- Millennial Tweeters and the Civil War Classroom
Historic interpretation programs at Ellis Island, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and the Andersonville National Historic Site enable visitors to experience those events as a historical participant. Throughout my teaching career, I have attempted to achieve this kind of experience in the classroom in various ways and have found the most success with a brand new Twitter-centric lesson I call #Antweetam, in which I integrate Twitter into my Civil War lessons to provide a means for students to better understand its complexities and legacy.
The main points of emphasis of the Civil War that I cover are the war’s causes, reasons soldiers fought, the role of slavery, and battle strategy. In addition, Reconstruction and the war’s legacy contribute to a lengthy unit that can become a series of disconnected events for some of my high school students. #Antweetam provides students a way to reflect daily, as participants, on the events that occurred between 1850 and 1877. Students are directed to mine daily class lectures and activities for information they think their historic personas would find important enough to Tweet reactions to. Typically, I highlight topics each day in class and students decide the regional, economic, political, or racial impacts of those events on their historical characters. Primary sources linked to their online class pages help students better understand and interpret those events into Tweets.
The Civil War Trust provides Compromise Scenario Cards that are a critical [End Page 72] part of this project.1 Each of these short biographies represents someone from every state in 1850 and is designed to enlighten students about the various opinions people held in both regions regarding the Missouri Compromise, Fugitive Slave Act, and Kansas Nebraska Act. We modify the biographies to continue the historic person’s journey through the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
I hand out the cards randomly, and I typically see raised eyebrows when the students read their descriptions. Students commonly ask whether their descriptions are correct because they challenge what they had learned or thought of the war. For example, there is a banker from Iowa who owned slaves before the war and viewed abolitionists as a threat to the southern way of life. Another scenario card describes an attorney from Mississippi who represented slave owners and upheld the slave code but secretly had doubts about the morality of slavery. When handed the Mississippi lawyer, a student commented, “I thought all southerners thought slavery was a good thing.” Others were just as confused that some northerners did not support abolition as a reason to fight in the war.
During the setup activity, I asked students to determine the roles their people would play during the war. How old were their people, and how did that relate to the average age of a Civil War soldier? If their scenario card people stayed home, what would be their opinions of the fighting? Biographies in hand, and curiosity heightened, students used iPads to research 1860 census records from their particular states for historical names and geographical locations to add more detail to their historic personas. This was an interesting activity; students were impressed by the plethora of information these sources provided. Finally, the ability to create their own names was also an enlightening lesson, as they had to select from a litany of unique nineteenth-century first and last names.
At last, students created their Twitter profiles. They searched online archives for photographs taken of people between 1850 and 1860 that fit the details they had accumulated. Each student also inserted an image as his or her header photo to represent where his or her person lived; these included historic state plat maps, farmsteads, or places of business. The Scenario Card’s biography and census detail completed each historic avatar. [End Page 73]
An astute student once commented that the causes of the war seemed to disappear when we discussed the war’s battles and leaders. Did soldiers and commanders forget the Fugitive Slave Act or Dred Scott decision? This Twitter lesson enables students to see that their historic people held beliefs before the war that were either strengthened or perhaps...