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When teaching history to elementary students, it can be hard to strike the right balance between teaching facts and keeping the content age-appropriate. Our teaching can sometimes end up consisting of childish drawings of Columbus’s ship or kids wearing costumes. But there are some easy steps to make real history relevant and age-appropriate for young students.

Finding the Facts

Find a refresher on the facts. Sticking with the example of Columbus, Teaching Tolerance has excellent resources, and Plymouth Plantation and Scholastic have free websites with reenactment photos and primary source information on the historic meeting between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Supplement textbooks with photographs, primary sources, read-aloud books, and online reference sites such as TeachingHistory.org.

More generally, the Library of Congress has a wide array of online primary sources available without charge. Your local library may have a partnership with your school to share materials. If your class has access to technology, Epic is a free online resource with a wide assortment of both fiction and nonfiction books, searchable by grade level and subject.

Considering Perspectives

Think about whose history you’re teaching. Help students analyze sources and authors for point of view and perspective. Teach not only the victors’ version, but that of marginalized and disenfranchised groups, both then and now. While first graders may be too young to hear about the cruelty of Columbus’s crew toward native peoples, they can easily understand the message of the song “1492” by Nancy Schimmel: “Someone was already here.”

Last year I asked my third graders, “Was Columbus a hero?” Using a collection of books at different levels, my class read, took notes, and collected evidence to prove their point. When they finished, they asked me for a definitive answer. Instead, we discussed the European view versus the perspective of the Native Americans.

Setting Aside Time for Social Studies

One of the biggest challenges at the elementary level can be finding the time to teach social studies in an already busy day. Evaluate your current schedule and think about ways to enhance activities like history craft projects and to integrate history into nonfiction reading comprehension and writing skills.

My colleague, sixth-grade teacher Summer Geist, wove history through her English language arts (ELA) instruction this year with a study of the novel Refugee by Alan Gratz. The study allowed students to understand the Holocaust, the Cuban refugee crisis, and the beginning of the Syrian War through the characters of Joseph, Isabel, and Mahmoud. Summer supported and supplemented their learning with background information about the historical periods. After analyzing the book for tone, mood, figurative language, and other sixth-grade ELA standards, students researched outside sources.

Offering Choice

Choice is a powerful incentive for learning. When possible, give kids the opportunity to select further research on topics of interest, whether to work alone or in a group, which project or product they will complete, or how they will teach others what they have learned.

After the sixth graders finished reading Refugee, they chose research projects, featuring historical figures, famous refugees, and current events, which became a Human Rights Symposium displayed at Open House. Some chose posters, slide shows, scrapbooks, even a rap song about Einstein. Two girls portrayed Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and demonstrated for women’s rights throughout the evening. Students built a replica of a raft from the Cuban refugee crisis. One created a map of displaced people. Another surveyed staff and students on what they know about the humanitarian crisis in Syria and then analyzed what that might mean for the American response to the war. A frightening reminder of what is at stake was the replica of the Drowning Hands exhibit, a protest for the refugees who have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Teaching history isn’t always easy. We often need to research our own materials and relearn what we were taught. But it’s worth the time to follow a few steps to rethink old practices.

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The History Of Social Media

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines social media as:

“forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).”

While services like YouTube and Facebook automatically come to mind, you can trace the origins of social media back to the late 1970s.

In this article, you will find a brief overview of the history of social media, from the early pioneers of electronic communication to the social networking platforms that dominate the internet today.

Bulletin Board Systems

Randy Suess and Ward Christensen introduced the Computerized Hobbyists Bulletin Board System in 1978.

While initially designed to help the inventors network with fellow members of a computer club in Chicago and generate content for their club’s newsletter, it eventually grew to support 300-600 users.

CBBS still exists today as a forum with posts dating back to 2000.

As modems increased speed, bulletin board systems became more popular with computer users. Using the telnet BBS Guide, you can travel back in time and see over 1,000 bulletin board systems.

For those looking for modernized versions of bulletin board systems, try Wikipedia’s list of internet forums.

Internet Relay Chat, Instant Messaging, And Chat Rooms

As an extension of BBS systems, Jarkko Oikarinen set up the first Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client and server in 1988. It would allow users to chat with each other in real time.

That would lay the groundwork for instant messaging services like mIRC and ICQ, which still exist today.

While ICQ has continued to update its interface to match the current times, mIRC has had the same website since 2008.

Celebrities like Michael Jackson used America Online chat rooms to host one of the first Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions with over 25,000 participants.

AOL released a free, standalone version of its instant messenger service in 1997, which connected its users until it signed off for the last time in 2023.

In 1999, Tencent launched QQ, an instant messaging service.

This service still exists today, along with the social network Qzone (launched in 2024), boasting 574 million users.

The First Social Networks

In 1997, the first social networking sites launched: Bolt and Six Degrees.

Dan Pelson designed Bolt as a platform for 15-20-year-olds to use for email, voice mail, voice chat, message boards, and instant messaging. 11 years later, Bolt announced in its forums that it would shut down.

Six Degrees founder Andrew Weinreich, sometimes referred to as the father of social networking, created his platform to help people connect with people they didn’t know (yet).

He also filed the first social networking patent for:

“A networking database containing a plurality of records for different individuals in which individuals are connected to one another in the database by defined relationships.”

The platform still exists today, although it doesn’t look like it has changed since 2023.

The Birth Of Social Blogging

A year later, in 1999, LiveJournal would enter the social blogging arena.

From Social Dating To Social Gaming

Friendster, launched in 2002, was described as:

“…an online community that connects people through networks of friends for dating or making new friends.”

From 2010 until its end in 2024, Friendster shifted focus from a network for connecting friends to a “…social gaming destination of choice.”

It allowed people to connect, play games, and share their progress.

The Rise Of Today’s Most Popular Social Platforms

In the early 2000s, we saw the launch of several of the top social networks still popular today.

LinkedIn

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn created a social networking space for professionals to strengthen their network connections for better career opportunities.

It allows people to connect with business acquaintances and college alums, find jobs, and recommend professional services.

Today, the network has over 830 million members worldwide.

Myspace

Shortly after LinkedIn, Myspace would launch in August 2003.

