How would I use primary sources on the final HIST689 project?

As an educator, I envision college Latinx Studies, History, or Humanities majors deeply engaging with historical thinking skills through the examination of one main medium: political cartoons. Concentrating on such a medium could facilitate a transition from content-centric lectures, to interactive learner-centered sense-making sessions.  With the use of American political cartoons as primary resources, I will create a lesson that introduces learners to American perceptions of the Caribbean during a new phase of territorial expansionism at the turn of the 20th century. This lesson will include a collection of  political cartoons depicting the Spanish-American War, but will focus on two main 1898 newspaper cartoons: “First in Class in the United States” (Cincinnati Post) and “Easter Greetings from the Pearl of the Antilles (Chicago Tribune).

This lesson will guide students in understanding the value and role of political cartoons within the historical context of the late 1890s, an era where modern mass press attracted a wider range of readers. The initial session is intended to facilitate students in the formulation of historical questions and in the exploration of main themes drawn from these cartoons.

Secondary sources on working with political cartoons as historical evidence will also be included, which will help students understand the different approach to “reading”that is required to interpret them. I would like for them to inquire about the following:

  1. What was the market for political cartoons appearing in daily and weekly newspapers like?
  2. What were some of the advancements of the printing press at the time?
  3. Why would political cartoons appear in the editorial section, and not in the comics pages of a newspaper?
  4. How may cartoonists have manipulated images to express a convincing editorial message to audiences?
  5. How can we tell if the message conveyed by these images may not even reflect the artist’s viewpoint?
  6. Why is it so difficult to make sense of cartoons, especially those comprised of both a graphic and a textual caption?
  7. What are the cartoonists’ persuasive techniques?
  8. On which classical traditions do they rely to poke fun at the 1898 War and imagine Caribbeans?

I will continue scaffolding the lesson by incorporating additional primary sources that can situate learners in the larger historical context of 1898, such as newspaper articles from the times. This would allow for a more dialectical process as they develop historical thinking skills, where each additional reading informs and alters learners’ understanding of the role political cartoons played in shaping American images of the Caribbean.

Digital Storytelling:

This is perhaps the most challenging aspect for me, as an educator who wants to create an engaging lesson. For the initial part of the lesson, I would like to consider one idea–suggested by Prof. Kelly Schrum–that I think might be appropriate and fun:  “Zoom-In Inquiry” .  This pedagogical technique of presenting a cartoon/image in fragments, then panning the presentation out until viewers can see the whole image, would bring that element of interactivity and shared inquiry I would like my students to experience. I can scaffold a discussion on a political cartoon, like “Easter Greetings” (Chicago Tribune),  give students the time to process it, and help them develop a more critical eye to details they would have missed if they were just presented with the entire image. As students articulate what they see, I can present them with some key historical content that can inform their historical inquiries and predictions of the story the entire image will tell.

The “Zoom-In Inquiry” activity would be a great primer for the next phase, which hopefully helped students start that transition from consumers of information to producers.  I need to come up with an effective way for student to get involved an hands-on project where they can make an accessible, multimedia, and shareable product (Schrum, 2012). I am entertaining the idea of having students work with StoryMaps. Such a product would involve the learning of basic technical abilities, the use of multimedia sources, developing a research strategy, crafting well-supported historical narratives and arguments, and presenting a product to diverse audiences. Although I am super excited about the possibility of adding this critical component to the lesson, I know time would be a constraint as far as developing it. I envision a product where students have a greater control (and responsibility) over their learning, their thinking, and their method of communicating new knowledge. Having my students recognize the complexity of historical interpretations, make effective and efficient use of a variety of primary and secondary sources, and present them in an ethical and empathetic fashions would be a win-win for them, for me, and for society.

Historical Thinking:

Through the examination of two American political cartoons:

  1. build historical knowledge of both the Spanish-American War and the transformation of journalism,
  2. recognize how this period was shaped by political cartoons
  3. understand and embracing the complexity and ambiguity of using primary sources, especially political cartoons
  4. view history as an interpretive account of past events, from multiple perspectives (pro-1898 War, anti-imperialism, etc.)
  5. use a variety of sources (primary and secondary) to decode these political cartoons and synthesize their meanings
  6. conduct re-readings of political cartoons as new evidence is presented
  7. come up with a research strategy to answer combination of simple and complex questions related to U.S.-Caribbean relations at the turn of the 20th century
  8. understand the short-term and long-term impacts that short-lived political cartoons can have on American perceptions of Caribbeans
  9. apply historical thinking skills to current issues related to themes covered by these political cartoons (e.g. citizenship, Manifest Destiny, race, politics, gender)

To be continued…

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