Especially for Secondary School Teachers: American History on Facebook

facebook screenshot
Thu 24 2009

This post explores engaging your secondary school students in public history through the activities of museums and historic sites on Facebook. But with a caveat. This post requires a Facebook account to enable you to see the sites that are referenced.

So first, let's address perhaps the primary reservation educators may have about creating Facebook accounts—privacy.

The fact is that Facebook accounts can be open to the world, completely private, or somewhere in between depending upon your choice and how you plan to use Facebook.

On the Facebook Blog (no login required), one teacher explains how to manage various settings in Back to School: Tips for Teachers on Facebook. Facebook's Privacy Policy and Privacy Help Center also set out steps for safeguarding who sees what. (Note, too, that in theory, Facebook is not intended for young people under the age of 13.)

Facebook settings allow you to regulate who sees what.

In his blog, Educator Michael Staton has posted a 20-slide presentation, Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook. Staton's presentation covers examples of how to use Facebook as a class community and management tool, including parental permissions; for some classes in some schools, this could be appropriate. Among his first suggestions: Create a teacher profile separate from your personal profile.

This Texas 8th-grade teacher gives even more specific ideas for establishing a class Facebook page.

Who in History is on Facebook?

Facebook has become a communications outlet for organizations as well as for individuals, and history and art museums, preservation groups, archives and libraries now have their own pages and groups and regularly post news and information.

Admittedly, Facebook history-related groups usually mediate materials that are available elsewhere, but in this public forum, people comment and ask questions, and visitors can choose to share enthusiasm for the stuff of history. Information communities form. If students become fans of these sites, they can receive regular postings and information updates. Shared in the classroom, these posts become springboards for inquiry and analysis, resources on current events, spaces for conversation, and links to other resources.

What's happening in history becomes news.

It's simply another mechanism for bringing history alive, for stimulating interest, for integrating historical conversations and discovery into the everyday—and for resetting the parameters of social networking to include educational and professional use.

American History on Facebook

Recently the National Archives posted links to its resources on YouTube; started a conversation about Constitution Day; and shared photographs from the regional archives of the Pacific Northwest covering the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and high school students from the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, OR.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture highlighted legendary pitcher Satchel Paige while another link led to a discussion with founding director Lonnie Bunch about how to bring essential documents and artifacts of the black American story to the public.

Other sites on Facebook that lead your students to information about American history include the following:

About the Author

Lee Ann Ghajar is a digital history associate in Public Projects at CHNM and a PhD candidate in American history at George Mason University.