It was a space for friends, where you could create customized profiles, highlight top favorite friends, meet your friend’s friends, publish blogs, share photos, post in forums, join groups, discover music, and play games.

In 2013, Myspace rebranded itself as a music portal to connect people with their favorite artists and is a music-focused social network.

Facebook

2004 saw the launch of Facebook (first known as Thefacebook). Created by Mark Zuckerberg to connect with other Harvard students, Facebook’s popularity exploded. By the end of 2004, it had over 1 million users.

Since then, it has become the second largest social network, boasting 3 billion users worldwide.

As of 2023, the network had over 100 million accounts and still considers itself the “…best online photo management and sharing application in the world.”

Reddit

In 2005, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman launched Reddit as a place where users could share content, discuss topics of interest, and vote up the most popular stories.

Twitter

In 2006, Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass launched Twitter.

The idea behind their network was simple: allowing users to send short messages of up to 140 characters to friends and acquaintances.

Now, Twitter’s user base of 436 million can send tweets with up to 280 characters with images and video.

Tumblr

The community, now managed by CEO Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, has over 472 million users and 550 million blogs.

Sina Weibo

Launched in 2009, Sina Weibo is China’s answer to Twitter. The microblogging service currently has 582 million users.

Pinterest

Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp, and Paul Sciarra founded Pinterest in 2010.

Instagram

2010 also saw the launch of Instagram by founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

The photo and video sharing service, acquired by Facebook in 2012, has grown to 1.4 billion users and expanded its features to include live video streaming and shoppable posts.

Quora

Former Facebook employees Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever launched Quora in 2010.

The social question-and-answer network aimed to bring together people with questions and experts in specific fields to provide answers.

It is home to 300 million users, including former presidents and popular celebrities.

Snapchat

In 2011, Stanford University students Evan Spiegel, Reggie Brown, and Bobby Murphy came up with Snapchat.

While initially considered a “terrible idea” by fellow students in a product design class, this network would eventually become one of the top social networks for teens and home to over 347 million users.

Telegram

Nikolai and Pavel Durov founded Telegram in 2013. The social app focuses on providing secure instant messaging and voice calls.

It currently has over 700 million users.

Discord

Gaming enthusiasts Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy founded Discord as a voice, video, and text communication service in 2024.

Since its inception, it has expanded from focusing on the gaming community to giving spaces to any interested community looking for a place to belong.

Discord is now home to over 150 million users and 19 million servers with 4 billion discussions.

TikTok

TikTok (or Douyin in China) launched internationally in 2023 after being acquired by ByteDance and merged with Musical.ly.

Known as the leading destination for short-form mobile video, it has over 1 billion users and is the most downloaded app worldwide.

Clubhouse

Paul Davison and Rohan Seth founded Clubhouse in 2023 as a social network for hosting voice chatrooms.

While it began as invitation only, it is now open to the public and available for Apple and Android users. As of February 2023, it had 10 million weekly active users.

Honorable Mentions

Unfortunately, not all social networks found long-term success. In this section, you will find some notable names in social media history that came, made their mark and faded into the sunset.

Orkut Google+

Another social product from Google, Google+, launched in 2011. Although it was integrated with Google’s other products, including YouTube, and boasted over 500 million “identity” users, it would eventually shut down in 2023.

Vine

In 2012, Colin Kroll, Rus Yusupov, and Dominik Hofmann launched a unique social video network, Vine. It allowed users to share short, looping videos. Twitter acquired the platform in 2013 but ultimately shut it down in 2023.

Periscope

Live-streaming video service Periscope launched in 2024 after being acquired by Twitter. Twitter ultimately incorporated live streaming into its network, shuttering Periscope as a standalone app in 2023.

More resources:

Featured Image: RoBird/Shutterstock

The History Of Science Is For Sale

Most people probably haven’t visited an auction house, but they are, perhaps surprisingly, rather accommodating of the masses. Last fall, I visited Sotheby’s New York offices, a gray and glass building near the East River. In the foyer, between a high-security prison for collectible wines and the concierge’s desk, someone had parked Richard Feynman’s Dodge Tradesman Maxivan.

At the time, the internationally-renowned art dealership was preparing for its second annual science and technology auction, which would include a significant number of pieces from the late physicist’s personal collection. Brown like day-old guacamole, the van was a promotional poster for quantum mechanics. He’d had the central panel on the left, right, and back of the vehicle covered in supersized “Feynman diagrams”—rune-like squiggles that revolutionized our conception of the behavior of subatomic particles. It was not for sale, but Feynman’s private papers, artistic sketches, and 1965 Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics, or Q.E.D, certainly were. Sotheby’s staff estimated the golden Nobel would go for more than $800,000.

On the exhibition floors above, I found a few people—potential buyers or, just as likely, the representatives they selected to preserve their anonymity—milling about the spacious, stark white rooms. Apollo 11 flight plans, an X-ray of Neil Armstrong’s reinforced marshmallow boots, and “flown” dehydrated pot roast sat on little podiums, awaiting new homes. As I descended an escalator, a trio of moon suits greeted me, suspended from the ceiling like million-dollar sacks of flour. Two were from the Soviet Union. The one from NASA’s Project Gemini had a giant zip-down crotch; presumably, in 1961, the physics of low-gravity urination were a puzzle yet to be solved.

In still other galleries, models of rovers and landers hung from the ceiling or sat on shelves illuminated with purplish strips of LED lights. The displays were reminiscent of a museum gift shop, which, in a way, this was. At Sotheby’s, almost everything can be touched, provided you ask for assistance and, if necessary, don the appropriate gloves. More importantly, everything is for sale.

Richard Feynman’s Nobel for physics. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Auctioneers have commanded crowds for thousands of years. But it wasn’t until the Georgian era that auctions became sophisticated affairs; Sotheby’s opened in 1744 and Christie’s, its close competitor, followed in 1766. While the Greeks and Romans sold wives, slaves, and the spoils of war, modern buyers gobbled up goods endowed with historic significance—and emotional consequence. In the 1800s, buyers were battling over dead queen’s dresses; today, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s pill bottles are just as likely to start a bidding war.

