Designing a Course About a Point on the Map: Thinking Locally as a Way to Think Globally
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about buying a five gallon Kline and Brown Churn at an auction in North Georgia. Upon doing some research I found that the churn, made in the mid-1880s, was turned at a shop very close where we live and that the clay was very likely dug out of Nancy Creek even closer to our home. To understand the milieu in which this churn was made, one must subtract I-75, which dissects the space between where the churn was made and where the clay was dug (and where we live), and one must imagine away acres and acres of parking lots, buildings, and restaurants. This is a difficult task—in order to discover the truth of the past we have to see through the layers of change that separate us from it.
We can glimpse the difficulty of our task in perceiving the more distant past when we think about the places we call “landmarks”…the OK Café, Goldberg’s Deli, Tommy’s Barber Shop, and even the Chik-fil-a (apparently the busiest one in the state). To be clear, I am a fan—a big one—of each of these places (I get a great no. 1 haircut at Tommy’s and perhaps the best grits in town at OK), but to call them landmarks is intriguing language, as it points to our relatively short cultural and historical memory.
Our students need a longer view, a more nuanced and a more detailed one. How do we give it to them?
I would love to take or to teach a course that uses this exact area as its subject. By looking at a very small area, the relatively small area around this intersection and the nearby stretches of Nancy Creek, we would develop a perspective that undoubtedly would inform our way of seeing the larger world around us.
Some topics for the course:
- The geology of the area and the development of Nancy Creek.
- Native American presence.
- Pre-Civil War history.
- Reconstruction to World War I.
- The Period between the World Wars, including the years of World War II.
- Post World War II.
- Current History, which would for example include a study of the pollution and sustainability issues related to the Nancy Creek water shed.
To do this well, the course would require:
- Working outside the confines of any single academic department.
- Seeking the expertise of people outside our school community.
- Careful research in libraries and archives, as well as the collection of oral histories.
- Extended time. It would be challenging and likely impossible to do this well in the confines of traditional fifty minute a day classes.
As our school embraces “Learning For Life: A Vision for Westminster” and looks toward an ambitious strategic plan, we open the door to conversations about how we might design and support such courses.
[I have not yet read The History of the World Through 100 Objects, but it is at the top of my list. Another way to build a course that would challenge students to see the world through a different lens would be to teach a full history of the Kline and Brown churn itself. In my next post I will describe what that course might look like.]