Monthly Archives: February 2012

Chicago, Yesterday and Today

Image title: “Chicago Day at the Exposition,” 1893

Today, if you were to visit the site where, on October 9, 1893, more than 751,000 people visited the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, you would find a tranquil city park with a massive museum at its north end.

The crowd amassed on Chicago Day included more people than had ever gathered for any peace-time event in the known history of the world. According to Erik Larson, “the [Chicago] Tribune argued that the only greater gathering was the massing of Xerxes’ army of over five million souls in the fifth century B.C.”

They had come to see the White City, a city built in south Chicago’s Jackson Park and built specifically for the Columbian Exposition. The buildings were temporary structures, but their neo-classical design, the boulevards that ran between them, the dredged and re-configured Jackson Park, and the civic spirit that made it possible to build the Exposition in less than three years all left their permanent mark on the city of Chicago.

In January 2012, I visited Chicago to attend the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. I finished reading Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City just days before my trip, so while I was in the Windy City I visited Jackson Park. The Palace of Fine Arts (reinforced with stone in the late 1920s and now Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry) is all that remains of the White City. The Japanese Garden on Wooded Island stands as the only visible trace of landscaping. Frederick Law Olmsted’s radical designs grew as he intended: so that future visitors would not be able to detect the changes he made. The rest of Jackson Park appears as though it has always looked as it does now.

So the image “Chicago Day at the Exposition” is important because it shows just how radically Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, and others changed the face of Jackson Park and Chicago. Without photographs from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, it is difficult to imagine the scale of the spectacle. It is difficult to get a sense of the majesty of the event at which Juicy Fruit, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, and the Ferris wheel all made their debut.

Further Reading:
1. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: B. W. Dodge, 1907).
2. Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, 1st ed. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2003).
3. Carl Smith, “Where All the Trains Ran: Chicago,” Common-Place 3, no. 4 (July 2003),

Marchand’s Lessons Inspire In-Class Innovation

Today’s post is from Bruce Lesh, a high school teacher in Maryland and author of “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12.

Several years ago, in the midst of changing my instructional program in order to put my high school students in the position of investigating the past, I came across the work of Roland Marchand. Tipped off by a professional colleague from California, I felt as if a door had been opened. Here, within one website, were the assiduously collected materials of a fellow history teacher who understood that students need to be immersed in the materials of the past in order to find value in its study and to develop the skills necessary to be productive members of society. Not only had Marchand collected a wide variety of historical sources, he had the foresight to organize them under thoughtful historical questions which structured their investigation. Ideas that had been germinating in my classroom coalesced as I saw how Marchand organized instruction around student debate about historical evidence. Much of the work I encountered became the basis for the historical investigations I use with my students. While exploring the site, The Bonus Army quickly drew my interest. The interplay between the following sources convinced me that the question of responsibility for the removal of the Bonus Marchers was fertile ground for my high school students to investigate:

  • Excerpts from The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Great Depression published in 1952.
  • Excerpts from Douglas MacArthur’s Reminiscences, published in 1964.
  • Statement to the press by General MacArthur, July 28.
  • Excerpt from General George Van Horn Moseley’s unpublished autobiography, One Soldier’s Journey
  • In At Ease: Stories I Tell To Friends (1967) Dwight D. Eisenhower

Over the years, my instinct about The Bonus Army has been rewarded with students investigating the evidence, applying that evidence to the overarching historical question, and developing interpretations substantiated with information derived from the evidence. Marchand’s Documentary Source Problems are the instructional forerunner of much of the work that has been done in history education. I still frequently find myself accessing the site for information, sources, and inspiration. My only regret is that I never got to meet Roland and pick what must have been a brain bountiful with ideas about inspirational history instruction.

Further reading:

Related lesson in the Marchand Collection:

From the publisher’s description of Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”

Every major measure of students’ historical understanding since 1917 has demonstrated that students do not retain, understand, or enjoy their school experiences with history. Bruce Lesh believes that this is due to the way we teach history — lecture and memorization. Over the last fifteen years, Bruce has refined a method of teaching history that mirrors the process used by historians, where students are taught to ask questions of evidence and develop historical explanations. And now in his new book “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” he shows teachers how to successfully implement his methods in the classroom.

Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” is available from IndieBound, Amazon, or directly from Stenhouse.

Unpacking Imagery from a Book of Hours

Title: The Holy Family at Work

The Holy Family at Work. From the Book of Hours of Catherine of Clèves

Here’s what Shennan Hutton, author of Women and Economic Activities in Late Medieval Ghent, had to say about this image:

This image of the “Holy Family at Work” comes from the book of hours of Catherine of Clèves.  One of my favorite medieval visuals, it depicts the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the toddler Jesus.  Mary is weaving, Joseph is working wood, and Jesus is toddling around in his wooden walker.  The ribbon extending upwards from his mouth is the medieval equivalent of a “thought bubble.”  It reads, “This is my beloved mother.”  Although groupings of the Holy Family was a popular theme in medieval art, it is a bit unusual to see the adults at work.  In typical medieval fashion, Mary, Joseph and Jesus appear dressed in burgher clothing (like the urban workers Catherine of Clèves might have glimpsed as she shopped in one of the cities of her tiny principality.)  Either her father or her husband commissioned this book of hours for Duchess Catherine of Clèves, as a wedding gift for her marriage to Duke Arnold of Guelders.

