The Marshall Plan: Altruism or Opportunity?

I have decided to forgo my initial project on tracing the immigration and culture of the American South through food in favor of documenting the Marshall Plan.  While my original topic was rich and personally interesting to me, I was having a difficult time finding the original documents I was looking for (diaries, manifests, recipes).  I think this

Frankfurt 1946
Frankfurt 1946

will be a great project for a later time.  Instead I looked at the assignment in a slightly different way: to follow the documents.  I knew that if I chose a more modern historical event, there would be more documents.  The next step was to find an event that was rich and interesting and could be used to ask over-arching generative questions.  The Marshall Plan meets both criteria perfectly.  In talking with Erik Nelson about his project on the Treaty of Versailles, it became clear to me the the Marshall Plan presented a complete change in post-war policy.  Rather than punish and weaken the losing sides, the Marshall Plan sought to strengthen not just our allies in Europe, but Germany and even Russia as well.  This was a controversial plan and there are entire libraries dedicated to documenting characters who put this plan together.  It could easily be argued that this was the high water mark for U.S. foreign policy.

The Set Up

I will use a mixture of photographs, posters, and speeches to show the many facets and interests involved in this monumental action.  Before Congress could approve the billions of dollars required, both America and Europe needed to come together in a new way.  The United Nations is in it’s infancy and this will be a major test.  While a necessary ally during the war, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union are already showing signs of mistrust and antagonism.

Nottingham Evening Post May 8, 1945
Nottingham Evening Post May 8, 1945

The Questions

The overall purpose of the unit is to have the students use historical thinking to look at the Marshall plan in an authentic way from many perspectives.  They should be able to address the larger questions this event brings up:

  • Are there responsibilities to the victors in war?
  • Is there a quid pro quo for reconstruction/ nation building?
  • How did the Treaty of Versailles influence the making of the Marshall Plan?
  • Why was the United States in a position to help in the first place?
  • How did the United States relationship with Russia help or hinder European reconstruction?

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead...
Looking Ahead…

I am eagerly looking forward to working on this project.  Not only am I getting practice in designing instruction that challenges students, I am learning so much about the subject matter.  At this point these DBQ projects take a tremendous amount of time to assemble.  But I am beginning to see how the process can be streamlined.  The more comfortable I am knowing where to look for documents, what questions to ask, and how to put it all together, the easier this will all become.  In the mean time I am enjoying the self directed project based learning as a student.  I hope my students will come away with some of the same enthusiasm.

Assignment: DBQ Design

An A B C, for baby patriotsWorking as individuals or in 2 person teams, students will design a DBQ question suitable for inclusion of our DBQ iBook (available at iTunes).
See Class  7 for recommendations for DBQs and Teaching with Documents. Your DBQ will include:

  • Introduction of the DBQ with brief historic context as needed.
  • Generative / essential question
  • About 5 – 8 related documents (image, text, video, audio) that will assist the students in answering the generative question
  • A scaffolding question for each document to assist the student in examining the document

A good example of a DBQ is Progress and Poverty in Industrial America  This is a pdf version of one of my iBooks. (note: you will not have full function of all the gallery and video widgets). It uses 11 documents, which is a bit more than I expect for your DBQ.

The DBQ Design Assignment will be accomplished in steps:

Step 1: Develop a proposal which will be submitted for peer review.
You should be prepared to deliver a 2 min pitch to class. (not a written assignment to be turned in)

Due date:  10/20.

We’ll do a bit of “speed dating” of our ideas for the DBQ Assignment. Students will form two lines and have 2 minutes to pitch their DBQ design idea to each other and share some feedback. Then one line will shift and we repeated the pitch exchange. In all students will pitch their idea three times.

The goal of this phase is to gather feedback from peers regarding the following:

  1. You have an interesting generative / essential question worth answering.
  2. Your initial appraisal indicates there are suitable documents available.
  3. You have an idea for how students will interpret your documents. “What does it say, how does it say it, what’s it mean to me?”

Step 2:  Students will share their revised idea as a blog post at EdMethods by Sunday Oct 26th. It should explain how you intend to address the 3 questions above. You may wish to include a sample document and related scaffolding question. Or you might want to focus on the “big picture” of what you are trying to accomplish with your DBQ. Feel free to note the challenges you face.

Step 3: Students will peer review a selection of classmates DBQ proposals in class on 10/27.

Step 4: Students will open an account at Learnist in class on 10/27 and use the site to post their working draft DBQ. 
Due date: Nov 3rd.

Learnist is a web-based curation site with built in social media tools – it can collect and comment on videos, blogs, books, docs, images or anything on the web. (Think Pinterest for education?)

Your Learnist board should be tightly focused on documents that help students answer the DBQ’s generative question. Each document should include one or two scaffolding questions which help the student to use the documents to answer the DBQ’s generative question.
For a sample of a Learnist board see your instructor’s Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII 

Your peers will be able to make comments after each document on your Learnist board to help you focus the DBQ. Since Learnist is open to the public, you can expect that others outside our class may comment as well.

Phase 5: Students will finalize their DBQs for inclusion in our iBook showcase.


Title: “An A B C, for baby patriots”
Creator: Ames, Mary Frances
Publisher: Dean & Son
Place of Publication: London (160a Fleet Street E.C.)
Publication Date: [1899]
Archive: University of Florida UF00086056:00001