Reflection on historical scholarship … Dee Brown on Wounded Knee

In this blogpost we responded to requests for book reviews linked to a teacher subject knowledge reading list. It’s a resource that we can keep expanding as #obhd. Please send additions when you find them.

We are also keen to share colleagues’ thoughts about useful books they have read. How has a book changed your thinking? How has a book given you new ideas for future practice?

In this series of daily blogposts, teacher trainees reflect on a book that they read and discussed with their mentors. The purpose of this reading was not necessarily for use directly in teaching, rather to emphasise to trainees the importance of continuing to update their subject knowledge and the value of discussion with colleagues. Sometimes the reading has led directly to specific teaching ideas for a particular class or to a change in practice, but the posts also illustrate the different ways in which reading and discussing historical scholarship can support continuing professional development – for experienced teachers as much as for trainees.

Today’s reflection on Dee Brown’s book ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West’ is written by Jennifer Coppinger.

Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee Massacre

BrownMy mentor chose this text for the academic study as it complements the year 10 GCSE module on the American West. Much of the course content is quite content driven which comes at the risk of removing the emotion and grief that comes from the Native American experience. This book does a wonderful job of combating this. It sits in a semi story fashion as it does not deal with an obvious historical analysis of the struggle between the Native American and the White Americans but takes us through the narrative of the Native experience through the nineteenth century, drawing upon a range of primary sources that help to lift the module from the text book to a more human situation.  Dee Brown is also a fiction writer, which is clear from his writing style however, in this instance, it is of benefit to the reader as the sense of drama expands their emotional understanding of the conflict.

This text is useful to the year 10 class as it is easy to read and understand, emotive and gipping. Its heavy use of primary accounts makes good material for source analysis in lesson and widens historical understanding. It is a challenge in schools to encourage students to have empathy for historical figures and it is all too easy to brand the Indians as ‘naive’ or ‘stupid’. This book is a useful resource to enable students to have a deeper understanding of human emotion and to push them to reconsider the position the Native Americans were in.

Another benefit of this text is that it has been made into a TV drama series. If there are challenging students who would baulk at the thought of a lengthy text then the dramatised version is an excellent way to start them off.  The series is closely based on the original text and is a useful tool for understanding Native American culture and the tensions between them and the White Americans. It is also a nice way for them to visualise unusual practises such as the Ghost Dance and helps provide deeper understanding. The dramatisations of the massacres (especially Wounded Knee) highlights the shocking way in which the Native Americans were treated.

In conclusion I would highly recommend this text and accompanying drama if teaching the module on the American West. It is highly adaptable and versatile and can be used by all students either as an additional set reading / watching or as an in-class resource.

Please do share more examples of reading, thinking and discussing historical scholarship as blogposts by sending them to enquiries@history.org.uk.

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