Open Air Primary Resources
Do You Use Open Air Primary Sources?
Another great venue for teaching students American history are graveyards. We have so many here in North Carolina and the history there is rich!
Things you can discuss: the move from church yard grave sites to rural grave sites. Why did this happen? This history touches on industrialization, the Enlightenment and ideas of church authority, as well as the development of medicine as a field that impacts public policy. In addition different religious traditions conceive of the afterlife in different ways, and these are all reflected in tombstones and funerary iconography.
Interesting stuff! And, free and local.
Listed below are some great books that discuss American history, death and funeral rituals. Each offers an insight into traditional American history through funerary observances.
- "The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death"
by Professor Gary Laderman.
- "Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America"
by Professor Stephen Prothero.
Cemeteries are a unique teaching resource, every one is a kind of open-air museum of a community's history and beliefs.
For some ideas on how to teach with historic cemeteries see:
- CSI: Cemetery Scene Investigations
- For younger grades
A website by Kansas teachers at http://connections.smsd.org/csi
Make a classroom cemetery by printing pictures of headstones and laminating them on foam cores.
- For high school
Make "talking tombstones" presentations. Students research some of the people in the local graveyard and then give an onsite interpretive program one Saturday where students take on the characters of the people.
- Local Cemeteries
There is a wonderful cemetery here in Wilmington called Oakdale Cemetery. You can download a self guided tour and take your students on a field trip. It is very rich in history, here is the link to Oakdale's website: http://www.oakdalecemetery.org/photo_gallery.asp
- Colonial Headstones
A fun blog if you like colonial headstones (and who doesn't!) is Vast Public Indifference with "101 Ways to Die" series of posts: http://vastpublicindifference.blogspot.com.