Celebrity science auctions sit at the center of this lucrative Venn diagram, between erudite acquisition and outright glamour. Unlike most physicists who toil in obscurity, Feynman carefully crafted a public image for himself, primarily through two rather depraved bestselling memoirs, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? Like Stephen Hawking, whose wheelchair, Simpsons script, and graduate thesis were auctioned off by Christie’s in 2023, Feynman’s interlocking legacies created a wide range of potential buyers. Some people want the technical material, such as the handwritten computations from his time in the Manhattan Project. Others want a piece of their hero’s personality: a scalloped placemat from a defunct Pasadena, California strip club Feynman once did some math on sold for $162,000.

“At auction, we sell the story of the object,” says Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s vice president for books and manuscripts and the organizer of the science and technology auction. “Most of what we sell has no inherent value, when you really think about it.” A fully-operational Enigma machine, which the Germans used to decipher codes, is worth $200,000 to a collector, but aren’t the incredible cryptography tools they were in pre-computer days. Nobels minted before 1980 are 175 grams of solid 23 karat gold, or about $7,500 worth of precious metals. But the prizes—even the more recent 18 karat recycled gold medals—end up selling for much more.

Moon rocks for sale. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s specialists go to great pains to verify the authenticity of its wares. Hatton began her career in a rare books dealer’s shop in Los Angeles. “My boss just told me, ‘Just organize these papers,’” she says. “They were all in German and mathematical and I didn’t really know what they were.” Later, she learned they were Einstein’s notes on unified field theory. “I thought, ‘Oh my god! Why didn’t you tell me beforehand?’” Hatton went on to attend rare book seminars and even earned her Master’s in the history of science, but she still maintains the best learning is on the job. “You just have to handle a lot of material,” she says.

Though the hunt often begins with a promising picture, sent in by a prospective seller, specialists must make the judgment call in person. “There are certain tells that the object will have,” she says. With books, the wrong swirl in a signature or a warped watermark under the light are common clues. “I know it sounds funny, but you can smell if a book is wrong,” she says. “You can smell if there’s been some kind of repair or restoration… because of the different types of chemicals or glues.” For space suits, authentic Apollo gear was made of beta cloth—a fireproof silica fiber—while movie props are nylon. Hatton can tell the difference by touch alone.

Sotheby’s is also responsible for clearing the legal rights of sale for every object that passes under the auctioneer’s hammer. That presents a number of challenges, especially for relics of space exploration. Before 2012, there were no laws clarifying the ownership of objects that the United States flew in space. “Astronauts had these things called a personal preference kit—PPK,” Hatton says, typically rings, flags, and medallions. “Those were clearly theirs.” But everything else was a big question mark caked in moon dust. When Ed Mitchell, the sixth man on the moon, tried to auction off a camera he’d saved from the wreckage of the lunar lander, NASA sued him. This eventually prompted an act of Congress clarifying what belonged to astronauts—and what didn’t. Small and expendable objects like flight plans were cleared; moon rocks or landers, not so much.

Of course, those rules don’t apply everywhere. Before they even made it to the auction block, someone purchased three moon rocks, the only privately-owned sample on Earth, for $855,000. The minuscule shards, preserved in a rectangular metal case with a magnifying lens attached, had been gifted by the USSR to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, the widow of the nation’s space program director. This was, Sotheby’s wrote at the time, a rare case of “an actual piece of another world [being] offered for public sale.”

There are myriad reasons for buying—and selling—such artifacts. It can be cathartic: In 2023, Australian actor Russell Crowe held a “divorce auction.” (Comedian John Oliver reportedly purchased Crowe’s jockstrap from the movie Cinderella Man.) It can be cruel, as many claimed when the children of the late Princess Margaret auctioned off, among other things, the tiara their mother wore to her wedding. It can also be painfully pragmatic: In 2024, Leon Lederman sold his 1988 Nobel Prize in physics to pay for his mounting medical bills. But whatever the motivation, it’s often a missed opportunity for museums and archives, many of which survive on donations alone.

“As a museum curator, ideally, you’d like to see things that are of great significance in public collections where the great majority of people can see them,” says Peter Jakab, chief curator of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “In our modern world of online auctions that are readily accessible to people, people do like to sell their artifacts rather than donate them,” he adds, saying in his 35 years at the Smithsonian “there’s definitely been a culture shift.”

Here, the fate of Einstein’s so-called “God Letter” is particularly illustrative. In 1954, the physicist wrote to Eric Gutkind, a German philosopher who’d recently published the book Choose Life. The resulting missive is a testament to Einstein’s struggle with religious belief: “For me the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition,” he wrote. “And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples.”

For decades, the letter appears to have been in the possession of Gutkind’s close friend Henry Leroy Finch, says Christie’s specialist Peter Klarnet. In 2008, the letter resurfaced at Bloomsbury Auctions, which subsequently sold it for $404,000 to an anonymous buyer who reportedly outbid Richard Dawkins. In 2012, it was listed on eBay, but didn’t sell. Finally, in 2023, Christie’s announced it would again bring the letter to auction—with a twist.

Christie’s subsequently sold the God Letter for $2,892,500.

NASA carefully regulates its materials. Courtesy Sotheby’s

That’s not to say collecting is unethical. It’s just tricky. For one, “not everything is the Mona Lisa,” Jakab says. So long as they’re properly preserved—kept in a humidity-controlled environment, say, or handled with gloves—”mundane” or “garden variety” historical objects should be fair game. In some cases, collectors become experts in their area of interest, and collaborate with curators in the same field. “I can assure you, people with private collections love to talk about them,” Jakab jokes. Most importantly, private owners can share their objects with the public in different ways. “When you, say, put an airplane in a museum, it’s not going to fly again,” Jakab says. “But if you had a historical example that’s in private collection… you could hear the motor, see how it flies, and there’s great value in that as well.” Jakab himself is a collector of antique cars. “As we say, you don’t own the car, you just maintain it until the next person has it after you.”

