Monday, January 20, 2014

Misunderstanding History

I sense an assignment coming on or even an end of the year project if we can get beyond all of our snow days.  As I like to tell my students we study history in part of understand different cultures and to be able to better relate to people around the US and the world.  So why not have your students look at one misunderstanding and try to be a sleuth and figure out why we have accepted this falsehood as fact today.

Consider the fact that Paul Revere did not say "The British are coming."  To say such would be akin to saying "The Americans" were coming since we were all British (he said the "Regulars" were coming).  While we are at it why do we best remember Revere when he was the only one the Regulars captured that night while Dawes and Prescott did a better job of warning residents. But neither of the other two were memorialized in a Longfellow poem nor had physical items (pewter, pictures) to be stored by history.  While we are it, what about Revere's own work in calling the Boston Massacre a massacre and in copying someone else's work and claiming it to be his own!

What about the belief that Columbus proved the world was round which was patently false and had long been accepted otherwise.  The why we see it that way is a better question and most believe that Washington Irving was the conveyer of that falsehood.

Of course the tallest of tales is the one that says that Napoleon was a bully because he was short when the reality was he was average height for his time.

Here are a bunch of misperceptions that you can start with showing your students.

So imagine the assignment.  1) student has to find a misperception 2) explain how it got to be a misunderstanding which in of itself is good analysis 3) how, if it did change history.  While you are at it, watch the video above for some inspiration.  

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