Critical Thinking & Multiple Assignments by Matt Bernstein

In July 2022, I had the opportunity to engage in the NEH Seminar, Teaching The Holocaust Through Visual Culture. As a result of this seminar, I have been able to incorporate much more visual culture into my teaching of the Holocaust and I have been able to engage students in critical thinking and visual analysis strategies related to images and other elements of visual culture across our study of history. Students have been particularly drawn to the use of visuals in our study of the Holocaust and other genocides. I have found that pairing images, especially primary source images, with text-based sources has enhanced engagement and understanding as it provides multiple access points for students to learn historical content. In addition, students have appreciated opportunities to take time to deeply study images and to consider the role of image in the ways we understand history. They have gravitated to the idea that different images can tell different stories and they have deepened their understanding of the fact that an image, just like a text or speech, can be used to communicate a specific point of view or agenda.

Through my work in the seminar, I was able to create multiple assessments that students completed this year. The first was an analysis of Nazi propaganda (a student example is pictured on the right). This assignment, based on a collection of examples of propaganda compiled during the seminar, asked students to select an example of Nazi propaganda and analyze its messages, its purposes, and its role in the rise of fascism and its contributions to genocide. Students also had the opportunity to compare their chosen piece to other examples of Nazi propaganda to identify common themes and also varying strategies the Nazis used. A second project, also developed in the seminar, asked students to analyze different pieces of visual culture from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Students contrasted artistic representations of the event, many of which were created by Jewish artists, with photos taken by Nazis for the Stroop Report. Students were interested in considering the ways that images tell stories and were intrigued by the concept of photographs being used to depict certain perspectives. For both assignments, students appreciated the chance to unpack images, many of them primary sources, and come to historical conclusions based on their analysis.

Finally, my seminar learning about Holocaust memorials inspired the final project for our Genocide Studies unit. In this final project, students were asked to select a genocide other than the Holocaust and propose a memorial for that genocide. To prepare for this project, we looked at existing Holocaust memorials and studied the various ways people have memorialized genocide over time. This crucial background information came directly from my learning in the seminar. Overall, my experience in this seminar has expanded my teaching of the Holocaust and of history in general. I feel more prepared to bring visual culture into my classroom and better equipped to support students in visual analysis. Thanks to this seminar, I have made curricular and pedagogical shifts that students have appreciated and that I believe deepen the engagement, rigor, and complexity of student learning in my class. I am grateful for my learning through this seminar, which has directly impacted and improved my teaching practice.