Still, museums, archives, and rare books libraries do their best to grab the things that matter, whether it’s through acquisition, soliciting donations, or orchestrating loans. Peter Collopy is an archivist at the California Institute of Technology, where Feynman spent almost 40 years teaching, doodling, researching, and driving around in his custom-painted van. Over the years, the physicist, and later his widow, gave countless pieces of fan mail, academic notes, and videotapes to the university. Today, Caltech’s Feynman archive totals 92 boxes of material. Removed from their cardboard enclosures and stacked one on top of the other, the combined papers and videotapes would stretch 38 feet high.

Even so, Collopy wants more. Feynman’s lecture notes, reams of calculus, and correspondence with other prominent scientists are useful “for a historian or physicist who wants to understand Feynman beyond the published record,” Collopy says. That means the archive must be stocked with relevant materials—with mysterious materials. An archivist’s central duty is to preserve, but they’re also stewards of the electric idea that there’s always more to discover.

It’s not all enchanting. “There are some documents, like receipts from someone’s lunch, that might not be of interest,” Collopy says. “You can never say they won’t be, but you can make an educated guess.” Other objects, like Caltech’s existing collection of Nobels, may seem glamorous, but in reality, don’t yield new scholarly insights and ultimately pose a security risk. Some museums, like the Smithsonian, have a process for “deaccessioning” objects—clearing out objects that no longer meet its “collections rationale” and placing them with other institutions. It may sound like the Island of Misfit Museum Objects, but it helps curators around the world clear space, and acquire new artifacts.

At the Caltech archive, “virtually everything” comes through donation, Collopy says. Feynman donated the first of the boxes himself in 1968, and the gifting continued after his death in 1988. His widow, Gweneth, and others close to him brought their own carton stuffers. But relying on the goodwill of others is limiting. “We don’t have a budget for acquisitions,” Collopy says. Or at least, not usually.

When Sotheby’s announced its Feynman sale, Collopy meticulously combed the listing and found that a copy of nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s 1954 security hearing for alleged ties to communist organizations would be up for sale. In the margins, Feynman, a wartime protégé of Oppenheimer’s, had scribbled dozens of notes. This marginalia, Collopy believed, could offer new insights into Feynman’s politics. So he secured a $4,000 budget from the Caltech and waited for the fate of Lot 105 to unfold.

A few of Feynman’s papers. Courtesy Sotheby’s

The auction began early on the morning of Friday, Nov. 30. There were several ways to participate. You could bid the old fashioned way, in person with a paddle. You could bid live online, or call in. Or like Collopy, you could set a maximum bid for the item of your choice. Either way, the feeling was one of bristling tension—money and history were on the line.

Instead of trekking uptown, I watched the grainy livestream from my office. A young and energetic auctioneer shared the starting price of each object, which he rapidly escalated in response to the floor bids in front of him and the online bids communicated by an attendant. Feynman’s notes for a 1985 talk on “computing machines of the future” went for $125,000. His tambourine pulled in $60,000. That strip club placemat sold for about the median value of an American home.

This was win after win for Sotheby’s, which takes a cut of every sale it brokers. But it didn’t bode well for Collopy, who was also watching the livestream in California. When I stepped out for lunch, Lot 105, with the annotated Oppenheimer papers, sold for $32,500. That was more than 10 times the predicted price, and eight times Collopy’s preset bid. “So it goes; most of these lots sold for more than I was expecting,” he wrote via email. The day before, he’d said he was optimistic that whoever bought the papers would be open to a loan with the archive.

One of the few things that didn’t dramatically exceed expectations was that golden Nobel. At 11:18 a.m., it went up to the block under the alias Lot 67. “An important one,” the auctioneer said. “The 1965 Nobel Prize in physics awarded to Richard Phillips Feynman.” Roughly 90 seconds later, it sold—for $975,000.

Perhaps quantum electrodynamics is simply too complex to brag about.

Handling History Instead Of Reading It

Handling History Instead of Reading It Class gives presentation at Mass Historical Society tonight

Tonight students will give a public talk and presentation of artifacts titled Making History: King Philip’s War in Documents and Artifacts at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. Photos by Chitose Suzuki

A conflict featuring torture, the starving and enslavement of POWs, and racial and religious prejudice, with attempts to convert those on the other side. Today’s war on terror, or civil strife in some modern despotism?

Nope. Here’s another clue: this conflict killed a greater percentage of the American population than any other war in our history. If you’re thinking the Civil War, wrong again. These facts belong to King Philip’s War (1675–1678), a colonial catastrophe involving New England’s settlers and their Native American allies against tribes led by Metacom, sachem of the Wampanoag, known as King Philip to colonists. The war not only wiped out entire settlements and took 4,000 (mostly Native American) lives, but also ended the era of armed resistance to colonization.

For most college students, studying this 334-year-old pivot point in American history would involve listening to lectures. James Johnson’s students are giving one.

Tonight, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the 20-plus students, most of them freshmen wrapping up their first semester of college, will give a public talk and a presentation of artifacts from the war: the flintlock from the gun that killed Metacom, a food bowl he used, a cutlass carried by a colonial commander the day Metacom died, and contemporaneous written accounts about the conflict, among them a Puritan minister’s diary containing his sermon topics and his conversations with Indians about converting to Christianity.

Making History: Conflict and Community in Boston’s Past is one of several courses involving innovative teaching techniques that the University Provost’s Office has jump-started, according to Johnson, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history. His course syllabus says that it’s “designed to involve students in the very activities practicing historians carry out.” Besides mounting an exhibition at the Historical Society, Johnson’s students have learned about Boston’s 1970s busing crisis by touring Roxbury and the South End with former mayor Raymond Flynn and former state senate president William Bulger (Hon.’96). They’ve taken an architectural tour of Copley Square to study how European tastes and immigrants remade the city during the Gilded Age.

Yes, Johnson does lecture. But so did a Historical Society staffer, on how to do archival research. And on a brisk, sunny December day, professor and students hoofed it to the society’s ornate building on Boylston Street to rehearse tonight’s presentation, donning white gloves and gathering around artifacts-laden tables as society representatives gave tips on arranging and discussing the treasures.

Some of the suggestions were mundane (don’t dress like a slob; make sure any books displayed are open to an interesting page, like a description of Metacom’s death). But at the table showcasing that death, society art curator Anne Bentley wielded an 11-pound long gun and showed the students how the flintlock would have fit on it.

