history, Presentations, Research, teaching, Technology

“All history is local”: The New Deal in Fort Worth Project

I took photo with Canon camera.

Image via Wikipedia

ne of the things that I’ve been looking forward to about teaching U.S. History is getting the chance to have students study and explore the ways in which national trends or programs manifested themselves in the local context. Perhaps I’m digging back to my own experience of having attended high school in a former New Deal-era building, but it always seemed like the massive federal programs of the 1930s provided great fodder for this type of investigation of broader trends in one’s own backyard.

As I was contemplating how I wanted to approach this, I asked a colleague how he’d taught the era in previous years, and he noted that created a scavenger hunt of the New Deal era buildings in Fort Worth worked great in terms of getting kids to explore the city and look at it in a way in which they hadn’t before. My hope is in part that this type of scavenger hunt will also introduce them to the distinctive architectural styles of the time period and hopefully getting them to see these types of buildings as both important architectural landmarks and as reflections of a particular time in the country’s history.

So, below I’ve posted the text of the assignment sheet that I’ll be giving to my students tomorrow in class. My hope is that they use the end of this week to research some of the broader contextual issues about the New Deal in Fort Worth, and then to use this weekend to scout around the city, photograph their building, continue their research, and begin putting together their modified Pecha Kucha presentations (I’ve scaled it down to 5 minutes, by making it 20 slides X 15 seconds per slide).

The New Deal in Fort Worth

Background:

Texans were optimistic in January 1929. During the 1920s, the state population had increased over 25% and the economy continued to diversify. Diversification included lumber in East Texas, citrus farming in the Rio Grande Valley, ranching on the Edwards Plateau and in West Texas, and wildcatters, encouraged by the legacy of Spindletop, were producing vast amounts of oil and gas.

But after Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, all such optimism ended. Though Texans remained hopeful, economic conditions worsened across the United States in the early 1930s forcing Texans to eventually admit that a depression was upon them.

Purpose:

This project is intended to help you appreciate the tangible results of the New Deal programs put in place by Franklin Roosevelt in an effort to relieve the economic hardship and suffering brought on by this unprecedented crisis.

In addition to researching and learning about the ways in which these projects helped reshape Fort Worth, this assignment also seeks to get you to explore the city a bit, and develop an eye for architectural features unique to the time period and become more adept at analyzing architecture. Moreover, this project will build on your continually-developing skills of research, critical analysis of sources, and presentation in a clear, direct, and persuasive manner.

Assignment:

  1. While each individual is responsible for one photograph, I encourage you to undertake the exploration of the city and the documentation of your various buildings with other group members. I suggest groups of three as the most ideal, as that way you’ll have a few other people with whom you can discuss the buildings, their formal architectural features, and the patterns that you notice amongst the buildings. Additionally, three people is constrained enough so that you won’t be running all of the city all day.
  2. The project will count as a partial test grade of 50 points (a la the 1920s vs. 2000s comparison presentation).
  3. Each individual will be assigned an unmarked photograph of a historic building or landmark built between 1933 and 1939 with federal assistance from one of the New Deal agencies. The group must identify the building or landmark, photograph it from multiple different vantage points and with yourself in the photograph, and answer the following questions:
    • When was the building constructed?
    • Who was the architect?
    • Which of the Federal New Deal Agencies funded and sponsored the construction of that building?
    • How many workers were employed in the construction project?
    • How much did the project cost? How many federal dollars were allocated?
    • What would the cost of the project be in 2011 dollars?
    • What architectural styles are incorporated into the design? What are the significant design elements and styles that the building exemplifies?
    • Does the building contain significant pieces of art? If so, what type?
    • What was the initial use/purpose of the building?
    • What is the current use of the building?
    • What comparable buildings or sites like this one exist elsewhere is Fort Worth? Elsewhere in the United States?

…and the most important (and, unsurprisingly, analytical) question:

    • What was the significance of this building or site to both the success (or failure) of the New Deal and the development and growth of Fort Worth?

Learning Standards:
The assignment will be evaluated on the following standards. Each of these standards will be evaluated on a 1-5 scale (5=Outstanding, 4=Good, 3= Competent, 2=Approaching Competency, and 1=Unacceptable).

  1. Assignment uses and properly cites at least FOUR scholarly, legitimate sources, from reputable newspapers, journals, agencies, and the like. This information is submitted with the presentation in Chicago Style bibliography format.
  2. Presentation briefly addresses the approach/method/process that the student used to both find and photograph the building, the way the student went about researching its background, and the sources that were most valuable in researching the building.
  3. Presentation addresses the factual details of the building (e.g. bullet points above re: construction dates, architect, workers, costs, purposes).
  4. Presentation addresses the architectural elements of the building (e.g. styles, artwork on the interior and exterior, architectural influences and precedents, analysis of formal features, and comparable buildings and sites).
  5. Presentation addresses and analyzes the significance of the building in terms of its reflection of the New Deal’s success or failure and the impact and importance that the building had to the development and growth of Fort Worth.
  6. Pecha Kucha presentation employs pertinent images and adheres to the 20 slides x 15 seconds/slide format. Moreover, the presentation is primarily built upon photographs that the student took him or herself and of which at least one includes the student at the site.

HINT:
All of the sites for the entire project can be found within the scope of locations on the map pictured below:

Here are the photos of the sites that I’m going to have my kids hunt down. For some of these buildings I have more than one picture, but in general I’ve tried to make the images of striking architectural features or distinctive stylistic aspects of the buildings, rather than the buildings in toto.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

___________________________

What other types of “all history is local” assignments have people developed? I’d like to be able to do this for World History topics as well, but, for obvious reasons, those related to the major themes and eras of U.S. History come much more naturally. However, I’d love to hear from others about their experiences.

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9 thoughts on ““All history is local”: The New Deal in Fort Worth Project

  1. This is fantastic! I really appreciate the local emphasis for added learning umph! The reality of federal policies really is in your backyard–they aren’t just way over there in Washington. I know very little about Texas history beyond the Alamo: what was the state government doing about the depression; could it do much of anything? Do you know what the New Deal Architecture replaced? Were certain areas/neighborhoods targeted?

    Great assignment! I will keep that in mind for the future.

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