Longitude Possibilities and Promises at Mystic Seaport

Visiting the “Ships, Clocks & Stars” exhibit at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT,  confirms how successfully historians are following the traditions set by traveling art exhibitions. This exhibition from the National Maritime Museum in London is sponsored by United Technologies and Comcast.

The sextants, chronometers, and marine watches on exhibit are both works of art and artifacts that show the progress towards solving the problem of determining longitude, a mystery that consumed legislators, mariners, and inventors alike.

The incredible story that the exhibit retells is about the prize purse of  £20,000 (equivalent to £2.58 million in 2016) offered for a method that could determine longitude within 30 minutes. Once these financial promises were made, John Harrison, a carpenter-turned-clockmaker, came to claim the reward for determining longitude. According to the artifacts in the exhibit:

“John Harrison’s watch had kept time within the most stringent limits of the 1714 Act, its error being just 39.2 seconds or 9.8 miles (15.8 km) at the latitude of Barbados.”

Unfortunately, the full purse was withheld when the Board of Longitude created additional requisites, including the production of similar timekeepers by other inventors. They voted to award Harrison a portion, only £10,000, until other makers could produce similar timekeepers.

With successive inventions that improved upon his original design, Harrison did eventually collected £23,065, but only after many years of contention with the Board of Longitude.

The Quest for Longitude only has a few more days until it travels to its new location at 33.8650° S (latitude), 151.2094° E (longitude).

*Hint* Harrison could plot that location.



Another Anne Frank Connection -Eugenics and Immigration

The students in Grade 8 are completing their study of the Holocaust, and for a few weeks, I have been locating resources for them to read. So when I heard the words “Anne Frank” during a radio story on National Public Radio tonight, I was immediately engaged, and I pulled off the road to hear the story on a new book  ‘Imbeciles’ Explores Legacy Of Eugenics In America by Adam Cohen.

Towards the end of the interview, Cohen explained how popular support of theory of Eugenics, especially among the highly educated in America in the early 1900s, resulted in passage of a strict immigration law in 1924 that “was aimed to shut off the genetically less gifted.”

Cohen pointed out that the same 1924 immigration law was the reason the request by Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, for visas was blocked. He explained the result of this legislation:Anne FRank

“When we tell the story of Anne Frank, we think that she died in Auschwitz because the Nazis thought the Jews were inferior, but to some extent, she also died in Auschwitz  because the American Congress thought the Jews and other people like that were inferior.”

Another Anne Frank connection that I will be sharing  with teachers.


“Stop Crossing that Delaware!”

What do you remember from your time in spent history class?

Screenshot 2016-02-17 22.10.07

1851 oil-on-canvas painting by the German American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Chances are, you remember Washington crossing the Delaware.
You remember he crossed the Delaware when you were in 5th grade…
And you remember he crossed the Delaware (again) when you were in 8th grade…
And you remember he crossed the Delaware (again, again) when you were in in high school.

You may want to consider how that iconic moment could represent all those moments that Social Studies/History teachers repeatedly revisited in your education.

Yes, there are almost 80 years between that winter crossing during the American Revolution and that shot at Fort Sumter that set off the Civil War…but not a lot of reteaching on those 80 years of Constitution making, British blockading, and tear trailing.

Besides, while Washington’s sneak attack on the Hessians’ celebration at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey, was a military coup, there is something a little underhanded about attacking at Christmas.

The National Council of Social Studies has approved  new frameworks for social studies teachers to follow that address this problem of reteaching. They are called  The College, Career and Civic Life Frameworks for Social Studies – the C3s – and the emphasis is not on teaching the the iconic events, but on the skills all students need to be members of a democratic society.

So while history repeats its, the C3s are to stop the repeating of history… and the crossing of the Delaware, again.