Independence Hall in Philadelphia is a place Americans think they know well. The landmark appears in textbooks as the setting for the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The nuanced history of the landmark, as a civic gathering place and a neighborhood anchor, however, does not appear in the textbooks and is not evident through tours. The stories that explicate this history over two centuries are important, even essential, for teachers and students to acknowledge if they are to understand the growth of the nation and its relationship with the ideal of national identity, civility, and freedom.
Cultures of Independence will provide teachers an immersion in this complex history. Drawing upon recent scholarship about the landmark, as well as current understandings of the role of place in the construction of collective memory, the workshop will lead to enriched teaching about the nation’s founding and the resonance of the founding principles over time. Events held here – protests, exhibits, forums – also speak to the language of civic discourse in a democratic country.
Teachers who attend the workshops will return to their classrooms with broadened knowledge of this historic landmark and its role in the entire spectrum of American history. They will be able to impress upon their students the ebb and flow of issues of freedom and discourse when people within a republic differ in fundamental ways. Due to the research, discussion, and lesson writing teachers will undertake during their time in the workshop, they also will be able to consider similar scenarios for political and social landmarks in their own communities, opening student eyes to the many layers of history that often are overlaid in one place.
Emphasizing the role of civil discourse and the ongoing struggle to expand the rights of citizenship to all Americans, the workshop also will reach beyond the specifics of a single landmark to provide participants with a foundation for teaching about the broad contours of the nation’s history by using the public buildings, monuments, and public spaces in their own communities.