6th Piece of the Puzzle

Write a blog post describing your final project, including an overview of the topic, the focus of your work, intended audience, and purpose. What are your next steps?

My final project is a “choose-your-own-adventure” interactive presentation of the Normandy invasion. The user is a member of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division of the US Army, a regiment that landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. The user will be presented with different scenarios and asked to choose between two options. With each scenario and each selected choice, additional information and primary source readings will be provided, some of which may prove influential for later choices in the “adventure.” Although the user will have many choices, the project will have eight main chapters that all users, no matter their choices, will reach: Omaha Beach, St. Lo, Brest, Siegfried Line, Roer River, Elbe River, and V-E Day.
My intended audience for this project is students and teachers who wish to learn more about the Normandy invasion of World War II. Since students may not be able (or willing) to find this project on their own, I hope to present this “choose your own adventure” as an activity for teachers to use in the classroom.
The main purpose of this project is to educate, of course, but to complicate the user’s understanding of the Normandy landings. So much of what is known about the landings comes from movies and TV, such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. While the attention to detail in these projects rivals many other historical movies and series, there are still problems with viewing the war in the passive manner that film encourages. This project is meant to stimulate historical thinking, to make students wonder whether the war had to turn out the way that it did. If anything, the users should leave the experience thinking that they not only learned something new, but learned something that corrected a previous misconception.
With the final outline more or less completed, my next steps are to use Google Slides to create a linked presentation and actually design the project itself.

5th Piece of the Puzzle

In this activity, continue working on your final project.

Select a text that you wish to use in your final project and write a brief blog post explaining why you chose it and how you might use it.

For my final project, I would actually select two texts, both written by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the subject of the Normandy invasion. One was seen by thousands of troops, while the other remained (thankfully) unseen for years: Eisenhower’s letter to the troops and his in-case-of-failure draft announcement.

“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day (1944)

This letter is a very important primary source document concerning D-Day. American troops received this letter before landing in France. It is a message to the troops, but Eisenhower also knows this letter will certainly be reproduced in newspapers and, eventually, textbooks. This is one of those moments where the participant knows that “history has its eyes on you.” (Shameless Hamilton plug there!) The letter has to balance optimism with realism, and I think Eisenhower straddles that line quite well. The rhetoric is heroic and soaring, meant to inspire a patriot to storm the beaches. It’s hard not to get swept up in his exclamation points and confident tone.

(If you listen to the audio recording of this speech, Eisenhower’s tone is more restrained and stilted than the letter implies. You can listen here.)

“In Case of Failure”

“In Case of Failure” Message

However, Eisenhower wrote a very different letter on June 5th, 1944. As the title implies, it was meant “in case of failure” of the invasion. Its tone is sobering. Because it is so short, I’ll quote the transcript here:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

It’s a really chilling document, and although it wasn’t distributed, it is another important primary source document because it is a window into Eisenhower’s state of mind. In fact, Eisenhower was so stressed out that he wrote “July 5” instead of “June 5.” (Not surprising, since he was chain-smoking like crazy in the week leading up to this invasion.) It also is a rare glimpse into a “what if” scenario, usually not endorsed by historians but in this case useful to think about to understand Eisenhower’s motivations in writing this.

I like comparing these two documents because they show how the writing of one person can vary wildly, depending on circumstance. The two documents also prove that underneath the bravado of Eisenhower’s more famous letter lies apprehension and anxiety. The “in case of failure” letter also exposes the reality that history was once the present: Eisenhower didn’t know which way history would go, so he had to prepare for both scenarios. There is a wonderful presentism in both of these documents, an experience that can be hard to come by when studying history. Nothing is inevitable, which is a message I’m trying to convey with this “choose your own adventure” project: there are many possible outcomes in the moment.

4th Piece of the Puzzle

In this activity, continue working on your final project.

Select an image or video file that is related to your final project idea. Post it in your blog and answer the following questions: Why did you choose this image/video? Why might it be difficult for students or other audiences to analyze this source?

“Enlistment,” South Balustrade (Pacific Front), WWII Memorial Bas-Relief Sculpture Panel

For my project, I want to utilize photos of the Bas-Relief Sculpture Panel along the ceremonial entrance walls of World War II Memorial. The panel above, “Enlistment,” is the second panel of the South Balustrade, which illustrates a timeline of the Pacific theater of World War II. For my project, which will be a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game(?), one of the first questions I plan to ask will is this: Do you enlist in the military, or do you wait to be drafted? This panel gives the impression that men volunteered for the military in droves in response to Pearl Harbor. In actuality, the majority (61.2 percent) of the millions serving were draftees. However, this fact somewhat contradicts with the narrative of the “Greatest Generation,” who–in simplest terms–put everything on hold and their lives on the line for their country. Knowing this fact now, would you judge someone for not enlisting? Why do we think of most WWII soldiers as enlistees? (Could this bas-relief panel be affecting our ideas of what a WWII soldier is?)

It is a bit hard to analyze this source, since these sculptures are forced to sacrifice text for a wholly visual, streamlined message. I imagine people would ask if it’s fair to project all these assumptions onto this panel. After all, it is at the World War II Memorial, which has a clear purpose on the National Mall and in our national history and memory. Even part of me is swept up in a wave of patriotism when I look at these sculptures. However, a critical eye doesn’t have to detract from the art or from its purpose.

