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Teaching History Blog

Is it a Massacre or a Battle?

Learning Objectives:
1. Explore the documentation of historical events by historians, the public, and politicians.
2. Develop criteria as a historian for the use of the labels “massacre” and “battle” for historical events.
3. Evaluate historical events and determine whether they are correctly labeled based on criteria.
4. Examine the name changes over time associated with some battles or massacres.

This is a formative assignment and students will critically analyze the labels associated with historic battles or massacres and the reporting of those events.

Assignment Description: The struggle between tribes and pioneers while the United States government expanded westward is depicted in social media as a one-sided event. However, the interactions between the two cultures were more complicated than a western tale of good versus evil. Students will explore this period of westward expansion by analyzing encounters between the groups. Students will be empowered to make their own decisions regarding the correct labels for the events and encouraged to analyze those labels of the past and present.

Steps and Instructor Notes:
1. As a class, students will develop a set of criteria to label a historical event as either a battle or a massacre. Participation in this discussion is required and students should come prepared with research about what each term means, sources and examples of use, and at least two criteria they want to have the class consider. Student will submit document to instructor with research and proposed criteria. (The instructor’s role is to encourage discussion and debate, but then facilitate the selection of the final criteria the entire class will use in their analysis of events. Here is a link in the Chicago Tribune on this very topic. Instructors may have students read this article before starting the assignment to set the tone for the upcoming work. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-08-18/news/0908170600_1_native-american-history-chicago-park-district )

2. Provide a list of battles and massacres for students to research individually or in pairs. After selecting one event, students should write a three page, double spaced summary of the event including who was involved, what happened, motivation for the attack, and outcome. The report should include research about how the event was reported at the time using primary source documents and describe whether the label for the event has evolved or changed over time. Additionally, the student or pair of students will determine, based on the criteria, whether the event is correctly labeled by modern historians. Proper citation is required on an additional page. (This assignment could be applied to a wider range of battles and massacres, but for the purpose of this post the limit will be encounters between tribes and pioneers after 1830. This assignment directly correlates with the Sand Creek Massacre in 1863 in Kiowa, Colorado, see Hippocampus.org link below.)

3. Students will share their research on one of the battles and massacres with the class. Classmates will evaluate at least two classmates’ conclusions about the labels applied to historical events, and openly share whether they agree or disagree and why.

Rubric is based on 100 points total but it is likely this assignment would take several days and could be broken down into more graded parts.
10 points-Student came prepared for criteria discussion with sources and examples.
10 points-Student actively participated in discussion to develop criteria.
60 points-Student individually or in a pair composed a well organized, grammatically sound document summarizing in 3 double spaced pages the event including who was involved, what happened, motivation for the attack, and outcome. The report included research about how the event was reported at the time using primary source documents and explained whether the label for the event has evolved or changed over time. Finally, the paper concluded and explained whether the label meets the class’s criteria for a massacre or battle. On the fourth page of the document, correct citation is included.
20 points-Student thoughtfully responded in writing or verbally (this may depend on your classroom format and level) to two classmates conclusions about other events.

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Virginia Historical Society's Virginia History Explorer:
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