Promotional collage for "Big Little Town" by the Needham Historical Society.
Georgia Meyer, GBP Student
Every day on my drive to school I pass the Town Hall, historically distinguished houses, Hershey train station, and all kinds of old churches. I also pass a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Japanese steak house, and a unnecessarily high number of Closet Exchanges. I never really give any of these sites any extra thought. Maybe the occasional, “I really want a coffee”, or, “maybe I’ll take the train into the city this weekend”, but nothing to appreciate the vast history of Needham. I never think about the difference between Needham Bank and Citizen’s Bank— just two places to cash a check or get some money, when in reality only Needham Bank has a fascinating history, complete with a robbery. After watching Big Little Town, my ride to school has become a little less boring. Sitting in traffic at the intersection of Great Plain and Webster means looking at house with a plaque stating it was built in the 1800’s and wondering what it has seen.
Big Little Town is a film created by Kathryn Dietz and Marc Mandel to honor Needham’s 300 years of history for its year-long tricentennial celebration. The film examines different aspects of Needham’s creation; from its original split from Dedham and Wellesley to its ethnically divided neighborhoods in the 20th century. The film looks at images drawn more than 300 years ago and interviews Needham residents today. The effect is an intriguing and relatable story which pulls together all the pieces of Needham we see today.
I was particularly interested in the story of William Baker. I remember hearing brief snippets of the story throughout the years but nothing that stuck with me for too long. But when I heard the details of Baker’s eccentric personality and saw the pictures of the attractions he commissioned in Big Little Town I was amazed! A friend of mine, and fellow GBP student, lives on a piece of what’s left of the estate, so I have had the chance to see how beautiful it is. I can just imagine what it would have looked like with the gardens, the rides, and the hotel it had back in its glory days.
When I walked into class and found out we were watching a movie right before April Break, I was just glad to have a class I could relax in for a little like every other student. But, by the time the movie was over, I was filled with excitement; I was ready to share what I had learned with my friends and family and maybe find out more about my town on my own.
Rory Kelly, GBP Student
For a recent activity about women in the antebellum era, we were randomly put into small groups of three, thanks to Mr. O’s handy-dandy sorting cards. For this task, we were given four sources to read, analyze and summarize into a brochure. Those sources were “Advice To Young Ladies” by Timothy Shay Arthur, “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth, “Women In The Nineteenth Century” by Margaret Fuller and, the group’s favorite, Maria W. Stewart’s speech to the “African American Female Intelligence Society”. All the sources provided a different point of view about the perceptions of equality, or lack thereof, of the sexes in this time period.
Each group started off by reading the speech given by Stewart and the piece written by Truth. Then, as a group, we had to perform multiple tasks to understand the sources, while at the same time pulling out quotes for the brochure. Once this difficult part of the process was completed, we had to choose the strongest reader from the group to read Fuller’s “Women In The Nineteenth Century”. While the strongest reader was chipping away at Fuller’s text, the other group members didn’t get off so easy. They had to read Arthur’s “Advice To Young Ladies”. We then had to come back and discuss what we took from those sources and create a list of possible quotes and information we could use for the brochure. Now you have heard me say the word “brochure” a few times while reading this blog. Yes, we did have to create a brochure about the Women in the Antebellum Era and you know what? It is not as easy as it seems! The brochure was double side allowing for five places to express your ideas about the readings. I felt that this was a very collaborative process as we used many different viewpoints and ideas from the group that went into the decision process creating the brochure. In doing so, we learned a great deal about women in the Antebellum Era.
For me, this lesson was an eye opener, especially Arthur’s account of “Advice To Young Ladies”. One quote from this source that stood out to me was, “Keeping this in view, it may readily be seen, that what makes a man a man, and woman a woman, is not the body, but the mind … mind of man must be different from mind of woman”. This stood out to me because this text reinforced that men and women were basically equal; however, their minds have different approaches on problem solving. Men in this time thought they were smarter than women because their approach to a problem took a different path and men didn’t want to listen to a woman's point of view. While gender is still an important issue today, Arthur’s limited views help show how things have changed today. For example, Hillary Clinton may be the next President of the United States.
