No surprise I follow Colonial Williamsburg on social media. Last January Colonial Williamsburg posted a blog post entitled What Would the Founders…Drive? and then did a follow-up post in May. Historical interpreters in Colonial Williamsburg were asked to make a conjecture about what types of cars the founders may have driven and why. The posts were a brilliant way to bring history alive and right after I read them I was busy thinking of ways to use a similar idea in the classroom.
One of the reasons I never connected with George Washington until later in life was because he seemed so inaccessible and almost mythic in my mind. It wasn’t until I learned about him as a person that I was smitten with him.
Many of our students have similar struggles in connecting with history and identifying with narratives of the past. What I liked about the Colonial Williamsburg blog posts was that the interpreters used evidence to back up their ideas about the type of car each founder would drive. For instance, Chris Hull who portrays George Wythe believed Wythe would drive a Tesla because of his “commitment to the Enlightenment and scientific progress.” Lee Ann Rose who portrays Martha Washington believed Martha would drive a Prius because it is economical and would show her commitment to the Patriot cause. (I actually saw the Mount Vernon Martha Washington get into a red Kia once…weird story for later).
After reading this post I began brainstorming how I might use these blog posts in the classroom. Students could answer the same question as the Colonial Williamsburg interpreters did with individuals from any era of history. They could also answer questions about food and entertainment, clothing, and decorating. Questions like this tap into students’ natural sense of curiosity and they encourage research, reflection, and comparison.
Inviting students to put themselves in the shoes of historical figures forces them to go beyond regurgitating factual information and it will ensure the learning will be lasting.