“It goes through the wooden stock and it goes through the barrel,” she explained. “This locking mechanism would release, and the metal on the metal would create a spark that would ignite the powder.”

“I’m a history major, and this is the best class I’ve taken so far,” said Philip Tankovich (CAS’15). “With the presentation, you put so much more effort into it,” not just reading about the war, but speaking about it to those who’ll attend the exhibition. “You have to talk to people,” he said. “There has to be not just analysis, but expression of that analysis as well, so that people can understand it. It’s definitely a multidimensional project. It’s cool.”

Mercedes Bonilla (CAS’15) plans to major in Latin American studies, and Johnson’s class has made her want to travel to that region for similar hands-on work. “It’s not just reading an article about the war; I’m actually looking at the texts that they wrote…or the weapons that killed people, or the bowl that might’ve held their food.…It’s no longer that illusion. It becomes very real.”

The course has been a learning experience for Johnson as well: he’s a European cultural historian and has never taught about Boston before. “I was intrigued about the idea of doing something totally different from the kinds of courses we normally teach,” he said.

As for his students, he hopes they get “a deeper understanding of what goes into interpreting the past and how a certain amount of that is really piece by piece by piece, matching together fragments and bits of partial stories.” On the first day of class, he asked the students why we should study the past. Most said so as not to repeat its mistakes. Johnson will repeat the question on the last day of class, “and I hope that they have a much more subtle understanding of why we study the past.…What we today look back and call mistakes were part of a complicated network that makes it not so easy to say, ‘Let’s avoid those mistakes now.’”

After all, he says, the class has discussed how the trappings of King Philip’s War—fears of another culture, talk of whose side God is on, allegations of torture—are familiar to anyone in our post-9/11 world.

Making History: King Philip’s War in Documents and Artifacts is tonight, Thursday, December 13, with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation at 6, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston St., Boston. The event is free and open to the public.

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Learning And Teaching This Summer?: The Professional

As summer approaches, many of us plan to attend educational conferences of all kinds. Some of the best ones are in our own backyards. Others are international in nature, and, because of budget or travel constraints, are available to us only every once in a while.

I still remember the first big conference I attended: TelEd, put on, in part, by the International Society for Technology in Education . I was teaching fourth grade at the time, and paid for part of my attendance, roomed with our central-office technology director (thanks, Cornie Moon!), and was given the lowdown on how to get the most out of a huge conference (thanks, Adrianne Hunt!).

I was completely mesmerized by the presentations, the vendor booths, and just the buzz of being at a big conference. What a great experience for a simple elementary school teacher from little ‘ol Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana! I can still remember combing through my conference program, highlighting all the sessions I wanted to attend, and taking feverish notes at each one.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate to attend dozens of summer workshops, teacher institutes, and other conferences. I still learn lots — sometimes just from the social-networking component. I love being able to find other people who do what I do, but with a different take, or from a different place.

I also present and deliver conference sessions all over, and I always encourage attendees to be sure that the next time they attend a conference, they bring a coworker along who might not otherwise attend that specific event. We tend to go to conferences in our specific field, when sometimes the best thing might be to go to one outside our main area of interest.

I’ve taken principals, special-ed directors, parents, and students with me to numerous conferences just so the nontechnology people I deal with can hear different versions of what I’m always preaching. I also try to attend nontechnology conferences when I can so I can make sure I don’t lose sight of other content areas or strands.

This summer, I’m attending the National Educational Computing Conference, as well as the High Schools that Work Staff Development Conference. I’ve been to NECC many times, but I haven’t ever been to the HSTW event. I’m thrilled and grateful to be able to attend both this summer, not to mention several others at which I’ve been asked to present. (If you’re attending any of these, be sure to find me and say hi!)How about you? Are any of you putting on workshops this summer or attending any teacher-related institutes or conferences? Are you taking anyone along with you that might not typically go?Share your favorite educational conference, institute, or other summer professional-development experiences of any kind. What are your summer plans for professional learning? Which events will you be attending this summer? Why did you choose the one(s) in which you’re taking part? How do you get the most out of your attendance?The Virginia Department of Education has some simple suggestions for obtaining the most value for your event attendance. If you have other tips, post them here as chúng tôi you around this summer!

The Racist History Behind Using Biology In Criminology

This article was originally featured on Undark.

Nearly 2 million people, most of them Black or Latino men, are locked up in the United States. In October 2023, the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, published a report arguing that correctional officials should examine the biology of imprisoned people — their hormones, their brains, and perhaps even their genes.

The report describes a future in which corrections sounds a bit more like practicing medicine than meting out punishment. Correctional programs would gather information about incarcerated peoples’ cortisol levels, heart rate, genes, and brain chemistry, and more. They would then use that data to tailor interventions to specific individuals (say, offering one person mindfulness training, and another ADHD medication), and to help estimate the risk that someone will reoffend.

To some, such a proposal may sound invasive, even dystopian. The report’s author, Sam Houston State University biopsychosocial criminologist Danielle Boisvert, suggests it offers a chance to streamline a clunky system: By “excluding known biological and genetic factors that affect behavior,” she wrote in the report, “the criminal justice system may be suppressing its ability to fully benefit from its correctional efforts.” (Boisvert did not respond to requests for an interview.)

The DOJ report represents a new frontier in the discipline of biosocial criminology — a decades-long effort to bring biology back to the study of crime. Researchers in the field have scanned the brains of people convicted of murder and scoured the genomes of teenagers who belong to gangs. Biosocial criminology is “really a kind of smorgasbord of a lot of other disciplines, but trying to apply it to human behavior — and specifically antisocial behavior,” said J.C. Barnes, a biosocial criminologist at the University of Cincinnati.

Today, some of the nation’s top-ranked criminology programs are thriving hubs of biosocial research. Biosocial criminologists teach future prosecutors, law enforcement, and correctional officers.

But the rise of biosocial criminology has also sparked alarm among some scholars, who argue that the science is shoddy — and that racist ideas and assumptions animate the field. “The work that they’re doing is really serious, and really dangerous,” said Viviane Saleh-Hanna, a professor of crime and justice studies at UMass-Dartmouth.

