Big Questions, Many Answers: A Thematic, Document-Based Approach to Teaching US History

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Rosalie Metro, University of Missouri
In this poster, I will share my approach for teaching US history using primary source documents organized by theme. I developed this approach while doing research for my dissertation, and I refined it while teaching middle school and high school; it could be adapted to the college level as well.

Teaching history thematically as opposed to chronologically allows students to investigate “essential questions” that have recurred throughout US history. Using documents in combination with secondary sources enables students to develop historians’ habits of mind while building reading comprehension skills. As students compare the perspectives of presidents, protesters, and Supreme Court justices, they get a sense of the many answers that a wide range of thinkers have posed to our nation’s most intractable problems. Each unit is anchored to a current issue that highlights the continuing relevance of historical topics, and concludes with a “summit” in which students represent the views of the historical figures we’ve studied. In the process, students build their own answers to our essential questions, informed by history.

This poster will highlight one unit (Diversity and Discrimination: What does equality mean?), displaying some of the documents, historical figures, and events included. Educators will also find instructions for developing their own thematic units, and an overview of other themes that could be covered.

 This poster connects to the conference theme by showing how students can investigate changing conceptions of race, ethnicity, and national identity. How did the 3/5ths Compromise pave the way for Plessy v. Ferguson? What would Malcolm X have said to a Klu Klux Klan wizard? How did the Chinese Exclusion Act anticipate President Trump’s recently instituted travel and immigration restrictions?

This poster will provide educators at all levels with fresh ideas for making history compelling and challenging for students.

See more of: Poster Session #2
See more of: AHA Sessions