Last week, I learned about evidence collection and perspective by watching the discussions in two online sections of the same class, modern U.S. history.
The reading assignment and lecture were balanced between immigration from Europe at the turn of the last century, and the expansion of the giants of industry and commercialism, including cultural aspects like automobiles and Tin Pan Alley. The prompt was an image of crowded Hester Street, which I figured combined both the immigration and commercialism of the era.
One class gathered evidence almost exclusively related to Ellis Island and the plight of the immigrants. The assigned documents and issues about commerce and industry were basically ignored. The result will be many theses about immigration, so I asked them to expand their thesis to include previous units, figuring I might as well hear about the exploitation of freed slaves and Native Americans all together, since their conversation was already headed that way.
The other class (again, this is two sections of the same class — they cannot see each other’s work) created a very different collection: everything from product advertisements to racist sheet music covers to Jewish workers’ leagues to the poem on the Statue of Liberty. As a result, I’ve asked them not only to create a thesis using their choice of evidence, but to comment on the collection as a whole.
So this “freer” way, the making of a collection of sources, opens the gate to discussing how the items collected by their colleagues affects what they decide to post. When you see everyone posting photos of immigrants, what is the tendency? It seems to be posting a YouTube video of the immigrants. When you see people posting a variety of sources, perhaps you look for something different to add.
It gives much for me to think about in terms of more open pedagogy and how historians work.