Indeed, the use of biology has long divided criminologists. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, criminologists measured the skulls of imprisoned people and analyzed their bone structure. Often, they drew blatantly racist conclusions. Even as biosocial criminology grows more mainstream, it remains an open question whether the discipline can be disentangled from that racist past. A close review of the relevant literature shows that some biosocial criminologists have drawn on discredited ideas that describe Black people as inherently predisposed to crime.

Others, while steering away from writing about race, appear to largely tolerate that work. “There doesn’t seem to be a pushback against the folks who are writing about this in the field,” said Oliver Rollins, a medical sociologist at the University of Washington and the author of “Conviction: The Making and Unmaking of the Violent Brain,” a 2023 book about neuroscience and crime. “No one’s challenging these kind of racist components to the science, or the research.”

Talk with criminologists about biology, and one name comes up again and again: Cesare Lombroso. Born in 1835 in northern Italy, Lombroso trained as a physician. He soon grew fascinated with the physiology of people who had been convicted of crimes.

Lombroso’s work has been widely discredited. But his influence, historians say, was considerable — including among eugenicists in the early 20th century who sought to identify and eliminate strains of what they saw as degeneracy in populations. “Criminologists consider it edifying to believe that a man can be saved by grace, but refuse to admit that he can be damned by germ plasm,” the American eugenicist Earnest Hooton complained in 1932, reporting on the results of a study of 16,000 incarcerated people. His conclusion: Biology mattered. “I am beginning to suspect that Lombroso, like Darwin, was right,” he wrote.

Among them was Anthony Walsh. A former police officer, Walsh entered graduate school in his mid-30s, moonlighting as a probation and parole officer to support his young family. By 1984, he was an assistant professor of criminal justice at Boise State University, preparing students for careers in the criminal justice system. His early research mostly examined sentencing guidelines and the probation process.

Over time, though, Walsh grew frustrated with his colleagues. He thought they spent too much time focusing on the social causes of crime. “Everything and everybody was accountable for the crime, except the guy who committed it,” he told Undark in a 2023 interview. In particular, Walsh wondered if fields like genetics and evolutionary biology could help explain why some people offend, and others do not.

Those kinds of inquiries could face backlash. For example, in 1992, the National Institutes of Health agreed to fund a conference on genetics and crime. The federal science agency later withdrew the funding after an uproar, fueled by revelations that a key organizer had once seemingly compared Black urban neighborhoods to jungles. Critics worried that genetics would become a high-tech tool for racial profiling.

Criminologists like Walsh did little to dispel such fears. In 1997, he and a colleague, Lee Ellis, drew on the speculative theories of a white-supremacist aligned psychologist to suggest that White people had evolved to be less violent than Black people, and that biology could explain why more Black people than White people end up imprisoned.

To most crime researchers, those claims have serious problems. Decades of research — in many disciplines — have documented how generations of racism, disenfranchisement, and uneven policing disproportionately direct Black people, poor people, and other marginalized groups into the criminal justice system.

At the same time, experts in human evolution say, biology is a terrible tool for explaining these kinds of racial disparities. For one thing, racial categories are just rough attempts to describe the biological variation among human beings, rather than fixed, coherent categories of people who have evolved along different trajectories. For another, even if scientists can sometimes identify average genetic differences among socially defined groups, those differences tend to be very slight — and have no obvious link to a complex social phenomenon like violent behavior.

It’s “just kind of fascinating that we would presume that there is something that’s so simplistic about complex behaviors, that it could map on to something like skin color in a fairly straightforward way,” said Deborah Bolnick, an expert in human evolution and genetics at the University of Connecticut.

Despite such concerns, Walsh and his co-author published their theory in the field’s flagship journal, Criminology. And Walsh soon found himself gaining new colleagues who were interested in biology and crime. Starting in the late 1990s, a growing number of criminologists turned to biology, aiming to integrate genetics, neuroscience, and sociology to produce more robust theories of crime. Some feared they would face professional repercussions for doing so. “My mentor, when I told him what I was doing, was like, ‘John, don’t do this,’” said John Paul Wright, a criminologist at the University of Cincinnati and an early proponent of using genetics to study crime. “He was worried about the consequences for my career.”

Wright and others called the emerging discipline biosocial criminology — a rebranding that was complete by 2009, when Walsh and a colleague edited a book, “Biosocial Criminology,” featuring essays from leading scholars in the young field. (Boisvert, the author of the DOJ report, contributed to a chapter.) A preface, written by another Cincinnati criminologist, Francis T. Cullen, acknowledged the discipline’s troubled history. Biosocial criminologists, he wrote, “will have to show how the new paradigm rejects its repressive heritage.”

Not everyone was convinced that biosocial criminology was so different from its predecessors.

Saleh-Hanna, the UMass-Dartmouth professor, began attending the annual American Society of Criminologists conference in the 1990s, as a student. She soon gravitated towards panels on biology and crime.

At these sessions, Saleh-Hanna sat in the back. She took notes. She rarely spoke. Usually, she said, she was the only Black person — in fact, the only person of color — in the room. “I always felt like I had a responsibility to my own communities to go and listen,” Saleh-Hanna told Undark. “I always knew that they were talking about us.”

The basic process described at the conference, Saleh-Hanna said, felt like a throwback to Lombroso: Scientists looked at the bodies of poor, marginalized people, isolated some biological characteristic, and used it to suggest that those people were inferior or dangerous. “They’re still doing that same work,” Saleh-Hanna said, “but they’re using this new scientific language.”

Indeed, biosocial criminologists have sometimes used new techniques to circle back to an old conclusion: that biology can help explain why the criminal justice system locks up so many people of color. There’s scant scientific evidence to support that claim. Still, in the same 2009 volume in which Cullen urged the field to reject “its repressive heritage,” his University of Cincinnati colleague, Wright, wrote a chapter arguing that biological differences among racial groups explain disparities in crime.

Portions of the field would go on to celebrate those ideas: Despite Walsh’s ongoing writing about race and crime, the Biosocial Criminology Association honored him with its lifetime achievement award in 2014, citing his “invaluable impact on our current understanding of why people commit crime and delinquency.”

