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Pathway of Brooklyn Bridge, N.Y.

[Detail] Pathway of Brooklyn Bridge, N.Y.

Lesson Procedure

Activity One - Introduction to the Epic Poem Project
Students not only discern what types of historical evidence to search for, but also appreciate the ambitious thematic and data elements that constitute an epic poem.

Activity Two - Introduction to the Epic Poem Format
Introduce the Epic Poem format as rendered through Whitman and Crane. Epic poetry is, in a sense, the writing, or chronicling, of history through the eyes of a poet.

Activity Three - Using the Library's digital collections
During this time, students can learn to navigate the site, identify relevant texts, and analyze their meaning within the particular historical context and each group's specific focus topic.

Activity Four - Mid-point Assessment
Students read and assess their peers' outlines.

Activity Five - Presentations
Students not only share their work but also allow other aspects of 1900 American to wash over them.


Activity One: Introduction to the Epic Poem Project

Project Information

This project requires historical research and analytical skills as well as the creative vision of a poet. Present the project in class approximately three weeks prior to your unit on America at the end of the nineteenth century.

Assign students or allow them to self-select into groups of two to four persons depending on class size. Groups should also form with attention to individual skills. For instance, talented poets should work with someone who can create quality presentations.

Have each group choose a specific topic of historical and creative focus from the following:

  • labor
  • expansionsim
  • music
  • leisure
  • politics
  • urbanism
  • religion
  • science
  • transportation
  • industry
  • women
  • the West
  • immigration
  • agriculture

Based on the chosen topic, each group creates a verse text and an 8-10 minute presentation to support the words with pictures, film, and sounds from American Memory. These multi-media epic poems will be presented before the entire class in six to eight weeks.

Kickoff Exercise

List these column headings on the blackboard:

  • Unifying Themes
  • Unifying Images
  • Relevant Past
  • Current Data
  • Future Vision

Tell the class that they are writing an epic poem of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.

Ask students to brainstorm for ideas to fill the blank columns.

Through this exercise, students not only discern what types of historical evidence to search for, but also appreciate the ambitious thematic and data elements that constitute an epic poem.

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Activity Two: Introduction to the Epic Poem Format - two class periods

Introduce the Epic Poem format as rendered through Whitman and Crane. Epic poetry is, in a sense, the writing, or chronicling, of history through the eyes of a poet.

  • Have students read the poem, Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman.

Discuss how Whitman's style captures the spirit of a maturing and confident nation in the 1850s; also discuss how he provides detailed historical data for New York City prior to the Civil War as he painstakingly records shop names, advertisements, and other ephemera.

  • Have students read the poem, The Bridge, by Hart Crane.

Compare Crane's style to Walt Whitman's, discussing how it reflects the 1920s, another transformative era. Also discuss his use of the relevant past and the focus upon the Brooklyn Bridge as a unifying metaphor of the age.

Discuss how these models bracket the selected time period and offer numerous stylistic examples for student experimentation.

Review the Epic Poem Project. Remind students that they are to create an epic poem about a current theme in 1900 America.


Activity Three: Using the Library's digital collections

Prior to this lesson, arrange for at least one class period per week, for a six to eight week span, in the school computer lab. Bookmark the collections listed in the Preparation section of this lesson or otherwise make the list readily available to students. During this time, students can learn to navigate the site, identify relevant texts, and analyze their meaning within the particular historical context and each group's specific focus topic.

Before taking the students to the computer lab, bookmark the collections.

Before going to the computer lab, introduce students to the American Memory Search Help and to Citing Primary Sources.

Give students a brief introduction to American Memory and review the Search Help.

Before the students begin, select questions from one or more teacher's guides to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.

In the visits to the computer lab, have students search the identified collections for items to analyze and include in their presentations.

Note: While time in class is provided for searching the Library's digital collections, out of class/after school tutorial sessions are crucial for success in this endeavor.


Activity Four: Mid-point Assessment - one class period

  1. Three or four weeks into the project, each group must submit a detailed outline of their particular focus topic.
  2. The outline should be organized according to the categories introduced in Activity One.
  3. Allow time for students to read and assess their peers' outlines.
  4. The best outlines can be copied and distributed as examples to all students.

Activity Five: Presentations - time will vary

As the groups' topics together comprise a broader epic, it is strongly recommended that a half-day (at least) be set aside for group presentation in front of the entire class. If this is not possible, set aside class periods on consecutive days for the presentations.

Allow fifteen minutes of presentation time per group.

The presentation format may vary from group to group. Some groups may read sections with images flashing behind, while others may record their lines. You may specify.

Each group must also submit a finished copy of its poem, presentation, and a bibliography of sources consulted.

The overall goal of the presentation day is immersion in the time. Students not only share their work but also allow other aspects of 1900 America to wash over them.

Extension

Substitute Homer for Whitman and Crane and this assignment could be adapted for a World History Class.

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