The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

On the 100th Anniversary of World War I

By Leah Elliott, Choices Program Associate

The upcoming year presents a special opportunity for classrooms to reflect on the history and impacts of World War I. While mainstream media coverage has granted attention to the war’s famous battles and grave sites dotting Europe and the United States, we encourage you to also explore with your students the narratives of those societies that fell within the colonial and/or imperial boundaries of the Central and Allied Powers.

Over the past ten months, Choices has produced three new curriculum units that speak to “other” perspectives from World War I: Indian Independence and the Question of Partition, Colonization and Independence in Africa, and Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey (just released this summer!). Below are a few excerpts and images from these curricula.

“Britain forced its colonies to contribute vast sums of money, raw materials, soldiers, and other resources to support the war effort. Tens of thousands of Indian troops fighting for Britain in Europe and the Middle East lost their lives.” —Indian Independence and the Question of Partition

 

Africa 1914 color

“Africans who participated in the war efforts thought they would be rewarded with additional social, political, and economic rights when the war was over…. It soon became clear that Europe and the United States did not believe that Africans deserved this right…. Germany’s former colonies became mandates—administered by foreign countries on behalf of the League…. Criticism of colonialism grew louder in Africa around the world after World War I. Four conferences between 1919 and 1927 helped bring international attention and support to anticolonial movements in Africa.” —Colonization and Independence in Africa

 

"In 1915, Russia made substantial gains into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government feared that minority groups in the region, especially the Armenians, planned to revolt against the empire with the help of Russian forces.… April 24, 1915 marked the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation or execution of over two  hundred Armenian politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen in Istanbul.… CUP officials claimed that the Armenians planned to revolt and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This accusation produced widespread public support for the government’s actions. By 1923, 1.5 million Armenians—over two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire—had been killed, deported, or forced into the desert where they starved to death." —Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey

“In 1915, Russia made substantial gains into Ottoman territory in Eastern Anatolia. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) government feared that minority groups in the region, especially the Armenians, planned to revolt against the empire with the help of Russian forces.… April 24, 1915 marked the start of the Armenian Genocide. The Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation or execution of over two hundred Armenian politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen in Istanbul.… CUP officials claimed that the Armenians planned to revolt and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This accusation produced widespread public support for the government’s actions. By 1923, 1.5 million Armenians—over two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire—had been killed, deported, or forced into the desert where they starved to death.”Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey

These pieces draw attention to just a few of the narratives that are often lost when sole focus for the 100th anniversary of World War I is given to people who identified with, instead of were subjugated by, the world powers of the time. In addition to widespread death and economic upheaval, World War I was also an event that turned the world’s attention to the fight for self-determination. For people living under colonial rule in Africa and South Asia, as well as the diverse ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire, World War I fueled efforts for self-determination that would drastically shape the course of the twentieth century.

 

Cultivating Decision Makers after AP Exams

by Derek Reichenbecher, Choices Teaching Fellow
Howell High School, Farmingdale, NJ

I have been teaching Advanced Placement US History II for twelve years. A tricky part of teaching the class is that the American History timeline must be completed in time for the Advanced Placement Exam in early May. This leaves a full month between the completion of curriculum content and the district final exams. In order to motivate students as summer nears, I encourage them to apply what they learned throughout the year to the world they inherit. To do that I combine two Choices units: The Teacher’s Guide for the Fog of War and The U.S. Role in a Changing World. Students begin by completing background briefings in the US Role. This work and subsequent discussions help dovetail earlier class discussions with current policy and issues. We then watch and discuss the Errol Morris documentary THE FOG OF WAR, incorporating the accompanying lessons from the Choices’ Guide. After screening the film, students are asked to layout an overview of their preferred American foreign policy through a written assignment. They are expected to reference their own understanding of history as well as the issues and resources discussed through the Choices Program. Four pathways provided by the Choices unit are helpful as the students organize their own priorities and concerns. If time allows, students also explore the Choices role play at the end of the U.S. Role unit and deliberate on the best possible path forward for the United States.

It is critical that as teachers we not only provide students with facts and information, but also encourage them to think critically about their world. By using the Fog of War and the Choices Program units I aspire to create a classroom environment where students consider themselves as decision makers. Ultimately, the goal is not just to teach history, but also to support the students in making a connection between the knowledge they acquire and the country they are one day going to help govern.

The Fog of War Trailer

 

Rethinking History: A Look at the Writing Process at the Choices Program

Maya at AAS

Maya Lindberg accepted the Franklin Buchanan Prize on behalf of the Choices Program at the AAS convention in Philadelphia.