In 2024, six criminologists, several teaching at large public universities, published a sweeping “unified crime theory” in Aggression and Violent Behavior, a peer-reviewed criminology journal put out by scientific publisher Elsevier. In the paper, they draw heavily on the work of the late J. Philippe Rushton, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario. Now largely discredited by the scientific community, Rushton spent much of his career arguing that White people have evolved to be smarter, more altruistic, and less violent than Black people. Twisting a theory from ecology, Rushton also argued that some racial groups have evolved to be more fertile — but, in a kind of tradeoff, have also evolved to be more aggressive, less able to exercise self-control, and less intelligent.

Many scientists now describe Rushton’s work as incoherent, riddled with errors, and blatantly racist; his own university eventually disavowed him. The theory is “pulp science fiction” that’s “draped in the lingo of evolutionary theory,” Yale University ecology and evolutionary biology assistant professor C. Brandon Ogbunu wrote in a recent essay for Undark.

Bolnick, the Connecticut researcher, said that Rushton’s theory treats humans as “reproductive machines,” in a way that doesn’t really reflect how people live. “It doesn’t map onto the way any human societies operate, or any families operate,” she said. And Rushton and his acolytes also selectively apply the theory, she said, in ways that mostly just repackage old stereotypes: For example, they spend little time considering the large families of White settlers in the 19th century U.S.

Still, for years, Rushton’s work was cited in the biosocial criminology literature. In the 2024 paper, the researchers drew on Rushton to speculate that this evolutionary path could help explain racial disparities in convictions.

Later that year, the lead author of the paper, Brian Boutwell, took to the right-wing magazine Quillette to complain that biosocial criminologists were being shunned by their colleagues. Around that time, Boutwell and one of his co-authors on the paper, Florida State University criminologist Kevin Beaver, appeared separately on the show of alt-right podcaster Stefan Molyneux to talk about the links between crime, biology, and race. (Wright, one of the Cincinnati professors, appeared on the show too.)

Shunned or not, the authors of the paper maintained active careers. Boutwell is now an associate professor at the University of Mississippi. One of his co-authors, J.C. Barnes, was until recently the chair of the Biopsychosocial Criminology division of the American Society of Criminology. Another co-author, Beaver, now directs the Biosocial Criminology Research & Policy Institute at Florida State University, and he maintains an affiliation with King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. (Beaver did not respond to requests for an interview.)

Many biosocial criminologists are skeptical of such work on race, and worry it will hamper their efforts to gain broader acceptance for their techniques, according to Julien Larregue, a sociologist at Université Laval in Quebec who has studied the field. But, he noted, that criticism is mostly informal: “If you look at publications, I don’t find a lot of pushback.”

In the broader field of criminology, though, some experts have raised questions about certain methods that biosocial researchers use. In particular, some have questioned efforts to draw a line from specific genes to criminality or antisocial behavior.

One of the most persistent critics has been Callie Burt, an associate professor at Georgia State University. Around 10 years ago, Burt was asked to review a paper examining genetics and crime. Trained in sociology, she quickly realized she didn’t have the tools to follow the argument. Undeterred, Burt dove into the genetics literature. “I’ve learned that we know a lot more about genetics than I realized,” she said. “But the more we learn, the more complicated things are.”

Burt had plenty to catch up on. The first sequencing of the full human genome, completed in 2000, was accompanied by a wave of new research aiming to tie specific genes to specific outcomes. Biosocial criminologists embraced that work. In the 2000s, some gravitated toward a then-trendy method called a candidate gene study, in which researchers look at whether a specific gene may be linked to certain traits. Some focused on a hypothesized link between violent behavior and a gene called MAOA. (“‘Gangsta Gene’ Identified in U.S. Teens” read one 2009 headline from ABC News, reporting on work by Beaver and colleagues.) But subsequent research has cast doubt on most candidate gene studies, including those purporting a connection between MAOA and violence. “That finding’s not in great shape,” said Michael “Doc” Edge, a population geneticist at the University of Southern California.

Recently, some biosocial criminologists, including Boutwell and Barnes, have been joining with behavioral geneticists and other scientists on genome wide association studies, or GWAS (pronounced GEE-wahs). The technique, pioneered in the past two decades, scans vast databases of genetic data, looking for correlations between particular genes and certain outcomes, such as height, IQ, or college graduation.

Burt and others argue that even these high-powered new studies rest on some misguided assumptions. Like many other experts, she’s skeptical that it’s possible to disentangle nature and nurture so neatly — in part because the categories of crime and antisocial behavior are themselves so slippery.

The problem, according to Burt and other experts, is that crime and antisocial behavior aren’t straightforward, easy-to-measure traits. Rather, these behaviors are socially constructed and highly variable. Something that’s a crime in one state — such as smoking pot — may be legal one state over. An aggressive action — such as punching someone repeatedly until they lose consciousness — may be celebrated in one context (a boxing ring) and illegal in another (a bar). And two people can be treated very differently for doing the exact same thing: Research suggests that Black elementary school children, for example, are likelier to receive disciplinary action than White children, independent of their actual behavior. And studies often find that Black adults who use drugs are likelier to be arrested and incarcerated than White adults who use drugs.

“We behave in context,” Burt said. She brought up an example: People who have “biological propensities — and I can agree that we have different ones — that might lead to impulsivity or risk-taking or even selfishness and disregard for other people, sort of predatory activities.” In an affluent environment, Burt said, someone with those traits may end up flourishing: They go to Wall Street, where their predatory behaviors lead to large paychecks. Meanwhile, “someone growing in inner city, with not those opportunities,” she added, “may end up engaging in predatory behaviors that are criminalized.”

Burt and other critics say that biosocial accounts of crime just don’t fully account for this complexity. A study linking, say, high testosterone levels with felonies runs the risk of implying that testosterone levels are immutable — and that felonies are somehow a set natural property, like the height of a person or the length of a day, rather than a contingent and shifting target.

