Your Second Group Project… How Americans Use the Past

For the rest of April into May you’ll be working on your second group project. Working with three other students, you’ll prepare a 20-minute oral, multi-media presentation to be delivered in early May, on how Americans use the past.

We’ll form groups over the Easter Break using a Google Doc that I’ll send separately. (You need to join a group no later than 5pm on Easter Monday.) You have five options to pick from, each a “usable past” from ch. 2 in Why Study History?

  • How do Americans “use the past… as a source of inspiration”? (pp. 30-33)
  • How do Americans use the past as “an escape from the pressures and anxieties of modern life”? (pp. 33-35)
  • Two on identity/heritage (pp. 39-42): How do Americans use the past to promote “a particular understanding of… national identity”? Or how do Christians and other religious Americans use the past to promote “a particular understanding of… religion”?
  • How do Americans use the past to promote social reform or political change? (pp. 43-45)

You’ll then spend the rest of the month looking for examples of your chosen “usable past,” looking to popular culture (movies, TV, music, video games, advertising), public history (museums, monuments, memorials), social media and blogging, politics, hobbies… any “past-related activities” that go beyond the academic discipline of history. I’ll leave it to each group to determine how best to conduct this research, but I’ll expect you to get started by meeting as a group during the middle of next week. (You don’t have class, reading, or a response paper, so you should have plenty of time available for initial planning and brainstorming.)

We’ll have three days of presentations: M 5/1, F 5/5, and M 5/8. For now, plan to go on May 1st, with the final schedule to be set later this month.


Your grade (50 pts) in the presentation will be based on a mix of instructor and peer evaluation. Both will use the speaking criteria laid out in the Course Expectations section of the syllabus. I’ll just add a few elaborating comments here.

Command: My general expectation here is that when you give an oral presentation, “You should come off as being knowledgeable about your topic (both specific details and the bigger picture).” For this assignment, it means two things. First, that you should have a handle on the nature of the “usable past” and how the examples chosen illustrate it. Second, that you should demonstrate the ability to think critically about this kind of engagement with the past — and to compare and contrast it with the academic discipline of history (or what McKenzie has called “thinking historically”).

I fully expect each member of the group to demonstrate this command, even if the 20 minutes aren’t divided into perfectly equal segments.

Collaboration: “It should be clear that you can work well with others in the group” is how I framed this in the syllabus. Specifically, what that means for this presentation is two-fold: (1) that each team member should do their fair share of research and planning for the presentation; and (2) that during the presentation itself, each team member should know when they’re supposed to speak and for how long, that individual segments should feel interconnected, not detached, and that there shouldn’t be drastic variation in quality within the presentation.

To be sure, some people are more naturally comfortable speaking in front of a crowd — so if you’re one of those people, do what you can to help your teammates who are nervous about it. Conversely, if you’re an introvert who’s great at research, help your extroverted teammate who’s struggling to find good examples from pop culture.

(Next week I’ll post a faculty video conversation about oral communication, and you already have one up about working as part of a team. So while there’s no response paper this week or next, it’s well worth your time to watch those conversations and pick up some pointers.)

Preparation, Delivery, and Use of Multiple Media: Beyond what I say in the syllabus on these expectations, let me just emphasize:

  1. That I do expect you to use multiple examples of popular uses of history. The best presentations will incorporate examples from multiple genres.
  2. While the use of media should help make for a more dynamic presentation, make sure that your own voice is coming through — don’t just line up fifteen minutes of ads, TV clips, and photos and leave almost no room for your own voice to add commentary.
  3. Be sure to rehearse. You should be familiar with the computer and classroom A/V equipment in CC120 before you use it.

One thought on “Your Second Group Project… How Americans Use the Past

  1. Pingback: Usable Past Project Groups | Intro to History

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