of the cities. Students can explore life along the national road, the Chicago Rail hub, Independence Missouri and the Conestoga Wagon trains heading west. Movement into the cities will follow the invention of the steam engine and its application in industry, moving into urbanization and the industrial rise of America. So many landscapes to explore – the guiding question is to see how lives shaped cities and cities shaped lives, and neighborhoods.
I am including examples of activities that show the range of possibilities for this unit. One activity falls under a geography heading. Students will need to understand basic geographic terms to be able to express what they observe about landscapes in greater detail. The second activity will fall into the research project category, and the last activity reaches into the personal expression-poetry category.
Activity One: Introducing Elevation
: Grades 7-9
Guiding Question: How can maps show the topography of the land?
Performance Task: Students will create an elevation map based on a simulated site and will then observe and describe elevation at the current school site.
Social Studies Performance standard: Demonstrate understanding through written, verbal, visual, and/or technological formats
Students will recall vocabulary: topography, elevation, sea level, relief map Students will evaluate a map with elevation.
Clay, wire, wire, colored pencils, cardboard, scissors, ruler, camera and printer; elevation maps of New Haven;
Schedule: Two 50 minute class periods
Begin the project by asking students how they think a flat map can show the elevation of a mountain? If they respond ‘with a map key’ ask how the key is made and the measurement determined.
Pair the students and give each team a large ball of clay, cardboard with graph paper marked NSEW in appropriate locations on edge, colored pencils, a marker, a ruler, wire, scissors. Students will make an elevated shape on the cardboard, measuring its height so that it can be divided into at least four (or more) half inch sections. When finished, students should use the marker to put a dot in the center of the top and draw lines from the dot to the base corresponding to the four directions.
Use the ruler to measure half inch intervals from the base and using the wire, slice laterally through the clay structure creating slices. Using the digital camera, take a picture of the structure from the side. Using a new graph paper marked with a center and the four locations, disassemble the clay structure by moving the first slice and tracing it on the paper lining up the directional lines. Continue until all slices have been traced. Reassemble the clay on the original cardboard.
Color the different parts of the traced image and create a key for the ‘map’. Compare maps and structures with another team.
Print out the picture of the clay form in grayscale, and use the colored pencils to create a map key. How will your team color the photograph? Students should be able to explain their final product in a written paragraph.
Look at elevation maps for New Haven and identify familiar locations and their elevations. Use the key.
Activity Two: Visit an online historical landscape – Creating categories of landscape elements through observation
Grades: Grades 7-9
Guiding Question: How do primary sources reveal elements of life in a landscape?
Performance Task: Students will explore the Lowell Mills website and create a chart of landscape topics that they observe by viewing photos, primary documents, and reading background material.
Social Studies Performance standard: Demonstrate understanding through written, verbal, visual, and/or technological formats
Students will read for understanding Students will observe and infer from evidence. Students will classify and organize evidence
Computer with Internet connection; word processor
These three sites can be used as resources for this exploratory introduction to investigating the Lowell Mills as a cultural landscape. http://web.bryant.edu/~history/h364proj/fall_99/kroner/page3.htm
Schedule: Two 50 minute class periods
Begin the project by asking students if the producers of History Channel were to knock on their door and ask to do a historical study of their lives, what elements of their life should the investigators research? What items are important in the lives of the students in the shaping of who they are – what makes up their history?
Using the same thinking, students will be asked to visit the Lowell sites to find out about the Lowell girls. Since they are unfamiliar with the history of the mill girls, the students’ first job as investigators is to find out what kind of topics they should investigate. Today’s task is to look for areas to research in depth in order to gain an understanding of the Lowell Mill girls from THEIR perspective. Ask the students if it is possible to uncover the ‘sense of place’ that the Lowell girls might have for their life in the mills?
Students should use a word processor running in the background (or pencil and paper if they prefer) to create an expanding list of items to pay attention to when researching the Lowell Mills. This is a random unordered list at this point; students are recording observations. Students may work independently or with a partner. Student observations should be as detailed as possible as students might focus on the size of a boarding house bedroom, the layout of the factory, the proximity of noisy engines and looms to the workers themselves. What kind of a place surrounded the mill girls?
The class will meet as a group and share their lists; students may add or subtract to their own lists at this point. Next, working in pairs, the students must devise a way to organize the list of items into topics: they may develop as many or as few topics as they like as long as they can justify their decisions.
Students must write a reflection paragraph describing what new ideas and topics they uncovered for research by reading through and observing materials at the websites for the Lowell Mills.
Activity Three: Poems of Home
: Grades 7-9
Guiding Question: How does memory shape our feelings about home?
Performance Task: Students will create an original poem about their own homes.
Language Arts Performance standard: Demonstrate understanding through written, verbal, visual, and/or technological formats
Students will recall vocabulary and use a thesaurus Students will create a personal response poem.
Word lists, thesaurus, dictionary; you may want to read some poetry about ‘home’ to the students, either before or after or during work on their own poems. Some suggestions are: Elizabeth Bishop’s
, Anne Bronte’s
, Wilfrid Gibson’s
The Path to Home
, John Howard Payne’s
Home Sweet Home
, Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s
Schedule: Two 50 minute class periods
Procedure: Begin the project by asking students to complete a concept map centered around ‘home’. This class activity will create categories of words to inspire students when working on their poems. What items MUST be in a home, what items are SOMETIMES in a home, what items are NEVER found in a home. Using the generated vocabulary, can students come up with a sentence definition of a home?
Ask students to create a list of at least 12 verbs drawn from the ideas in the concept map; students should use a thesaurus to expand each verb into a collection of verbs. Using the verb list as a ‘grab-bag’ for vocabulary, students should write a poem responding to the questions “What are ten strong memories of home?” Write-peer review-edit-rewrite.
Assessment: Hand in the poem including first and second drafts.