Teaching and Learning the Great War in the Digital Age
Jamie Lathan, North Carolina School of Science and Math
Samantha Shires, Virginia Tech
“I understood before, but not like this”, remarked a young student to her teacher as they walked around the graves of a World War I cemetery in Belgium.
These poignant words and understandings of a middle school student might similarly mirror the sentiments of those who visit World War I battlefields and memorials in Belgium and France. But how do educators find ways to create relevant, engaging ways to teach the Great War – when this era has often been regulated to a few paragraphs in most textbooks? When students struggle to identify with a event that is “over there”?
Among the white marble gravestones of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery to the quiet presence of the Douaumont Ossuary, teachers will explore the question: “How should we remember war?” Words and reactions illuminate the power of place and, more specifically, historic memorials to bring the symbolism and significance of past events to the fore, where the number of people’s live who were impacted at that point, never mind for generations to come, becomes visible, and themes of honor, competence, courage, sacrifice, commemoration, memory and history are made more meaningful.
This session will address these questions by focusing on the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery as a case study for the use of the resources and sites of the American Battle Memorial Commission. Teachers and scholars from North Carolina and Virginia worked on a year-long project that aimed to bring the narratives and events of this contested landscape back home. This hands-on, highly interactive curriculum has been made available to schools and students in time to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of World War I. Presented in digital textbook format, these teaching approaches and resources reflect the best scholarship on WWI, the use of emerging technologies like geospatial tools and augmented reality software, and extensive field work in Verdun, France. The result is a practical, research-based approach to the interrogation of place, memory, and story.
Participants will receive copies of the digital textbook as well as exposure and training in all aspects of an instructional kit. Chapter topics include (but are not limited to) “How the Allies and their Enemies Memorialize Their Dead”, “Integrated in Battle, Segregated in Burial: African Americans at the Meuse Argonne”, and “Madame, Can you Spare a Potato?: Tracing Family Narratives to the Great War”.