Chloe Kennedy, GBP Student
Oral communication is an important part of Greater Boston Project and an important part of life after GBP. We were able to practice this skill by arguing for ideas such as the right to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act or trying to convince the government that they should standardize the rail size. Oral communication is important to succeed in informing and persuading people. With oral communication it is necessary to maintain a clear voice, good eye contact, and appropriate body posture. From CED’s to the more formal CAP, our oral communication is constantly being tested and strengthened. Throughout the year GBP has focused on improving our oral communication to, in the end, help us after high school. Recently, our skills were tested with the Shaping the Era presentations.
Before the presentations began we were broken up into small groups. In these groups we conducted in-depth research on one major issue of contention in Greater Boston from the antebellum era. With this issue we created a written proposal, explaining a solution to the problem. The proposal also outlined the issues that existed, the causes of the issues, possible solutions, and effects of the solutions. To be able to write this proposal, extensive research was necessary. We needed to be able to support our possible solutions with evidence. Writing a formal proposal was a very rewarding and interesting process and our group learned a lot.
After the proposal was written, we then created an eight to ten minute presentation. In this presentation we highlighted the main aspects of the proposal: the issue, possible solutions, a proposed solutions, and the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed solution. The formal presentation was where oral communication came into play. This learning goal was different in this project in that we were aiming to persuade, not just present. We were trying to convince the government during the antebellum time period to put our proposal into action. This meant that we had to give strong evidence and an even stronger argument to succeed.
Following the presentation there was a five minute question and answer period. This was another place where our oral communication skills were tested. It was necessary to field and answer the questions correctly, respectfully, and intelligently. After all questions were answered, each group presented what ended up actually occurring with their issue; the real, final solution. Additionally, when not presenting, every audience member was expected to develop questions to debate and improve the plans and solutions. Oral communication also applied to those asking the questions.
I liked this project because doing group presentations and proposing ideas with a question and answer period was fun and different from what we have done in class before. I also thought it was a great educational project because we learned how to research and find data to back our argument and to practice those important oral communication skills. (Source: Shaping the Era Project Document)
GBP students discuss and roleplay issues from the Lowell Mills (Photos by Ms. Tincher).
Sophia Korostoff-Larsson, GBP Student
When was the last time you were able to make the words in your history textbook come alive? In today’s school system, so much of what we do is read textbooks, take notes, and memorize the information simply to be regurgitated on the next test and then forgotten. Well, in the Greater Boston Project, we make sure to do the exact opposite. We find ways to learn and understand the history of the Greater Boston Area in different fun and engaging ways.
Recently, we welcomed historians from the Lowell Mills Museum into our classes. The class was split into two groups in which we were each assigned a role of a person who was actually involved in the Lowell Mills during the Antebellum Era. There were people of all different types of jobs: mill workers, mill owners, overseers, lawyers, journalists, small business owners, and boarding house keepers. We were asked to impersonate this individual and take on their emotions and opinions of the time. The historian then facilitated conversation amongst the different characters. Through this conversation, we saw the varying opinions of all the different people living during this time periods. We saw that some Lowell Mill girls complained of the long hours and poor working conditions, and went on strike against this lifestyle. At the same time, other mill girls were just glad to have a job to contribute money to their families, so they didn’t actively do anything about the conditions. We saw that many of the mill owners and overseers didn’t seem to care about the treatment of the workers, as they were paying them, and if the workers complained or went on strike, the owners could simply hire new immigrants to work for a smaller amount. However, there were a few members of society that supported of the mill workers. There were lawyers and journalists that wanted to expose the mills for their poor working conditions and poor treatment of the workers. Throughout the facilitated conversation, we were able to see all of the different views and how they contrasted with one another.
What was especially interesting about the roleplay was how invested our classmates got in their roles. Although each person did not necessarily agree with what their character believed, everyone embraced it and fought for what they “believed” in. This made for a very interesting and intense conversation. As people would immediately respond and contradict what others were saying, there was a growing sense of tension. At one point the historian even said, “Don’t worry girls, he’s just acting,” as one of the boys acting as a mill owner said that the girls could live through the harsh conditions. Because of this aspect of our conversation, we were all able to completely comprehend the difficulties and conflicts that existed during this time period regarding working conditions. If we had simply been reading a textbook, we wouldn’t have been able to get this complete sense of what life was like.
