July 18, 2021: The Humanities
This past week, I had the pleasure and privilege of being part of a Summer Teacher Institute put on jointly by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It brought together 30 teachers from across the country, and a team of historical scholars, and we spent the week digging deeply into American history from colonialism to reconstruction. The lectures, discussions, virtual field trips, and collaborative work was inspiring, rejuvenating, and eye-opening.
The focus of our work was the primary documents related to these times in history. Letters, articles, photos, maps, treaties, posters, artifacts, and art work. These things give context and depth to the events that were happening. They help us to understand the nuances of time periods and people’s lives.
With the focus on science and technology growing, I worry that the value placed on the Humanities will diminish. I see the effects of the STEM focus in the classroom. There are less resources and less time devoted to teaching the Humanities. And this is tragic. For it is the Humanities that make us who we are as a people. It is the Humanities that enriches our culture and gives us identity.
Many of the documents we examined this week I found very powerful. The letters written by John and Abigail Adams. The political cartoons of during the World Wars.
But my favorite was the working copy of the Bill of Rights. Not the final version that I have posted in my classroom and that we all know and recite. But the document that the creators worked on for weeks. The copy that shows revisions and changes as they debated and discussed. The version that shows the compromises and clarifications that were added, taken away, and adjusted to reflect the common ground they were able to uncover through this process.
I love what this represents and what this says about us as Americans and what it shows about our system of governance. It is a visual reminder that we are a nation of varied perspectives and points of view. That we are a diverse group with often conflicting priorities. That we each bring different experiences and ideas to the richness that is our country. And that it is acceptable to work to find common ground. That it is advantageous to us all to compromise when needed.
These documents are not just for historical scholars. They are for all of us. The National Archives, the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History- these are just a few of the organizations that house, protect, and share these documents with us all. Sometimes looking at artifacts from the past, can help us understand the present.
That is the power of the Humanities!