Thanksgiving Web Compariosn

Gabby Goldberg

I will compare two sites:

Scholastic's "The First Thanksgiving"
http://www.scholastic.com/scholastic_thanksgiving/feast/index.htm

Plimoth Plantation's "You are the Historian"
http://www.plimoth.org/education/olc/index_js2.html

A comparison of these two public history websites, Scholastic’s “The First Thanksgiving,” and Plimoth Plantation’s “You are the Historian,” demonstrate two opposing perspectives regarding the relationship between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, that are presented to children in Thanksgiving lesson plans. Both sites employ a range of features that are attractive and engaging, in order to gain the attention of elementary school age children, however, the Plimoth site is far more comprehensive and legitimate in terms of the information that is offered.

Site goals

The goal of both of these sites is to educate children regarding the history of Thanksgiving, and the relationship between the PIlgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. The Scholastic site has been desgined to reinforce the traditionally American story of the harmonious feast that the Pilgrims and Indians shared. The site is also designed to sell related books and teaching materials, as advertisements are featured throughout.

The site created by Plimoth Plantation Organization, entitled “You are the Historian,” stands in contrast to the Scholastic site. In fact, this site explains that the term “First Thanksgiving” is not used at Plimouth because the 1621 Harvest Celebration was not at all a part of the way in which the modern holiday started. Plimoth Plantation’s site is designed to debunk the myth of the “First Thanksgiving,” and to make children aware of the stereotypes and fallacies about Native Americans that are perpetuated by the holiday.

Range of materials offered

The Scholastic site is divided into four parts. The four sections are home, voyage on the Mayflower, every day life, and the Thanksgiving feast. The features that are offered on this site include a virtual tour of the Mayflower’s journey en route to Plymouth, a timeline of the life of a Pilgrim, and a link to an educational game. In the virtual tour feature children simply need to click on the parts of the ship, and information blurbs pop up on the screen. There is also a feature that allows the children to travel along the route, and information is provided about each location that the Mayflower passed. The timeline educates children regarding key dates in the Pilgrim’s journey.

The Plimoth site is divided into four sections, home, glossary, visit the expert and teacher’s guide. The four sections are easy to navigate, and like the Scholastic site, the information bar that lists the four sections is ever present and thus one can simply return to any part.
The home page lists the site’s features, and a child needs to click on any one of them in order to engage in the designated activity. The activities include sections entitled, fact or myth, the evidence, the Wampanoag people, the Pilgrims, the path to 1621, and share what you have discovered. These features offer activities that are fun and interesting, and continuously ask the user questions about the information that is being provided. All of the textual information can be played in audio by clicking on various icons.

Creator and audience

Scholastic is a business which profits from selling children’s books, along with supplemental materials for teachers, and thus this site has a definite advertising agenda. Promotions for books related to the topic of Thanksgiving appear throughout the site.

Plimoth Plantation is a non-profit bicultural museum, whose mission is to “Offer powerful personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s. Our exhibits, programs, live interpreters, and historic settings encourage a new level of understanding about present-day issues affecting communities around the world.”

Both sites have been created for elementary school age children, and their teachers.

How Documents are Treated

There are no authentic images portrayed anywhere on the Scholastic site, and the lack of clarity between what is the past and what is the present can confuse children. The site does credit a photographer, a man named Russ Kendall, but it is unlikely that children would be able to deduce that the photographs are not authentic. All of the photographs are obviously staged. Many more pictures are featured in the Pilgrim section, which has the effect of lending that section greater importance. There are no primary source documents included on the site, however, there are links to other sites that offer primary sources. No citations or bibliographic information is provided for any of the information on the site.

Unlike the Scholastic site, the “You are the Historian” comes with a full list of source information. All of the data provided is cited in a site bibliography. The teacher’s manual also comes with source information. Consequently, I have greater confidence in the transcriptions, images and surrounding material that are provided on Plimoth’s site. In addition, the “visit the expert “option offers video clips, in which a named expert on whatever topic the user has selected, speaks to the user directly. This capability lends the site credibility and makes the information appear legitimate. The experts featured include historians, Native Americans, and museum workers.

Searchability

The Scholastic site is easy to navigate. No matter where one is on the site the list of the four sections is ever present so that it is simple to get back to the home page. However, this site lacks a search feature, and thus it is impossible to locate a specific subject within the “First Thanksgiving” site. The search tool links to sources outside of the site itself. For instance, a search for Christopher Columbus would direct the user to a related web site. This site does offer several links that educate children about using primary sources. One link takes the user to a set of transcripts of interviews with Wampanoag Indians.

The Plimoth site is designed to create an interactive experience, and thus there is no search option available. The information that is being exhibited on this site has been outlined clearly; however, this site is not created for researchers who want to explore a specific topic.

Rating the sites

The American myth of the Thanksgiving story is exhibited on the Scholastic Website, entitled “The First Thanksgiving.” The problem with this portrayal, whether it is accurate or not, is that it masks the realities of colonialism. These settlers came to America, and took control of the new lands. Subsequently, battles with Native Americans ensued, and many tribes were decimated, starved to death, or forced to live on reservations. The myth of the first Thanksgiving simplifies the complex relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, that children possess the capability to comprehend. From a Public History standpoint the site has benefits. The links to sites such as research help, Mayflower interviews, Pilgrim interviews, and Meet a Wampanoag, grant children access to primary sources that they may not have known how to access otherwise. Also, there is a link to Plimoth Plantation’s Thanksgiving chat room, which generates dialogue regarding the subject matter that is covered by the site. There are also links to teacher’s manuals, and related book lists. The links are speedy and always work efficiently. So, though the site itself suffers from a lack of primary source documentation, it does successfully point children to rich sources. This site receives a mediocre rating, and it is not as useful as the Plimoth site, from a historical perspective.

From a Public History standpoint, Plimoth Plantation’s site effectively engages children with the history that is being presented. It offers usability to teachers who wish to incorporate the material into a lesson plan. It generates conversation with the children by encouraging them to write a composition at the end of the experience. This site offers extensive bibliographic information that validates the information it is designed to convey. However, this site does not link to other sites, and it does not create a community wide discussion forum between children. Plimoth presents a bicultural understanding of the historical relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, and relates this education to the holiday of Thanksgiving. It presents a complex topic in a manner that is comprehensible and interesting to children.

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