Maddi Terry, GBP Student
There are only a handful of books that resonate with individuals regardless of the time period, content, or genre. These famous works of art are seen to outlast shifts in culture and societal norms, changes the composition of our nature as humans, and even what we value as a community of human beings. Often times the author of the book is the source of the fame and success, but sometimes the book is so well written, so diverse in nature, that it is able to resonate with individuals over a wide span of time. From Moby Dick to The Great Gatsby, from Hamlet to The Odyssey, these works span a wide range of genres.
(Image from Black History 101.)
Among this great collection of books is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a story written in the 1850s about slavery in the South and Stowe’s perception of the slave industry. Unlike the majority of people of her time, Stowe was against slavery and the ideas that it stood for and was willing to publicly share her opinion. Being a woman in a time when women were financially and socially powerless under men, it was unusual for Stowe to publish a book, nevertheless go against one of the most prosperous industries in our nation’s history.
As we read and discuss the book as a class, we have begun to uncover the many controversial topics that make this book so well known. One aspect of the novel that stood out to the class was the way Stowe narrates the story by interweaving third person and second person voice. For example, when the author is writing about a slave named Eliza having her child taken away from her Stowe relates this idea to the reader by saying: “...such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man. And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life's great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!” (Stowe 103). The use of second person creates a bond between the reader and the slave characters that was not found in any other published book at the time.
Another major idea that we have identified throughout the book is that Stowe uses Christianity and faith in God to connect the reader and the characters, similarly to how she uses second person. The significance in this connection between the two communities is that it merges the gap between the white and the black people in the story and puts the white slave masters in the slaves’ shoes. For example, the character Eva stands as a icon for an angel that sees the good in people despite their race. When talking about a slave to her aunt Eva says, “But, mamma, isn't God her father, as much as ours? Isn't Jesus her Saviour?” (Stowe 773). During our group discussions we were able to come to the conclusion that Stowe purposefully uses a young, white character to be able to relate more to the readers. By having the white child say that the two races share the same God it relates to the reader while challenging the general opinion of slavery.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has helped us to understand the views of white people at the time of slavery, and has showed us how the beginning of the end of the slave industry was sparked.
Mackenzie Breen, GBP Student
We’ve all learned about the “separate but equal” concept the Jim Crow Laws support, but where did the term “Jim Crow” come from and how is it still relevant today? Thomas Dartmouth Rice portrayed Jim Crow an exaggerated stereotypical black character. In Blackface Minstrel shows Rice danced around with his face painted black singing the words:
Of course these laws were extremely prominent in the Southern States; however, it cannot be denied that Massachusetts took part in the Jim Crow laws. Until as late as 1843, Massachusetts blacks were prohibited from marrying whites, sitting in the same pew at church and up until 1850 could not attend the same schools as white children. One area of segregation that used the tactic peaceful disobedience of the law was transportation. Numerous blacks tried to challenge the Jim Crow laws by sitting in the car or seat of their choosing. Many times this turned out badly causing the blacks to be beaten or kicked off the train. In 1843 it was the Governor with the help of public opinion that ended segregation on trains in Massachusetts. While the Jim Crow Laws are no longer enacted, I still see the original idea of blackface in the media. Often times people plead that they did not know what blackface was or that it is even offensive. Ignorance should no longer be plausible reason for why people are wearing blackface. It is important to talk about this dark part of American history in order to educate people about this past
The Needham Historical Society, including the old schoolhouse in red on the left.
