Final Project Topic: a shift in direction

Thinking that our final project ideas was supposed to be blogged last week, I briefly posted my final project before realizing that it was not due until this week. I then, thankfully, removed it (ahh, the power of the digital medium: you can take your words back). Here was my original idea for the final project:

“I’m shooting for the stars here, but I wanted to make a 5 minute concise history of Latin American History that can serve as a ‘previewing’ activity for teachers before they formally introduce it in class…Breakdown: 1 min. Intro, 5 minute video (with a 30 second intermission), and a 30 second conclusion for a total of 7 minutes…The heart of the project would be the 5 minute history of Latin America…I will also talk very fast as the pace will be in the frenetic style, as we saw in our first class with the video by Doug Walls (minus the sarcasm, but with occasional humor). The reason for this style is that I counted at least 62 topics (that’s about 5 seconds per topic).”

So why change it? In our in-class peer conversation, Andrea and Susan brought up 2 excellent points.

  • One, movies work better when you diversify the length of each section. In order for me to pull off the entire history of Latin America, each section would have flashed by too quickly without too many chances for reflection.
  • Two, although the idea was to produce a useful tool for educators, the sheer effort at trying to cover too much might end up producing a video that says too little? What’s the story? What is the emotional punch? Isn’t it simply a lecture?

That last question made me realize that my original idea embodies all that is wrong in the typical approach of high school and undergrad-survey History instructors: covering too much! Our history curriculum is typically a mile-wide and an inch thick, but efforts at producing a a more-focused curriculum 100 yards wide and 10 feet thick yields a more engaged learning environment and better evidence of meaningful results. So, here is my revised final project idea…What is democracy? How do we define it? Can definitions vary and still produce working democracies? Typically, how we (Americans) define democracy is on our own terms, anything else is labeled un-American, socialist, leftist, revolutionary, fascist, etc. The goal of the project is to examine the liberation movements of Latin America and how freedom and democracy were established on terms different than our own. The video will also bring into question the influence of the Enlightenment on issues such as civil liberties, human rights, and models of government. In order to keep this within the time constraints, I will focus on two characters: Thomas Jefferson and Simon Bolivar. How were each of these men emblematic of their time & culture, and how did their differing approaches to independence work within the context of what they were facing?

The video will be a useful compliment to US history curriculum by asking educators to look (briefly) south of the border for the impact of the American Revolution beyond the 13 colonies. For educators who cover Latin American history (Spanish and global history teachers), the video can help to eliminate the false notion that events in Spanish- America were uniquely different than what occurred in English-America. In the end, the video will help to re-orient the history of the American hemisphere as a more transnational process bereft of the political boundaries of the modern era.

Specs: I will look for choice quotes to display as either text or video clips (if I can find them). I will use Garage Band for music, and I-movie for video editing. Although the events are over 200 years old, I would rather use a modern musical background. If the lyrics are appropriate, I will favor a Spanish language song-so as to not conflict with the English audio of the video clips and/or my narration. Segments will vary in length. Questions will be posed as segment dividers. And the end of the video will leave questions raised as up to the viewer to decide.

Since I am not an Americanist, if I find the research on Jefferson too daunting, my default time period will be the 1948 civil war in Costa Rica-where a civil army led a coup against a government allied with Communists and who had rigged the ’48 elections. The US government, at the start of the Cold War, became involved; but more importantly, used the lessons learned in Costa Rica to shape US foreign policies against leftist governments in Guatemala (’56), Cuba (’59), and the Dominican Republic (’64).

I still welcome any comments that might be useful, thanks!

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