Late last month, three members of the Choices curriculum team received the 2014 Franklin Buchanan Prize from the Association for Asian Studies for the outstanding curriculum resource on Asia. Leah Elliott and Maya Lindberg were recognized for their work as writers and Tanya Waldburger for her videography in Indian Independence and the Question of Partition. Congratulations to the three of them for this well-deserved recognition.

After publication last fall, Choices received an email from Mr. Ted Lockery, a ninth-grade teacher in Seattle with some really interesting questions from his class. With his permission, I am able to share them with you along with our responses. I think they provide insight into the issues and process we go through when writing curriculum. I hope you find it interesting.

Dear Choices,

My name is Ted Lockery.  I teach ninth-grade world history at Nathan Hale High School, in Seattle.

My students and I are examining how historians make decisions about how & what to emphasize in their publications.  We have been entertaining the question, “Where is the truth in history?”

This morning we compared the latest edition of “Indian Independence and the Question of Partition” to the previous edition, noticing the change from “the Mutiny of 1857” to the “Great Revolt of 1857.”  (This examination was inspired by the Teacher Resource Book’s “The Great Revolt of 1857: Source Analysis.”)

We would greatly  appreciate knowing how CHOICES came to the decision to revise the title and that section of the text.  What issues were discussed in the decision-making process?  Was there debate?  What were some of the motivations and/or justifications for the change? 

Thank you SO much for your time regarding this.

It is very exciting for us to take up this question with actual historians!

Sincerely,

Ted Lockery

 

Dear Mr. Lockery,

Thank you for your email.

It is great to hear that your class is discussing and trying to locate the “truth” in history. It is a challenge that Choices curriculum writers continually face. Your class poses great questions regarding Choices’ decision to use the “Great Revolt of 1857” over the “Mutiny of 1857.” Please find our responses to their questions below.

What issues were discussed in the decision-making process?
The decision to use the “Great Revolt of 1857” over the “Mutiny of 1857” was guided by a number considerations. The Choices Program decided that the new edition should deviate from a history of the Indian subcontinent that privileges the perspective of the colonizing power, i.e. the British, over other “voices,” such as everyday people. British historical accounts written shortly after 1857 and well into the twentieth century used the term “mutiny” to downplay the widespread participation of Indians. These accounts and more contemporary ones perpetuated the long-mistaken view that the events of 1857 were isolated to a mere mutiny of Indian sepoys in the Bengal Army. Contemporary scholars have challenged this perspective, pointing to other groups that participated in the rebellion. We decided to follow these scholars’ example and break with the tradition of using the “Mutiny of 1857.”

What were some of the motivations and/or justifications for the change?
We first heard the events of 1857 referred to as the “Great Revolt” from a historian we worked with at Brown University—Vazira Zamindar. Following her lead, we opted to go with “Great Revolt of 1857” because it is a broader term that encompasses much more than “Mutiny of 1857.” As the updated unit describes under the question “Who joined the revolt?” on page twelve of the student text, sepoys were not the only participants in the uprisings against the British in 1857. Civilians, landlords, peasants, merchants, and policemen, to name just a few, participated alongside sepoys in revolts and initiated demonstrations of their own. Using “mutiny” in this instance would have been misleading because the term itself means “an open rebellion against the proper authorities, esp. by soldiers or sailors against their officers.” Since the historical record shows that soldiers were not the only participants, we opted to go with a broader term—revolt.
Now, you might be wondering, what makes the revolt of 1857 a GREAT revolt. This an important consideration as well. The Great Revolt of 1857 was an important moment marked by unparalleled, widespread participation against British rule in the Indian subcontinent. It also led to the end of the rule of the British East India Company over the subcontinent and the establishment of Crown rule.

Was there debate?
The Choices writing team had several conversations about the naming of the Great Revolt. For reasons explained above, we decided to eliminate the “Mutiny of 1857” as an option. We also considered using the name, the “First War of Independence,” which has been used by some people from the Indian subcontinent. However, others, including contemporary historians from the region, disagree with this portrayal of the events because the rebellions were not unified in their goals. While resistance spread across the Indian subcontinent, there were varying social, political, economic, and cultural reasons for why people rebelled. These reasons were not limited to grievances with British rule; and therefore, it would be incorrect to categorize the events of 1857 as a united attempt to overthrow colonial rule.

Although we all agreed, given the available research on the topic, to changing the name from “mutiny” to “revolt,” we did debate whether or not to include an explanation of all the historical names (Great Revolt, the War of Independence, the Mutiny of 1857) in the student text. Ultimately, we decided for clarity and ease of reading to not include this explanation in the student text and reserve the conversation for a lesson. And we are so happy to hear you all worked on the lesson and are talking about truth, history, and naming!