(Photo from the North American Reciprocal Museum Society)
Sam Cruickshank, GBP Student
On a frigid morning in January, the GBP class headed over to the Needham Historical Society. Located directly next to the Newman Elementary School on Central Ave., the Needham Historical Society is often overlooked or mistaken for a regular house. Founded in 1915, the information that the society has in the form of many historical maps and documents is immense for such a small venue and non-profit organization. On this specific visit, our second one this year, our class focused on several documents and maps from the Antebellum Period, which is the period in U.S. history that goes from the early 1800s all the way up until the Civil War. As we entered the Historical Society, half of our forty four student class crammed into the old one room schoolhouse that the Historical Society uses as an educational space for students, shedding jackets and coats as soon as we felt the warmth.
Right away, we started looking at documents, which were set up into various stations around the room. I found two of the stations’ documents particularly interesting on this visit. The first was a selection of four maps of the town of Needham. These maps were from the years 1771, 1836, 1856, and 1854. I paid special attention to the maps from 1836 and 1856, because there were two interesting changes between those maps. The first was that the town of Wellesley, which borders Needham, was a part of the map in 1836, but not in 1856. My group joked about this, referencing the recent Thanksgiving Day Football Game played at Fenway Park, noting how we “didn’t want them anyway” and that “they were better off as West Needham in the first place.” All jokes aside, this was a major development in the suburbs of Boston, as it allowed for two different communities to develop, and eased the space clenches on a growing population. Additionally, the addition of a railroad to the town of Needham was very significant on the map from 1856. My group noticed that there were many streets and roads located around the railroad stops, and it was clear that the railroad led to population growth in Needham. The railroad and the train is still an integral part of the town of Needham today, as many people (including the Greater Boston Project classes, on occasion) take the MBTA Commuter Rail into Boston every day to get to work.
The second document that piqued my interest was a document that talked about an anti-slavery meeting that was held in the Unitarian Meeting House in Needham. We recently finished reading the book Ten Hills Farm by C.S. Manegold, which talks about how slavery existed in the North, basically to the same degree that it existed in the South. I found the book somewhat disturbing, and I was confused as to why I had not learned this history before. I found the document from the Unitarian Meeting House reassuring. It showed me that the community of Needham did realize the injustices of slavery,and they were going to try and do something about it.
Although we mainly focus on the history of the city of Boston, it was nice to slow things down and take a look at our local history right here in Needham. We took the time to look at and analyze specific documents, a hallmark of the GBP experience.
The 54th Regiment Memorial, The African American Meeting House, and a Beacon Hill street light marking the trail's path.
(Photos from: Virtual Tourist, Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, Boston.com)
Tom Beacham, GBP Student
One of the main points focused on in The Greater Boston Project is interacting with the community that is Boston. One of the best ways this is done, and our favorite as students, is leaving room 728 of NHS and going out into the community. These are opportunities to see these types of things with our own eyes. The trip to The Black Heritage Trail in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston was a great example of this, as we got to go into Boston and see the buildings where the events we read and talk about take place.
Over the course of the day we all walked the beautiful area of Beacon Hill all while looking at historical places that all played a major role for the black community in Boston. One of these places that we visited was the 54th Regiment Memorial Statue in front of the Massachusetts State House, where we talked about how this regiment was the first all African-American fighting unit in United States history; and, despite being thought of as bad and cowardly soldiers at the time, they took on one of the toughest jobs of the war. On July 18, 1863, the regiment became famous for leading an assault on Fort Wagner, deemed a “suicide mission” that regiment General Shaw volunteered for to prove the soldiers were not cowards. This was part of the move to capture the Confederate city of Charleston, South Carolina. In the hard-fought battle Shaw and many members of the regiment were killed. This is just one example of the many different places that we went to on the Black Histroy Trail.
One thing in common at all the different sites is that at each of the places we stopped at, the teachers told us stories of how African-Americans lived in Boston at the time. THe stories were often about these residents having the courage to stand up for what they thought was right, as well as defining what they were up against and overcoming it. Some examples of this were at the Phillips School, which was also known as the dividing line between white and black areas of town in the antebellum period as it was the best of the white schools in the city. Another stop on the tour was the Lewis & Harriet Hayden House, where slaves would reportedly hide in the North as part of the Underground Railroad. The house showed support for African Americans because when slave catchers showed up, the Haydens would threaten to blow up the house with a single match, having stored gun powder in the basement. A third place we went was the African American Meeting House. The meeting house became the host to giants in the Abolitionist Movement who were responsible for monumental historical events. These are just some of the many places we went to on the tour.
