Putting It All Together
The following activities will help students consider the impact and implications of oral history in the documentation of historic events. The activities will also help students understand the devastation of civil wars and how communities memorialize victims.
Activity 1: Reliability Of Historic Sources
Every community and family has its "war stories"--whether or not they were directly engaged in combat. Though many of these stories have never been written down, they have become a part of family or community oral history. Oral histories are a powerful way to experience the past: they are crowded with colorful details and the emotions of their authors, and often contain valuable clues to cultural traditions and attitudes. However, one must be cautious in using them. Over time, memories fade and the stories change with many repetitions, and therefore historians have to find ways to separate fact from fiction.
Have students choose an important or controversial event that involved local residents. Have them research the event through text books, newspapers, or other resources at a library or local historical society. Then have them record an interview with a relative or neighbor who was involved in some way with this event. Students should prepare ahead of time a list of questions for the interview. The questions should elicit information that will help them discover what this event meant to the person and determine the accuracy of this account. Typical questions might include: In what way was this person involved? Who else was involved and what were their roles? What does the person remember about the circumstances leading up to the event? Where was the person when it ended? What was his or her reaction? Then have students write a report that describes the oral history and evaluates its accuracy. In preparing this document they might consider the following questions: Which details in this person's story provide evidence about its accuracy? Why do you think so, or not? Can you distinguish the truth from the elaboration in the story? How? How might the person's point of view have affected his or her account? What other kinds of sources would you need to assure yourself of the story's accuracy? Are written sources always reliable? Why or why not?
Activity 2: Modern Civil Wars
The violence of the Civil War affected families throughout the United States. Today, people in countries all over the world find themselves in the middle of other civil wars.
Have students find a newspaper in which they can identify a civil war that is occurring now. Then have them find several stories in papers, magazines, or on television that show how this war has affected civilians. Students should compile these stories, then compare this war's impact with the U.S. Civil War's impact on the families in Prairie Grove. Have them present this information in a written report or orally to the rest of the class.
Activity 3: The Civil War in Your Area
The Civil War affected every part of the United States. Although the vast majority of battles occurred in a limited part of Confederate-controlled territory, troops were recruited from all of the states and territories. In addition, the forces that flamed the Civil War extended far beyond the battlefields, and the aftermath was also felt far afield from the battles themselves.
Have students look at this list of nine historical events associated with the Civil War. Divide the class into groups, having each group research what happened in their community in relation to each event. Then the groups should report their findings to the class.
Historic Events Associated with the Civil War
1. Compromise of 1850
2. Dred Scott decision
3. Firing on Fort Sumter
4. First Battle of Manassas
5. Emancipation Proclamation
6. Introduction of conscription
8. Lincoln's Assassination
9. Introduction of the Fourteenth Amendment
Consider inviting a member of the local historical society to visit the classroom and to discuss the history of your area during the Civil War. Afterwards, have the class design an exhibit around your community's Civil War legacy. If possible, arrange with the local or school library to present the exhibit for the public.
Activity 4: Monuments and Memorials
Memorializing war in monuments, markers, and parks is very important to the American people. Have students determine what war memorials or grave sites for regiments, individuals, or battles exist in their community. Then have them examine the memorial, concentrating on the message it offers. Who does it mention? Who does it omit? How are its subjects represented--in words, on a statue, or some other way? What is the overall impression it provides? This activity can also be tied into Activity 3, The Civil War in Your Area, by researching the process by which the monument was created. In either case, have students report their findings to the class.