The Breaking Barriers in History theme is an exciting lens through which to view historical events. Students have the opportunity to explore topics that have made a lasting impression and brought change to the world. Historically, barriers take time to break and most often are not recognized or appreciated until decades later. It is the historians who examine events, analyze, draw conclusions and document events from a historical perspective. Historians write what becomes the accepted description of the past. Historians decide the importance of people, circumstances, and events that will be studied in school textbooks and remain embedded in the subconscious of society through time.
It is important for students to dig deep and examine secondary resource descriptions that provide the long term impact of their individual topics. A project with balanced research will contain comparisons of multiple secondary sources with various interpretations. Comparing numerous perspectives will help students gain a well-rounded view of circumstances from which to draw conclusions. Many events have multiple interpretations and impacts that will challenge students.
Historical fiction books can provide exciting story lines to captivate young readers and introduce historical background information. The bibliography in the back of these books can also direct students to valuable resources they may not locate otherwise. Surprising facts may be discovered that contradicts present-day understanding.
Historical figures who were trying to break through a barrier during their lifetime could not know the resulting long term consequences.
For example, the Women’s Temperance Movement broke through the political and cultural barriers created by the male dominant society and sought a ban on alcohol. The enactment of the 18th Amendment, banning intoxicating liquor led to an organized crime ring that created a more destructive menace to society. In the end, the 18th Amendment did not accomplish what it set out to do in the first place, but its impact was not known until decades later. Secondary resources will provide students the opportunity to read the work of historians who have studied the ramifications on our society over time.
Many young students fall into the trap of believing everything is available on the internet. “You can Google anything.” By limiting research to online availability, students lose the depth and scope printed materials provide, in addition to losing valuable resources that can bring various perspectives and voices to their conclusions. Secondary resources give students the opportunity to actually measure the positive and negative outcomes that cannot be known or interpreted through a primary source. They can provide various viewpoints and analyses of the actual impact decades later.
Both the controversial Civil Rights Act and Voting Suppression Act of 1965 broke through major barriers politically and socially in the United States at the time. Their impact may be presented differently by historians in the different regions of the United States. Various ethnic groups will interpret the outcome of their personal experiences with a different lens. It is very important for students to examine all viewpoints before drawing conclusions. By doing so, they will have a deeper understanding of their topic and it’s major impact and ramifications through history. Time and place help us to observe and be the most objective of historical events. It is the distance and perspective of time that gives secondary resources their most value to researchers. Secondary resources will provide students the cohesiveness to draw conclusions and develop a full picture of their topic.
Sharon Wlodarczyk is a longtime CHD educator who works with students in Region 15.