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Civil War Sesquicentennial Research Projects for Massachusetts Students and Teachers

To:Superintendents, Principals, and Directors of Charter Schools, Educational Collaboratives, Approved Private Special Education Schools, and Institutional Settings
Copy:Interested Educators
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D.
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Date:October 10, 2012

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I am pleased to call your attention to an exciting research project initiative organized by the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War. As outlined in the project description below, the Mass 150 initiative seeks to raise awareness among students at all grade levels about the contributions Massachusetts residents, particularly soldiers and sailors, made during this exceptionally trying period of our nation's history. I encourage you to share this information with educators in your district and to support their planning of classroom and fieldwork activities to help our students better appreciate the dedication, sacrifice, and idealism that inspired the members of our communities past to advance the causes of human freedom and constitutional democracy in the United States and around the world. Please direct any questions to Kevin Dwyer at 781-338-3614.

Purpose

The initiative aims to involve Massachusetts students and teachers, in collaboration with local historical commissions and local historical societies, in field work and research projects commemorating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Completed student projects may be submitted to the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War for display on the website "Massachusetts 150".

Remembering "These Honored Dead" in Public Monuments and Associated Sites

Massachusetts communities grieved staggering losses during the Civil War, the most devastating conflict in American history. Cities and towns across the Commonwealth mustered some 150,000 soldiers and sailors into service during the war and nearly 14,000 of them-mostly young men with life's potential still awaiting them-gave "the last full measure of devotion" to the cause of freedom. In the years that followed, the residents of Massachusetts honored the memories of deceased family members, friends, and neighbors through the creation of over 160 public monuments in communities from Pittsfield to Nantucket.

Today, these monuments present students and teachers readily-accessible opportunities to research and reflect upon the wartime sacrifices individuals and families in our communities endured so that the "nation might live," as President Lincoln so eloquently declared at Gettysburg. The designs, dedication statements, statuary, and materials used to construct local Civil War memorials provide tangible evidence of the ways our neighbors of yesteryear experienced the war and came to grips with its unprecedented cost.

Massachusetts cities and towns contain a variety of other fruitful opportunities for Civil War-related research projects. Markers, plaques, historic buildings, sites associated with the Underground Railway, or meeting places for the abolitionist movement all speak to roles that residents of Massachusetts played in this extraordinary period of conflict and change.

Memorials Identification and Survey Project: Massachusetts Historical Commission

Surveying the condition of Civil War monuments in our own and neighboring communities offers one way to honor the memory of Massachusetts Civil War veterans. For high school students especially, such projects present a unique opportunity for directed local history research while building awareness and appreciation of the contributions Massachusetts residents made in securing the rights of all people in the United States. Teachers who see instructional potential in such activities are encouraged to consider designing class projects that contribute to the ongoing historic preservation efforts of the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) and local historical commissions.

Completing publicly available historic preservation inventory materials-specifically MHC Inventory Form C -will encourage the development of research, writing, and multimedia (photography, mapping) skills for students. Moreover, these completed forms will make an enduring contribution to MHC's Inventory of Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth, a public record available to scholars, journalists, and other interested constituencies.

Two completed MHC Inventory Forms have been attached (sample a, sample b) as demonstrations of high-quality submissions. (These forms have been completed by professionals, not by high school students. They are offered as models to guide students completing class projects.) A blank copy of the MHC Inventory Form C (Object) has also been attached. Additional forms may be accessed through the Massachusetts Historical Commission page on the website of the Secretary of the Commonwealth at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhcform/formidx.htm.

Additional Project Possibilities

Local Civil War memorials and associated sites suggest a wide variety of project possibilities for meaningful teaching, learning, and interpretation-about both the contributions of Civil War veterans and social life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries-for students at all grade levels. Project possibilities might include:

Biographical research on the names of the fallen listed on a particular monument:

  • Who were these people? When were they born? Where did they live?
  • What kinds of families did they come from?
  • Were they volunteers or draftees?
  • What units did they fight with?
  • Where and how did they die?

Military history research on the unit with which the fallen served:

  • When and how did these units form?
  • Where and for how long did the units serve?
  • What battles did the units fight in?
  • What was the role of these units in those battles?
  • Which leaders and what decisions determined the fate of the units?

Local history research on the creation and dedication of a particular monument:

  • When was the monument built and dedicated?
  • How was its construction funded?
  • Who designed the monument?
  • What do its elements represent?
  • What does its appearance communicate to us today?

Civic awareness/beautification efforts:

  • class visits to study the contents of a local monument
  • community-service/clean-up of monument sites
  • observation of the art/architectural features of local monuments

Resources

Massachusetts Civil War Research Center

Massachusetts Historical Commission



Last Updated: October 12, 2012
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