on approaching the past through Katrina – a crowd-sourcing plea

This is straight copy of  a Facebook post I made just now (13 May 2014) , and I’m putting it here in hopes more people will see it. I know that commenting is much easier to do on Facebook than on WordPress, so if you want to weigh in but not here, please feel free to do so on that post. I will be compiling the list of resources by this fall and, if you’d like a copy, please let me know via the contact form on my Connect page (here on this blog) or via a backchannel Facebook message. [Link to my FB.]

TO Everybody (teachers of history, lovers or haters of history, anybody who’s ever had to deal with history and found it hard going): I’m going to be teaching the last half of the U.S. history survey online (part-time) again next year, and I’ve come up with an approach that I think might work, but I would love to hear any suggestions you might have on sources, readings, etc. 

My students are a diverse group: many first-years with a wide range of preparation, most of them work (some full-time), and majors/interests tend to cluster into natural sciences/resource management, criminal justice, music, elementary ed, and undecideds. I’ve taught the survey as a survey (chronological w/content lectures), but the online setting means students have very little patience for long lectures, and the class quickly breaks out into some really engaged students and some who are gone. I’ve tried it with a professional skills component attached to the survey and that worked pretty well, as did very short content lectures tied to readings and analysis of primary sources. I’ve also tried the uncoverage method (thematic approach) but found it unhelpful because students need a foundation in what actually happened across the period being studied first. So I’m mulling a hybrid course for the fall.

I’m planning to start with a mini unit on Hurricane Katrina: Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun and the documentary Trouble the Waters and asking students to interview one peer and one adult whom they already know about that storm. Most will not know much about Katrina or New Orleans (which can become part of the takeaway). Then we will tackle our survey at its normal departure point (Reconstruction) and come forward (using primary sources, mini content lectures, a text as a workbook, etc.), but they will work all semester to build an individual final project around New Orleans, the nation, and Katrina. My goal is to have history matter to them while they gain some skills in its manners of thinking and tunneling into a place and set of questions. Issues of race and class (which are typically so bloody difficult to teach in places that don’t ‘see’ it) will be central and unavoidable. The environment, public policy (from local to national levels incl. homeland ‘security’), and policing strategies will be critical; cultural practices (like music) can help lure them in as well.

To that end, I need to compile a really good list of sources for them to start with. Not just scholarly articles, but general audience readings like newspaper and magazine articles, music, etc. Anything that I can make available online is a bonus, but the key thing is to create a set of materials to which they can go to expand their present understanding of Katrina. Then over the course of the semester I’ll include in their weekly prep tiny case studies of what was going on in New Orleans at critical periods. I’ve got lots of material for that sort of thing *before* the Civil War (because that’s my period!), and I grew up about a hundred miles north of NOLA (which means I know quite a bit about the city in my lifetime), but I’ve not been systematic about this and so could really use any suggestions you might have. Any that have already worked well in the classroom, yes, but also any that just helped you to get a better bead on NOLA and Katrina. (It most definitively does NOT need to be ‘history’ or just ‘academic’!)

Crowd-sourcing, I believe they call this, and I’ll be happy to properly compile and share the list with everyone who responds when it’s ready to go (September). Pretty please? And thank you in advance!


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