Lesson Plan

  • Grades 9-10,
  • Grades 11-12

Collaborating with History: Re-examining the Past through Research and Reenactment


Introduction: History and Memory

Do Now: “Who writes history?”

Ask students to free-write in response to the question: “Who writes history?” Using the “Popcorn” Sharing Method, have students share their responses with the full class. (Instructions for the “Popcorn” technique.)

Divide the class into cooperative learning groups of 2–3 students to discuss the following question: “What might influence how a historian, biographer, documentarian, government or community interprets or reports about the past?”

Using the “Whiparound” Sharing Method, have a volunteer from each group summarize their thoughts for the class. (Instructions for Whiparound sharing.)

Can "History" change?

Discuss as a class:
—Can a historical narrative change?
⁠—What might cause us to alter the way we understand and/or interpret an event from the past?

Introduce either of the following quotations and have students rewrite it in their own words then share their interpretations with the class:

“We are what we remember, and as memories are reconfigured, identities are redefined.”
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Historian

“History is a people's memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.”
Malcolm X

Discuss: “What is historical memory?” Ask students if they are familiar with the term “historical memory” and/or if a volunteer could share what they think it means.

Explain: Historical memory refers to the way by which groups of people create and then identify with specific narratives about historical periods or events. Historical memory is sometimes also called collective memory or social memory and is a dependent upon things like familial memory, cultural/religious memory, and national memory. Historical memories help form the social and political identities of groups of people and can be revisited and revised as social priorities and cultural values evolve.
Adapted/excerpted from Study.com: What is Historical Memory? - Biases & Examples

For more information and activities on Historical Memory see POV’s lesson plan for Graven Image: Stone Mountain and Historical Memory—Who Defines the Past?

The Bisbee Deportation Then and Now

Explain to students that we will watch clips from the documentary Bisbee ’17 and share the film summary from Teacher Handout A. Share the background information in Teacher Handout B and information from the following resources as needed:
⁠— Benton-Cohen, Katherine. “Two Ways of Looking at the Bisbee Deportation.” Lapham’s Quarterly, 30 August 2018.
⁠— “Background Information” from POV Discussion Guide for Bisbee ‘17
⁠— Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum
⁠— Western Mining History: Bisbee

Explain to students that the film was produced in collaboration with an academic historian as well as local Bisbee scholars and residents who organized the commemoration. Georgetown University historian Katherine Benton-Cohen drafted 10-12 scenes and character sketches based on her historical research. The director, Robert Greene, then worked with local residents to stage these scenes but allowed the actors to improvise and develop their characters based on their own interpretation of the events. The reenactment did not purport to be objectively true: it was a series of narratives crafted on the basis of multiple sources, each of which provided an incomplete, individual, and sometimes contradictory account of the 1917 events.

While watching the film, students should complete Student Handout A by noting scenes and quotes that demonstrate the conflicting narratives surrounding the Bisbee deportation. Play Clips 1 and 2:
— Clip 1: The Ray Family | 11:48–14:55 (3:07 minutes)
— Clip 2: Historical Narratives in Conflict | 27:55–35:00 (6:27 minutes)

Have students organize into small groups to discuss the clips using Student Handout B discussion prompts:
— What are the conflicting narratives of the Bisbee deportation shown in the film?
— How was the story of the Bisbee deportation passed down to the contemporary Bisbee community? How did this process contribute to the conflicting historical narratives? What factors have influenced the historical narratives that individual Bisbee residents have adopted?
— How does the process of collaborative reenactment reflect the challenges inherent to historical research and writing?
— The film’s historical advisor, Georgetown University Professor Katherine Benton-Cohen, asked, “As professional historians…what do we owe the people and places we study?” Consider how power imbalances shape the relationship between scholars and the communities they study. How do you think historians should enlist a community’s current residents as collaborators in the researching and telling of history? Are there limits to how much local stakeholders should have a say in how their history should be told? Are historians unbiased? Does the answer change if we know that Benton-Cohen’s grandfather was born in Cochise County shortly before the Deportation? Why or why not?

Reconvene the class and discuss:
— Annie Graeme-Larkin states: “I have to remember, first off, that my father is a company man, and also remember those people telling the story are in Bisbee. In other words, they weren't deported.” What is the significance of this perspective on the Bisbee deportation narrative?
— What did committee member Dan Frey mean when he referred to the Bisbee deportation as an “ethnic cleansing”? Based on what you saw in the film, what role did race appear to play in Sheriff Wheeler’s and Bisbee residents’ responses to the strike? How do you think contemporary residents’ understandings of race and citizenship shape their interpretations of the event?
— What is the Bisbee community risking by confronting the town's painful past? What do they hope to gain

Play Clip 3: Living the History. While watching the film, students should list scenes and quotations that demonstrate the impact of the reenactment on Bisbee community members using Student Handout C.

Have students rejoin their small groups and discuss the clip using Student Handout D: Reckoning with History. What factors influenced the Bisbee community’s historical memory before and after the reenactment of the deportation?

Reconvene the class, review their group discussion notes, and use the following prompts to reflect on the film:
— How did you feel when you were watching the re-enactment of the Bisbee deportation?
— Why did the community choose to revisit the town's history as a community event in addition to other historical accounts, like the books and articles that have been written?
— Why was it important that the story was primarily told and performed by the current residents of Bisbee?

Collaborating with History

Have students select an individual or event from history and examine how and why the historical narrative associated with this subject has changed over time. Students should also analyze current perspectives on their subject to reveal contemporary factors that are influencing our collective historical memories. They can also attempt to project how the historical narrative may evolve as future generations reflect on the event. Students should present their findings as an essay, report, or multimedia presentation.