What are creative approaches?

Creative Approaches invite you to engage with historical events in an immediate, personal, and imaginative way.

This is among the least formal types of assignments you may encounter. The intention is to allow you to indulge in a sort of "time travel" experience that allows you to be a first-hand witness to history. Such assignments invite you to experience history from the imagined perspective of one who actually witnessed the events: either a common person (a bystander, if you will) or, alternatively, a major player (a general, a president, etc.).

The sample assignments below will remind you of some of the role-playing activities you may have encountered during high school history classes. In a way, they are their written equivalents. The fact is, you are less likely to encounter such assignments in college than in high school. Nevertheless, such projects are assigned, and they continue to benefit you by allowing you to experience history vividly (at least in your imagination) and first-hand, from the participant's perspective.

Because of their open, creative character, there is no need to adhere to specific rules when approaching such assignments. Indeed, there is no single set of rules in place for these kinds of projects, although the specific nature of your assignment itself will establish its own basic parameters. There is, of course, a likelihood that your professor will ask you to attach a Works Cited page, or bibliography, perhaps even an annotated bibliography, in order to reveal the source(s) that helped shape your imagined character. Undoubtedly, your professor is also hoping that the research that went into this project will help you to establish a broder context for this type of assignment.

Types of creative assignment

Possible assignments include:

  • Letters
    1. (1a) Imagine you are Jew in pre-World War II Germany, experiencing the onset of the extreme anti-Semitism that characterized Nazi society. In the voice of this imagined historical figure, address a letter to the president of the United States, in which you describe your situation.
    2. (1b) Alternatively, imagine you are a famous historical personality - say Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, who in 1935 witnessed the invasion of his African nation by fascist Italy. Address a letter to the League of Nations, asking for help.
  • Diaries
    1. (2a) Imagine you are a Chinese citizen of the city of Nanking in 1937, witness to the Japanese invasion of that city ("The Rape of Nanking"): describe the events as they unfold over several days.
    2. (2b) Alternatively, imagine you are General Francisco Franco in the late spring of 1936, living in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. You are contacted by the Spanish military, which asks you to lead a coup against the elected government of Spain. Describe your sentiments and actions as they unfold over several days, culminating in your decision to lead the coup that later led to the Spanish Civil War.
  • Newscasts
    1. (3a) Script an imagined newscast engaging any of the events or issues described above: anti-Semitism in early Nazi Germany, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Rape of Nanking, or the onset of the Spanish Civil War. Choose illustrations (photographs, maps, charts) to communicate the content of your topic. Try presenting your newscast with a slant (and acknowledge that slant): say, from the perspective of a neutral nation sympathetic to the victims of the above-mentioned events. Present your project in Power Point, with both text and image on each slide.
    2. (3b) Alternatively, deliver the same newscast with a different slant: from the perspective of the perpetrator, or that of the victim (Or, in yet another variation, attempt to tell the story from a completely disinterested, objective, and solely fact-based perspective: ask yourself, in so doing, whether it is ever possible to maintain complete objectivity when presenting historical facts - see Bias/Prejudice and Evaluating Contradictory Data and Claims).

There is no end to these kinds of assignments - try developing some yourself and run them by your professor.

Establishing a broader context for this type of assignment

While the above-listed (and other such) types of assignments are clearly intended to appeal by being "fun" and imaginative, they do not absolve you of the responsibility to delve into their broader contexts:

  1. (1a) requires you to research anti-Semitism in Germany during the pre-World War II Nazi era. Consider, for example,
    Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volker Riess. The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by its Perpetrators and Bystanders. New York: The Free Press, 1992
    Saul Friedländer. Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. 1, The Years of Persecution, 1933-39. New York: HarperCopllins, 1998.
  2. (1b) requires you to research the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935-36), Haile Selassie, and the response of the League of Nations. Consider, for example,
    Selassie, Haile. "Appeal to the League of Nations," June 1936. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/selassie.htm
    Sellasie, Haile. My Life and Ethiopia's Progress: The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I (volume 1). London: Oxford University Press, 1976.
  3. (2a) requires you to research Japanese foreign policy and warfare from 1931 - 1941, with particular emphasis on Nanking. Consider, for example,
    Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: Basic Books, 1997. (On this source, see Book Reviews, Historiographic Essays, and Evaluating Contradictory Data and Claims).
  4. (2b) requires you to research General Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War. Consider, for example,
    Graham, Helen. The Spanish Republic at War, 1936-1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  5. For (3a) and (3b), see the recommendations listed above, depending on your topic.

Bear in mind that none of the works and authors listed above are immune to the possibility of bias/prejudice (the sources on Haile Sellassie, for example, are written by himself) and that the more you research, the more likely you are to encounter contradictory data and claims. Sifting through, and making sense of such possible contradictions is of course part of your role as historian. These works' footnotes and bibliographies (or, in the case of websites, their links), will lead you to further sources.