Taking Shape: Thoughts on creating DBQ’s

screenshotAfter spending a few weeks exploring the different avenues available to me for my DBQ, I am finally on a focused track to the finish.  After switching my topic from the more obscure food history topic to the much more document rich Marshall Plan, my issue was not where to find documents, but just the opposite.

There were so many great documents, I found myself following lead after lead on possible directions to take the assignment.  While I learned a tremendous amount about the Marshall Plan, the state of Europe after WWII, and the different opinions throughout U.S. and Europe about the plan, I didn’t feel like I was getting any closer to completing the assignment. But I was finding photos, documents,  and getting more information. Through this research I was able to narrow my focus and choose an angle on which to focus: the differing views on the Marshall Plan from Europe, Russia, and at home in the U.S.. My next challenge was to step away from the history and just look at the documents.  What was I trying to say?  What were the documents telling me?  I finally focused on assembling documents that could tell a story.  Once I had a clear narrative of what I wanted the students to see, the guiding questions practically wrote themselves.

Next up for me is to add the last few pages into iBook Author and begin to fine tune the look and feel.  I will have my classmates review the work to ensure the documents and questions create a clear narrative that will guide the students to address the enduring questions of the unit.

This assignment has been exciting for me on two main levels.  First learning how to write this type of assignment for my students will be something I will continue to work on throughout my career. I am a big believer in having students think like historians.  The other facet is just how much I enjoyed researching the history surrounding the Marshall Plan. Reading all the documents and seeing all the photos was like a DBQ itself.  I will continue to practice, learn, and hopefully inspire my students to do the same.

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.