Nathaniel Eastman
Lehigh University

MyHistory Assignments

http://www.myhistory.org/teaching/index.html

MyHistory.org has an extensive library of sample assignments that uniquely benefit from the searchable database of personal historical narratives.  Here are several sample assignments from the MyHistory archives:

Auto-biography-

Over the past century, the automobile has become a focal point of family life. Some families, for example, partly define themselves by the make or model they drive.  In most families, taking the wheel of the family car is a much anticipated rite of passage.  And all families today live in a social environment shaped by auto-mobility -- the freedom of movement that makes it possible to live far from the workplace, pursue wilderness pastimes, and sample every region's unique flavors.Have students explore this aspect of their heritage by creating family auto-biographies, which might include pictures of the cars their ancestors have owned, oral histories of memorable roadtrips, and a comparison of the automobile's influence on family life across several generations.

Stories that Last a Lifetime -

As a supplement to your literature curriculum, have students interview family members to learn about the stories, novels, and poems they have cherished over a lifetime.  What made these works especially memorable?  What other memories does the thought of first reading them recall?  Encourage students to explore through their interviews the range of responses great writing can evoke -- everything from critical insight to a visceral pleasure in the music of words.  Have students use these interviews to ghost-write book reviews by their family members, and based on these reviews, have the class choose one "family favorite" to read for themselves.  If possible, invite the family member whose favorite is selected to join your class for a discussion of the work.

Political Traditions -

Family history can open a fresh perspective on political topics and the study of government.  Students can interview older family members, for example, about the Presidents they remember, investigating how the nature and stature of the office have evolved through the pressure of events and developments in American society.  Students might also turn to older family members for insight into political eras they witnessed - -the New Deal, racial desegregation, the Vietnam War and antiwar movement, the end of the Cold War.  How did the family member view those events?  Was there disagreement within the family at the time?  What reasons did family members give for their views?  Finally, students might explore party loyalties within their families, searching for the roots of their own political outlook in family traditions, past family experiences, and their family's social circumstances over the years.

In each case, an appropriate narrative from MyHistory's archives can easily be substituted for an interview with a family member.  Alternately, assignments could be tailored to fit the "focus narratives"  MyHistory posts monthly; these are personal stories that fit a particular monthly or idea, generally related to the anniversary of a significant historical event, or to a designation that lends itself to historical analysis (e.g. Columbus Day or Black History Month).  The focus narratives, current and archived, are available at http://www.myhistory.org/read/index.html.