Teaching the Baltimore Uprising: A Digital Proposal

Freddie Gray was arrested in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore on April 12, 2015 and placed in a police transport van. While in the custody of the Baltimore Police, Gray suffered a high-energy injury to his neck and spine and lost consciousness. Freddie Gray would die of his injuries on April 19, 2015. Protests began on April 18, and the Baltimore Uprising* would last for ten days. While the protests were precipitated by Freddie Gray’s arrest and death while in police custody, they were rooted in the Charm City’s well-known but often overlooked history of  housing segregation and its effects.

Students are coming into classrooms with bits and pieces of information–often disjointed–about contemporary events. Teachers sometimes struggle with addressing current events in real time; good lesson development, complete with research and planning, takes time. As a result, generations of students grow up with a lack of historic context for why things are the way they are. In “Bringing to Life Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth—A How-to Guide”, Jessica Elfenbein pointed out that in many Baltimore schools, “…nobody had ever bothered to teach them about the forces that explain so much about the city in which they and their neighbors still live…”[1]

There is a gap in the availability of teaching and learning resources related to contemporary events.  In examining digital projects focused on contemporary events (see Preserve the 2015 Baltimore Uprising and Documenting Ferguson) and crowd-sourced hashtag syllabi (see #charlestonsyllabus and #fergusonsyllabus), it is easy to notice  their inaccessibility to teachers and students for classroom use outside the academy. Many online archive projects can be time consuming and not as intuitive as other, more familiar online platforms. In particular, hashtag syllabi tend to exclude middle and high school history and social studies teachers; the broad reference to “educators” in these living documents tend to be confined to college instructors. However, knowledge and understanding of both contemporary events and their socio-historical foundations cannot and should not be confined to the walls of post-secondary institutions.

Teaching the Baltimore Uprising—an online Omeka exhibition—will help teachers and students better understand the Baltimore Uprising, while building students’ historical analysis skills. The exhibition will incorporate resources from Preserve the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, local and media outlets, and government documents. The resources can be used as stand-alone resources for skill-building lessons (i.e., primary source analysis), and will be part of the standards-aligned (C3 and CCSS) lesson plans that will be available on the site. While Teaching the Baltimore Uprising will be similar to other projects such as Celebrating Simms and Teaching at Laurel Grove in that it will provide access to both objects and lesson plans, it is different in its attempt to do so with a recent event that is still unfolding.

*The use of the term Uprising as opposed to unrest or riot is deliberate; Evan Serpick’s “Why We Should Call Recent Baltimore Events an ‘Uprising'” provides some useful context.

[1] Jessica Elfenbein, “Bringing to Life Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth—A How-to Guide,” The Public Historian, Vol 31, No. 4 (Fall 2009), 18, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/tph.2009.31.4.13


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