So, the Titanic has sailed back onto our horizons, for at least a little while. The link above will take you to the New York Times education page. On it, you will find links to primary sources from the Titanic’s sinking, including articles from the paper’s archives. There are a variety of suggestions, such as: making scrapbooks or mock Facebook pages (try MyFakeWall.com) which are neat ideas–easily incorporated into an existing history program or as a stand alone activity. And, this brings up an important decision for history teachers wanting to do something with the Titanic.
What are you doing with the Titanic: Is it an opportunity to take advantage of history being covered in the news, or does it work well with what you are covering in your class already, or is it something that you simply feel compelled to cover, or is it a means to actually cover current events? Another relevant question: Are you going to simply do a fact-finding project, a history project driven by a particular question, or a project that evaluates other disciplines either in an isolated way or in a multi-disciplined approach, such as science, engineering, or sea-exploration?
I always consider the anniversaries of particular events as interesting opportunities in teaching history, but they are also potentially awkward prospects that could unsettle the flow of the class if they do not fit in logically. Sometimes there is no real way to introduce these moments without a natural gap, such as in-class activities just before a major test or due date while students are working on tasks at home, or immediately after such a date when students are a bit exhausted.
Of course, if you are already discussing the era, then so much the better. This is a great opportunity to evaluate Edwardian issues of class, the lingering perception of invincibility for imperialists and innovators of industry, the era’s perceptions of gender, an evaluation of the early 20th century’s media and connection with perceptions of disaster, or a more general consideration of communication developments in the age.
If you are going to utilize the Titanic tragedy in class, do it with a purpose. Be cognizant of the event’s social and cultural cache. It may be the perfect moment to capture and wow students with a degree of interest that is sometimes hard to achieve in history classes. Try assigning each student a person through the stories, wooing them into the drama of the past. Provide them with multi-media sources to explore the moments they are reading about.
If your student, Tommy, reads about a young lady who gushed over dancing in the ballroom and seeing the view from her balcony, and then let him explore the underwater scene of the ballroom, today, there is a real opportunity to draw him into an experience he may have never had before.
If your student, Natalie, follows the excitement and worries of a family who put everything into this trip to immigrate to America and their struggles to keep the family together during the tragedy, complete with subsequent census records for the family after the survivors made it to the States, she may develop an interest in the nitty-gritty she never knew she was capable of sharing.
If your student, Devon, takes a look at one of the socialites who is in the newspapers leading up to the voyage and then considers his or her experience during the voyage and its disaster, they will get a personal “in” and learn a little bit about class status in the era.
This is a potential trigger moment, that can really open the world of the past in a way that other events often do not, especially for older students who are more likely to know something about the Titanic.
The NY Times piece from above: 100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times – NYTimes.com.
The BBC has interviews with survivors–great primary sources, but don’t forget the effect of history and time impacting the memory of those interviewed.
Teachinghistory.org provides a useful movie review of the James Cameron’s Titanic which is short enough to be used easily in conjunction with the movie (also complement the Hollywood experience with primary sources!!).
HistoryTech.wordpress.com offers some tech resources for Titanic lesson plans.
Larry Ferlazzo also has a collection of “The Best Sites for Learning About the Titanic.”
The History Channel’s website also has a series of articles, clips and interactive materials on its Titanic Topic’s page.