Clèves was a tiny county in the Low Countries, to the east of Flanders, north of France, and on the western edge of the Holy Roman Empire.  Today part of it is in Germany and part in the Netherlands.  Guelders was another small principality, entirely within the Netherlands today.  In the Late Middle Ages, books of hours were prized possessions of wealthy nobles and urban elites.  Many books of hours were made by artisans in the Low Countries, modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  An unknown artist (probably several artists in a workshop) in Utrecht (the Netherlands) completed this one for Catherine in 1440.  The Book of Hours contained little prayers to be said at certain hours of the day, hence the term “hours.”  Most of the pages were decorated with brightly painted illustrations, sometimes called illuminations or miniatures, of portraits of saints, visions of hell, and scenes from Jesus’s life, all drawn by hand.  Production and consumption of these books served many functions.  Owners displayed their books of hours as a sign of wealth, but also used the books for private religious meditation in their homes.  Often the books were decorated with the coat of arms of the owner intertwining with religious symbolism.  For this reason, books of hours exemplify the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century movement called the “laicization of spirituality,” a time when lay people were increasingly practicing their faith outside of the church setting, without the mediation of a clergyman.  This was an important precursor to the Reformation.  At the same time, this image depicts a very pre-Reformation subject, complete with an aged Joseph (medieval people usually thought of Joseph as an old man) and halos of sainthood.  I like to use this image to show how rich nobles and elites displayed their family background and prestige, and how spiritual practices were moving out of the church into private spaces.  However, this image is most useful for its unique background.  Although only the wealthiest people could afford to purchase books of hours, this image does not show the interior of a lavish townhouse or rich castle.  The room surrounding the Holy Family is the main room of a house that might have been owned by a late medieval burgher (a solid urban citizen.)  It is the kind of house that the artist might have lived in.  This little illumination might even have been drawn by a woman.  In fifteenth-century Bruges (just to southwest of Utrecht), there was a guild for artists who drew illuminations.  One of every four members of this guild was a woman.  Whether or not the artist was a woman, she or he drew a scene from daily life to surround the Holy Family.  As such, it gives us a fascinating glimpse into daily life in the Late Middle Ages.

You can see more images from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Clèves here.

Shennan Hutton is a Program Coordinator for the California History Social Science Project. She taught world history in high school for 15 years, before entering the graduate program at UC Davis.  She earned a Ph.D. in medieval European history in 2006.  She teaches medieval, European and world history at various colleges and universities, as well as promoting K-16 collaboration at the California History-Social Science Project. You can read more from Shennan at Blueprint for History Education.

Students Ponder Propaganda's Purpose

Title:  “Destroy This Mad Brute…ENLIST if you want to fight for your country…” 1917

About the image: Poster, “Destroy This Mad Brute…ENLIST if you want to fight for your country…If this war is not fought to a finish in Europe, it will be on the soil of the United States,” 1917. Ad, U.S. Army, World War I. Kaiser Wilhelm II has been turned into a huge, black, insane ape wearing a German spiked helmet labeled “Militarism,” abducting a terrified Columbia for rape, bringing down a bloodied club labeled “KULTUR” on “AMERICA,” and threatening the next victim, the viewer. Blood drenches his hands and wrists. This slobbering beast personifies several other stereotypes, racial ones included. H.R. Hopps poster.

Here’s what Winters High School teacher Courtney Caruso’s 11th- grade students had to say about this image:

Student 1: “This was a poster used in WW1 to encourage people to enlist in the military. It was one of many propaganda forms used at the time. The gorilla-beast represents the enemies, the Central Powers, and the woman represents the innocence being captured by this evil power. It was supposed to invoke a feeling of sympathy towards the innocent women, children, and other civilians, leading to the idea that America was going to protect them.”

Student 2:  “This image has to do with WW1. The “brute” in the poster refers to a combination of several countries known as the Central Powers with Germany as a focus. These countries are portrayed as having “captured” liberty, represented by the woman in the poster. Lady Liberty, representing America, is given a beautiful human form, while the Central Powers are portrayed by a slavering wild beast. It is supposed to turn viewers away from the Central powers and garner support for the war effort on the side of the allies. The Beast is stepping on American land, which makes people shocked and afraid. They wonder if the war will come to their home country, America. This poster represents one of the unfortunate instances of war: both sides view the other as some beast that must be slain, while really, these countries are full of people. They are not monsters. The armies are made of men; they aren’t wild beasts of their own. The people dying have lives, and families, and thoughts, and wants, and needs just like everyone else. Humanity is lost during war, in part due to war propaganda like this.”

Related Topics/Themed Collections: War posters, World War I, Propaganda

Lessons in the Marchand Collection:

  • World War I Propaganda by Kevin Williams, CHSS 11.4.5, IN PRINT – AVAILABLE ONLY IN THE MARCHAND ROOM

Resources Available in the Marchand Collection:

What do your students think about this image?  Click here to let us know.