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Ford Institute and Best Practices: Part III – Analyzing Political Cartoons

It’s Day Three of the Presidential Timeline Ford Institute. Yesterday was spent at the Ford Museum, viewing a variety of artifacts from the 1970s, gathering information about the end of the Vietnam War, and listening to former Vietnam refugees. It was an amazing day.

We’re back in the Ford Library today messing with the analyzing primary sources process and talking about the steps we need to take with kids to help them make sense of sources. Plus we’ve spent time in the research room playing with actual documents – the ultimate history nerd activity. I spent a couple of hours messing with State Department cables, letters, and telegrams dealing with Operation BabyLift. Very cool stuff.

Our work with primary source analysis really relates back to some of the Sam Wineburg, Bruce Lesh, and NARA stuff that I’ve talked about before. But there is some cool stuff that I really haven’t thought about, especially our discussions on Agency and Empathy.

We used VoiceThread to practice writing good guiding questions for political cartoons. Feel free to check out what we came up with. Find the cartoons we used here.

What type of historical document is the source? Who produced it? When was it produced? Where was it produced?

Epistemology refers to the idea of how do we know what we know. This is basically a matter of comprehension. What do you see? What is going on? What are the points being made? What historical terms do you need to know more about?

Agency and Empathy
This implies that people in the past faced choices, they made decisions, and the resulting actions had consequences. And that they actually had the power to make those decisions. Kids need to understand that historical figures are people who faced conflicts, constraints, and hardships under circumstances and with ways of thinking quite different from their own. How did they feel?
(Agency VoiceThread)
(Empathy VoiceThread)

This is another way to think of asking kids to look for the big idea / summary of the author’s intent. What is important and why is it important? We may need to help kids explore what makes an event significant and recognize that perspectives may differ.

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