3rd Piece of the Puzzle

In a brief blog post, describe your intended audience for the final project and why you chose that audience.

Initially, my intended audience for my project was just going to be military history buffs (or _____ War buffs, depending on if I decide to focus on a particular war). However, upon further thinking, it might be best for me to–gasp–take on the role of a teacher for this project. Therefore, I might want to think of my project as a model for other teachers, something that they would feel comfortable using in their classrooms. However alien it is for me to consider myself a teacher (I’ve never, ever considered that career trajectory, mostly because I am terrible at explaining things), I think having an audience of teachers puts me outside my comfort zone in a good way. After all, it’s easy for me to communicate with people who share the same interests as me–they’re basically me! It’s more useful for my project to be a template for teachers, as then students will firsthand learn to correct these misconceptions. If I want to reach students who know little but have the potential to become very interested, I need to reach their teachers.

2nd Piece of the Puzzle

In this activity, write a blog post that addresses the following questions:

Now that you have had a chance to think carefully about teaching students or museum visitors about the past, think more about the project ideas you have in mind. Choose one of the possible projects you’ve been thinking about and write a brief response to these questions: How will digital media and/or digital tools be important to teaching my target audience one of the essential lessons I’ll be focusing on in my project? What, specifically, about the digital environment will influence what you do and why?

Since my project will exist entirely online, in conjunction with no particular museum or historical site, I think the hardest part about my project will be people even knowing that there’s a project. However, I feel that, with the Internet being the Internet, it’s better to put something out there than not at all, especially to combat lots of misinformation floating around online. It’s easy for many sites to compile listicles of common misconceptions, so I want to go beyond that and consider why certain misconceptions are misconceptions. For instance, why do we believe that World War II soldiers were universally hailed and given parades upon their return home? Well, adulation of World War II veterans propagates the narrative that World War II was “good” and its generation was “The Greatest Generation.” (Thanks, Tom Brokaw.) Movies and TV (not from the time, but recent ones) also lend to this mythology. In a way, that explanation is more interesting than simply saying, “There were no parades, goodbye.” I want to show historical documents from the time, like the film The Best Years of Our Lives, which–coming out in 1946–is a contemporary view that directly contrasts with how we view the homecoming of World War II veterans 70+ years later. The beauty about the digital world is that I can include video clips (though copyright may thwart some of my efforts), photographs, and textual evidence that can immediately head off criticisms of “well, I saw in Saving Private Ryan…” Viewers will hopefully abandon their misconceptions when presented with evidence, especially when they realize they don’t have any evidence other than the thrice-removed anecdote and terrible period piece film.

I don’t have any fancy plans for my webpage, but I want to do more than a center-justified photo and Times New Roman text underneath it, with some hideous yellow background to match. (Don’t worry, I’m making fun of myself as much as anyone else; I “designed” websites like that in the fourth grade.) I don’t want the webpage to be a gallery of images (that’s too much like my “Price of Freedom” exhibit reboot); I want to present a compelling article with lots of side-links. I want all the misconceptions on one page, then each misconception can have its own page where it presents how the misconception came to be, why it’s false, and the importance of correcting such misconceptions beyond being pedantic.

1st Piece of the Puzzle

In this activity, brainstorm initial ideas for your final project and share them in a blog post.

In your blog, write down several historian’s questions or important historical issues that you might want to explore in your final project. Describe why you think they are difficult questions or issues for students and others. What makes them difficult and why?

World War II is the subject that I’m most passionate about. I recognize that it’s a relatively popular topic, so I mostly struggle in figuring out how to approach it without seeming like a walking cliché. I’ve already dealt with exploring and sharing personal stories of everyday World War II soldiers (just check out my Designs by Mannix project!), and I do want to branch out. However, I also feel it is unwise to decide now–a 10-week course–is the perfect time to design a project on a subject that I know nothing about.

I’m interested in researching Asian-American WWII soldiers buried in ABMC cemeteries, but that feels too much like my previous project, i.e., uncovering the history of an “average” soldier. I might have to save that for, say, a 30-page paper that I’ll be writing next semester…

One thing I’ve always loved is debunking misconceptions. I find it especially maddening that misconceptions have been taught and reinforced in school. Given that the Internet is a minefield of misconceptions, I would like for my blog/project to be a space in which I debunk blatant or persistent falsehoods. There are many misconceptions about US wars, veterans, and soldiers. In my final project for my War and Remembrance (HIST 679) class, I created an alternate exhibit script for “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit at the National Museum of American History. One of the artifacts I featured was a photograph of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s homecoming parade, and for its caption, I explicitly debunked the myth that all World War II soldiers received homecoming parades: famous and high-ranking officials like Eisenhower were the exception, not the rule. For my 1100 Jefferson blog post about the Old Stone House in Georgetown, I debunked the myth that George Washington had not only stayed in the Old Stone House, but planned the layout of Washington, DC, there. I feel that it is the duty of everyone to stop the spread of misinformation, and I especially enjoy doing it with history because it reeducates people and makes them consider why they believed the misconception in the first place.

I would like to explore why misconceptions persist, even in the classroom, and dissect several famous misconceptions. I’m leaning toward misconceptions about US wars, given that I am the self-proclaimed expert–at least in my bookstore, and only because I feel I have tricked my colleagues into believing so!