All of the buildings showed a different side of historic Boston which we explored on the trip. Specifically looking at the black heritage in Boston, it was interesting to see how African Americans interacted with the community and how the community interacted with them. As a whole, this trip was a good representation of the GBP course as a whole. We went into the community and learned about the history of the city, thinking about the things we learned in class in a real-world setting. We were able to enjoy time out of the classroom while taking in the interesting city history of Boston with our own eyes and experiences.
Brainstorming about all these tragedies got me thinking about how many tragedies could be happening all over the world that no one knows about or pays attention to. There is now so much more news coverage on media that we have more exposure to news stories, but we don’t always pay attention because it might not be concerning to us. All of these news stories could even be considered desensitizing to us because there is always something drastic on the news, it just depends what we pay attention to, or care to watch or read. It made me realize that we also can’t always trust what we read. Some textbooks may have mentioned some events as minor details, but that doesn't mean that all the facts were present or that there isn’t a whole other side to the story. Many textbooks seem to brush off real events like they were nothing, just a couple million people dead or a few thousand went missing, like the Armenian Genocide or the Haitian Revolution.
While we were finishing up the activity, Mr. Brooke brought up a good point about what we think will be forgotten years from now. With all the technology present today it is difficult to have anything go unnoticed. But, as I explained, news can be desensitizing because every extreme that has happened is reported out. Throughout the journey of reading Ten Hills Farm, we are forced to question whether or not we really see every event in history for what it is. This lesson helped us think about how that happens now with our own media.
A modern day photo from Ten Hills Farm in Medford, MA. (Photo from the Tufts University Magazine.)
GBP students debate the issue of slavery as it was contested in the 1700s, looking at four of the prevailing perspectives on the issue at the time. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Abby Kahn, GBP Student
There is nothing like engaging in a good natured class debate. These sort of thrilling debates take place in almost every classroom in our school, except for maybe science or math classes, where I’ve come to learn over the years that teachers in said subjects do not enjoy debating the validity of math laws! But other that than, I think it is safe to assume that every student at Needham high school will graduate with at least one formal in class debate under their belt. In GBP alone, we have conducted a few debates thus far. We debated current issues such as the impending legality of Fireworks and changes to taxes on cigarettes, as well as historical ones like whether or not Puritans intended to push Native Americans out of New England.
Last Friday, we debated the institution of slavery in the 1700’s. Each student was been assigned a certain perspective on the issue, a perspective that would have been commonly encountered and debated amongst citizens in the 1700’s. This distinction that students were assigned commonly encountered perspectives in the 1700’s is crucial. If we were advocating for our beliefs in the present day, it would be a very one sided debate, as the paradigms of race have drastically shifted. So in this historical context, the assigned perspectives included advocates for the continuation of slavery as it was, advocates for the gradual emancipation of all slaves, advocates for the return of all slaves to Africa, and advocates for the immediate manumission of all slaves.
As soon as positions were assigned, it was clear that some students were uncomfortable with arguing the historical position they were assigned, specifically those who had to argue that slavery should continue. Many students would now have to advocate for something that they know is totally wrong present day! However, as the preparation for the debate continued, the value of the lesson has become clearer. It is extremely easy to look back on our history of slavery and just say that it was an atrocity and should have ended sooner. However, as this fact is very clear for us today, it is more important for us as learners to understand that it was not so clear-cut back in the past. This debate encouraged students to understand all sides of the argument, and forced us to place ourselves in a position where we must fully understand and convey our assigned perspective, whether or not we believe in it now.
Furthermore, the skill and other prowesses utilized in this debate have useful implications in the work force. Constructing a sophisticated argument, researching opposing viewpoints and being able to understand alternative perspectives are just some examples of skills that might be useful to us down the road. After this debate, I think we will have enhanced our persuasive argumentation skills as well as better understand why the issue of slavery was so disputed, and why it didn’t come to an end sooner.
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