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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Linking Literature and History


I’ve been working with a Helena High School teacher who is developing a unit on Fools Crow for sophomores. Her curriculum includes “writing a research paper”—so she decided to have the students write their research papers on the Baker Massacre, also known as the Marias River Massacre (a historical event important to Welch’s novel.) 

I’m not exactly sure about how she’s teaching the novel’s literary content. But I know that her plan for connecting it to the historical event includes having her students

  1. Complete the primary source based lesson plan Bozeman teacher Derek Strahn created for the Montana Historical Society on the Baker Massacre. 
  2. Read at least one nonfiction article on the Baker Massacre.
  3. Spend time in class learning the difference between primary and secondary sources
  4. Conduct primary source research at the Montana Historical Society and online (lots of documents transcribed here).
  5. Write a research paper addressing one of the following questions: 

    • Why did Baker attack Heavy Runner's band?
    • How did attitudes to the event change over time and how did geography and ethnicity influence perspective?
    • How does Welch's account compare to the historical event?

I look forward to seeing how this project turns out—and am excited to see our resources being used in an English class. 

I’m also excited to see students working on papers that involve research in both primary and secondary sources. I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem as if students are writing as many research papers in history classes as we did when I was in high school. (Does that make me sound old and grumpy? Just wait until I tell you how we walked five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.) 

Seriously though: I do think traditional research papers provide important educational opportunities (my first real research paper, written in 10th grade, was formative)—and so does Will Fitzhugh, who wrote this provocative paean to the research paper, published in American Educator, in the Winter 2011-12 issue.

How about you? If you teach high school, do you have your students engage in substantive research—and then have them form conclusions and present them in a 12- to 20-page paper?  Could you feasibly, given the number of students you teach? 

And if you teach high school English—are there other books that would work for this type of unit plan? Drop a line and let me know. 


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