Use These Activities
Putting It All Together
Students might enjoy comparing the way the events are recounted in the readings with the way they are presented in a U.S. history textbook and discussing the differences in perspective. In studying nationally important events, students do not always learn how these events evolve from local issues or how national debate and decision affect individual communities. The following activities will encourage students to make those connections.
Activity 1: Locating a Railway
Have students refer back to Map 4 and identify the railroad nearest their community or region. Discuss whether and to what degree railroads were important to townspeople in the 19th century. Local histories found at public libraries usually have a chapter devoted to the coming of the railroad. Some students might wish to research this topic and present a report to the class. (Students in Hawaii, Alaska, or the Territories might choose to look at a community they have visited or would like to visit.)
Activity 2: Examining Trials
After students have discussed the Dred Scott case, have them look up the meaning and discuss the following court-related words: plaintiff, defendant, prosecutor, judge, defense attorney, jury, verdict, appeal, Supreme Court, civil case, criminal case, precedent, litigation, bailiff.
If a class visit to an actual trial is possible, prepare the students by asking them to choose a particular person involved in the case with whom to identify. Back in the classroom, have those representing the plaintiff, defendant, judge, etc., meet in their respective groups and discuss the following issues:
1. How well each of the attorneys presented his/her case.
2. The approaches taken by the plaintiff, defendant, judge, etc., as they performed their roles.
3. How the students would have acted if they had assumed those roles.
4. How they felt about the verdict.
Activity 3: Local and National Connections
Have the students search for examples of how their own community is currently connected with the broader events of the nation. After they have found recent newspaper articles that explore issues of public concern (e.g., interstate environmental issues, civil rights or abortion rights controversies), have the students determine where in their community such issues are debated and discussed. Then have them write a short essay in which they discuss:
1. Whether or not the same degree of public interest is aroused as in the railroad controversy of the 1840s-60s.
2. Whether or not there is a single site in their community that serves the same purpose as did the Old Courthouse did.
Finally, ask the students to discuss the essays and the role of public buildings in modern communities.
Activity 4: Historic Preservation
Have the students identify an older public building in their own community and research its original purpose and its uses over time. Ask them to answer the following questions:
1. What purpose did this building serve? Is that function still important to the community? Did any important events take place here? If so, why were they important?
2. Is the building in use or vacant?
3. If in use, is the building still used for its original purpose or has it been adapted for another?
4. If the building is vacant, has another building assumed its original purpose?
5. Should the building be restored? What kinds of adaptive use would be feasible?
If possible, have a local preservation expert visit the class to discuss these questions with the students and to explain how decisions are made as to whether or not to preserve such buildings.