published Monday, June 25th, 2012

Cleveland's Five Points Museum Center curator sharing lessons

Jennifer White, Curator of Education at the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland, Tenn., stands in the atrium of the museum.
Jennifer White, Curator of Education at the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland, Tenn., stands in the atrium of the museum.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The education curator with the Museum Center at Five Points plans to share her recent Library of Congress workshop experiences with local educators and give a boost to future Civil War programming.

Jennifer White was chosen from more than 300 applicants to participate in the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute earlier this month.

The five-day program taught White methods for integrating primary sources into the classroom and how to access and navigate the library's millions of online resources.

White said she plans workshops this fall to teach strategies for using primary sources such as diaries, photographs and artifacts in the classroom.

While one of the museum's key functions is to interpret local history through primary sources, White said it is important that school classrooms offer primary-sourced learning, too.

"These things help me to better put myself in the times of the recorded subject," said White, who described primary sources as powerful tools for understanding the past.

There is a difference, she said, between reading a modern work on a historical subject and experiencing firsthand accounts that can help a student get into the mindset of a period.

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The museum already is looking at new ways to present local source materials to wider audiences, said White, noting that the 1860s diaries of Cleveland's Myra Inman serve as a great example of how a primary source can offer an enlightening perspective.

The diaries, which have been developed into a play, offer insights into past events and how contemporaries understood and experienced those events, White said.

The teenager's diaries were composed mostly of "ho-hum" everyday life entries, akin to tweets by today's teenagers, said playwright Dan Buck, a Lee University theater instructor who was commissioned for the work.

However, Buck said, some of Inman's lengthy entries were amazing narratives of how the Civil War divided the loyalties of Cleveland's citizens and eventually brought about the area's occupation by Union forces.

The play likely will be presented at local middle schools by the spring of 2013, with the possibility of limited audience exposure before that, White said.

She said she would like to beef up the museum's Civil War-era programming and expects the Library of Congress digital archives may play a role in that plan.

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