Saleh-Hanna sees that as a fundamental problem in the field, one going all the way back to Lombroso. “He created this impression, that we still struggle with every day in this society, this impression that crime can be objectively scientifically defined external to the human perception,” she said. As a consequence, she added, “these notions of crime and criminality continue to be seen as natural parts of human societies.”

Certain biases, scholars say, also shape which kinds of crimes end up under the scrutiny of biological methods — and which do not. “We don’t have a notion that crimes of finance are explained by biology,” said Troy Duster, an emeritus professor of sociology at UC Berkeley. “‘Let’s take the DNA samples of the people who were involved in the Enron scandal’ — no one suggested that.” It’s only when Black, Brown, and poor White people are involved, Duster and other scholars suggest, that criminologists start to turn to biology to understand what might have gone wrong.

Recently, some genetics researchers have tried to address some of these concerns by broadening their target to “antisocial behavior” — a catchall category that can include criminal conviction, but also things like personality test results and behavior in school, although these, too, come with their own biases.

In 2013 Jorim Tielbeek, at the time a geneticist and crime scholar at VU Medical Center Amsterdam, founded the Broad Antisocial Behavior Consortium, or BroadABC, a global network of scholars who hope to uncover some of the genes associated with antisocial behaviors. (The group’s first paper, published in 2023, briefly cites some of Boutwell and his colleagues’ work involving Rushton.) In late October, the consortium published their most recent study, which draws on genetic data from more than 85,000 people.

How much that kind of research can explain remains disputed. For all the power of new tools like GWAS, some geneticists say, they have only highlighted how incredibly complex the relationship is between genes and their environment.

The process, these experts say, is even harder when studying a complicated social outcome like a criminal conviction. Eric Turkheimer, a behavior geneticist at the University of Virginia known for his skeptical takes, told Undark that he would be surprised if such approaches could account for even 1 percent of the variance among something like criminality, once researchers control for confounding factors. “And if that’s true,” he asked, “what good is it?”

Some biosocial criminologists say those sorts of concerns have pushed them to reconsider elements of their work. Boutwell, the University of Mississippi professor, said he has revised his thinking. “I think our sociological colleagues make a stronger case when they talk about the historical cultural factors that have underpinned the disparities that we see,” he said, adding that he no longer stands behind his previous work on race.

One of his collaborators, Barnes, also described changing his approach. Barnes grew up in South Carolina; his stepfather and two siblings work in law enforcement. As a graduate student, he studied with Kevin Beaver at Florida State; a senior scholar in the field described him, in an email, as “possibly the most articulate leader of the younger generation.” In an interview with Undark, Barnes said reading the work of Turkheimer and the behavioral geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden had pushed him to take a far more cautious approach to making claims about genetics and crime. He pointed to a more recent, measured paper on genetics and crime that he wrote in 2023. That paper calls on biosocial researchers to pay close attention to social and environmental factors, rather than focusing on genes in isolation. Still, the paper suggests that genetics could say something meaningful about why the criminal justice system incarcerates so many people of color. “The amount of time and care I put into that article,” he said, “is where I wanted things to be focused from there forward.”

Barnes said he’s grown more cautious in drawing conclusions about the complicated factors that drive people to crime. “It’s clear our genetic and biological makeup have an impact on our behavior,” Barnes said. “But can we get much more specific than that? I don’t think we can at this point.”

At least some criminologists have found themselves in a kind of gray area — at once skeptical of certain biosocial explanations of crime, but still open to the idea that biology plays some role in understanding violence and transgression.

When the criminologist Michael Rocque was in graduate school, he worked closely with the late Nicole Hahn Rafter, a feminist criminologist who devoted much of her career to studying Lombroso’s grim legacy, including his influence on the American eugenics movement. Working with Rafter, Rocque said in a recent interview, had an unexpected effect: It pushed him to consider how biology could still be used to responsibly to think about crime.

Today, Rocque is an associate professor at Bates College, and he has published studies documenting how bias affects the disciplinary action faced by young Black students. He’s also a co-author, with Barnes and another colleague, of a recent book on biopsychosocial criminology, and he occasionally uses biosocial methods in his work. “I have just read too much empirical research, and seen too much evidence that genes do matter,” he said. “They’re part of the story when it comes to understanding and explaining criminal behavior.”

Still, he cautioned, studies of things like genetics or neuroscience in crime often remain tentative — and not ready for applied use now. And if they ever are ready for applied use, he said, there will have to be protections in place to make sure their use is beneficial. “In my view, we’re not at the stage where any of this stuff can be put into practice in a responsible way,” said Rocque.

That hasn’t stopped some researchers from exploring potential applications. In fall 2023, the National Institute of Justice held an online symposium to announce a new volume on the study of people who desist from crime. “This volume is a significant achievement in the field of criminal justice research,” said Amy Solomon, a senior Department of Justice official appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, in introductory remarks.

Included in the volume was the 2023 report by Danielle Boisvert, the Sam Houston State criminologist. (Rocque also contributed a chapter.) In a presentation during the session, Boisvert discussed some of the many tools that a biologically-informed correctional system might use. At times, those tools seemed to blur the line between corrections and medical care: For example, Boisvert argued that neuropsychological and physiological testing could help identify developmental issues in incarcerated people, and allow them to receive appropriate care. Such testing could potentially help prisons better evaluate whether or not someone is likely to end up incarcerated again. In some cases, she argued, they may even make a case for keeping a person out of prison altogether.

Afterward, a DOJ staffer posed a question to Boisvert: How could these techniques avoid “condemning people from birth based on their biological characteristics?” Boisvert called for programs that focus on the way the environment manifests in the body — “trauma, abuse, neglect, substance use, traumatic brain injury, lead exposure” — rather than on people’s genes.

“There are other noninvasive low-cost ways that we can incorporate biological factors into assessments,” she said, “that don’t rely on DNA.”

Many experts remain skeptical that such interventions could ever do much to fix a criminal justice system they describe as systemically racist and deeply broken. “If you’re only making that system more efficient, then racism will continue to exist,” said Rollins, the University of Washington sociologist. Things like neurobiological models of crime, he said, aren’t able to address such fundamental problems.

“The only thing that they can really do,” he added, “is reinforce what’s already there.”

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

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