History on Location 2011 Day One: Plimoth Plantation

As part of the Causes of Conflict Teaching American History Grant Project, teachers travel annually to historically significant sites for study produced in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  In previous years, middle school teachers studied the Civil War and high school teachers studied the Civil Rights Movement.  Descriptions and resources from both of those trips are posted on this blog; use the search tools to find the entries.  This year, elementary teachers studied the New England colonies, from early contact through the American Revolution.

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Our study began with talks by John Demos, followed by a trip to Plimoth Plantation.  Demos started with a talk Sunday night on just who the Puritans were, disavowing us of our inclination to think of them as repressed, guilt ridden, and austere:  in short, the Puritans weren’t puritanical.  Monday, we went to Plimoth Plantation, a living history site interpreting the Wampanoag and Plimoth experience.  There, Demos helped us understand the worlds of these early settlers:  their home and community lives.  Interpreters on the Mayflower II, the Wampanoag Home Site, and the 1627 English Village brought these worlds to light.  Education specialists Summer Confuorto and Kim VanWormer guided our visits and analysis of the 1621 Treaty as described in Mourts Relation.

Teacher-participants, I turn this over to you, as I will the next several entries:

  • What do you think were the big ideas we studied here?  Why do you think these episodes and themes are important to study?
  • What historical questions were answered here?  What new questions developed?
  • What new ideas or questions about teaching and learning history did this investigation leave you with?

3 responses to “History on Location 2011 Day One: Plimoth Plantation

  1. What do you think were the big ideas we studied here? Why do you think these episodes and themes are important to study?

    Until I started this program, I didn’t spend much time on the Pilgrims in my classroom knowing that earlier grades did Pilgrim units (of course around Thanksgiving). After traveling here and listening to Professor Demos and the educational specialists–I realized that the big idea is that the “American Identity” that would eventually lead to revolution and independence was born and fostered in this little English village of Plimoth settlers. These episodes and themes are important to study because they answer the historical question, “Why did settlers come to the New World.” I will not neglect to tell the full story of the Puritans and the Wampanoag people in the future.
    ~Shelley Houle

  2. For me, this day was a fascinating glimpse into the perspective of various “key players” during this early time period in America. John Demos set the stage, and the “players” throughout the day really helped me deepen my understanding of this era, in a way I hadn’t fully developed previously.

    I appreciated listening to the men on board the Mayflower II discussing sailing challenges, and being able to get a personal view of how small the ship was. This experience fleshed out my prior imaginings of conditions the colonial settlers endured. Despite having a relative who arrived on the Mayflower, I’d never really thought much about them other than the Thanksgiving story my students perform each year as a reader’s theatre. Actually seeing my ancestor’s name listed on the passenger list made her seem much more real to me.

    When we entered the Wampanoag Home Site and first saw the burned out canoe, I was so excited as we used John White’s watercolor of the making of boats in our lesson earlier in the year. It had been new to me at the time, and seeing it exactly as it was depicted in the watercolor brought the lesson to life for me. I couldn’t wait to get back and share this with my students.

    As we listened to and watched various Native Americans talking or working, I was filled with wonder and appreciation for their tenacity, pride and determination to not just hold onto their unique culture for themselves, but their willingness to share. If I had been in their place, I’m not so sure I would be as forgiving nor as generous.

    When we arrived at the English village, I was impressed with how authentic it all appeared, complete with a pile of shells laying outside one of the houses. Spending time with one of the inhabitants as he demonstrated how they protected the village was enlightening. Nothing prepared me for a chance encounter with “Elder Brewster” though. I didn’t want to leave once we began “visiting”. We chatted about how he came to be there (I later went home to check out what he told me) and his role in the village. Toward the end I asked him about my ancestor and he told me all about her and who she married. I knew this to be true and it tickled me.

    This day one experience was more than I hoped for. Having the opportunity to bridge background information with deeply moving visual and physical interactions literally made history come alive for me. I will be forever grateful for this life changing adventure!

  3. What do you think were the big ideas we studied here? Why do you think these episodes and themes are important to study?

    The main idea that made an impression on me was that the Pilgrims lived a very similar lifestyle that many New England towns later adapted. They had a meetinghouse where the men made decisions. Church was required. The people basically governed themselves, which continued through the conflicts of the revolution.

    A portion of the presentation was on the homes that the pilgrims lived in. It helped me realize how privacy was not available to many early settlers. As time went on, they began to adopt new values including privacy. I also could see how children were needed for their system to function. They performed many of the daily tasks that contributed to a family’s survival. That also continued on, demonstrated in the home tour in Salem. The children had many jobs that contributed to the family.

    I believe that I will be able to use the lifestyles of the children as a hook to get my students to become interested in learning about the lives of the early New England settlements. Before, I didn’t put very much emphasis on the children since the major players in the text books are the governmental leaders and revolutionists. I now see that to understand the revolutionists, one must understand the people and lifestyles in the Americas (including children) and how they had changed over time.

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