Kind regards,
Leah Elliott and Maya Lindberg
Co-writers of Indian Independence and the Question of Partition

Choices Teaching Fellow Steve Seltz Wins National Teaching Award

9/11 Tribute Center

2014 9/11 Tribute Center Honorees

Choices Teaching Fellow Steve Seltz, from Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice high school in Brooklyn, NY was awarded a 2014 Teacher Award from the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York. The awards are given to educators who create projects that thoughtfully engaged their students in understanding 9/11 through a variety of disciplines. According to the 9-11 Tribute Center, few teachers throughout the country are supported in their efforts to teach about 9/11. The 9/11 Tribute Center has made it a priority to collect, reward and share the creativity and commitment of teachers that have taken the challenge and made tremendous accomplishments in their school.

Students in Seltz’s 12th grade Global Issues class research and debate how best to confront the issues of modern terrorism in a democratic society. The class engages in readings and debates materials adapted from the Choices curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy. Students are guided to recognize relationships between history and current issues with the goal of becoming responsible citizens. They identify and discuss the conflicting values and points of view that help shape history.

Seltz’s project has gown out of many years of teaching students about the broad causes and effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By having students conduct research into Middle Eastern, European and American history, they can build a better understanding of the context of the 9/11 attacks, and are thus better able to engage in informed debate and discussion about the ongoing political and social challenges presented by the attacks. The goal is for students to talk about the challenges of terrorism particularly as it relates to the students’ lives as New Yorkers and for them to better confront the fears they might have in considering the problem.

You can read more about Steve’s use of Choices curriculum units in Teacher Conversations. (http://www.choices.edu/pd/teacher-conversations/seltz.php)

Congratulations to Steve Seltz and his students!

Teaching a Long View of Russia and the United States

The Choices Program was founded in the 1980s during a period of high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thomas J. Watson Jr., U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1979-1981, and a former president of IBM, proposed that Brown University create a foreign policy center where scholars and practitioners could work on U.S.-Soviet relations and U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Thus, the Watson Institute was born. We at Choices are one of its offspring and have retained a focus on U.S.-Russia relations. Over the years, a fantastic group of scholars has helped Choices present this important topic for high school classrooms.

The situation in Ukraine tops the news right now accompanied by many pronouncements and speculation about what it means for the United States, Europe, Russia, Ukraine, etc. The situation is serious, but often the analysis in the media seems incomplete, unhelpful, and contradictory.

The challenge is to make sense of the events for ourselves and our students. Russia’s Transformation: Challenges for U.S. Policy provides a rich historical overview of U.S.-Russia relations from the Russian Empire through the present day. The materials cover the social and economic upheaval that followed the end of the Soviet Union, and then helps students assess the most recent challenges for U.S.-Russia relations. It’s a great way to come to an informed judgement about these important events and the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Russia’s Transformation is also available as an Ibook. It is visually really attractive, contains informative videos like the one above, as well as text that helps put current events in a historical context. It is a great resource for anyone looking for a rich, but concise overview of this important issue.

Finally, we also have a new Teaching with News activity: Unrest in Ukraine. This free lesson provides a background to the ongoing crisis, has students analyze political cartoons, and helps them to monitor the Ukrainian crisis in the news.

 

Selected Resources for Black History Month

It’s February—Black History Month.

The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926 when the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, as the group is known today, sponsored a week-long focus on the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history. Interestingly, the week purposely coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. In 1976, this week expanded into Black History Month and achieved the status as a federally recognized celebration. Every year, the president designates a theme for Black History Month. President Obama designated this year’s theme as “Civil Rights in America.”

The Choices Program has compiled a list of selected resources for educators. These resources touch on a range of topics that certainly deserve year-round attention, not just during the month of February.  I hope you find the list useful as your classrooms take a renewed interest in topics related to Black History Month or at a later point in time.

The Civil Rights MovementScreen Shot 2014-02-06 at 10.39.34 AM

 Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi [Curriculum]
Today, we think of the key leaders, mass demonstrations, and watershed legislation that have become synonymous with the civl rights movement. Often forgotten are the everyday people who were on the frontlines of the fight for justice and equality, working for change in their home communities.  Students read about the movement that developed in Mississippi, and the ways in which national and local forces interacted at the grass-roots level.

 “Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement” [Online Lesson]
Students hear stories from former civil rights activists about what motivated them to join the movement.

“Fifty Years after the March on Washington: 

Students in the Civil Rights Movement” [Online Lesson]
Students listen to stories from former civil rights activists, analyze what motivated students to join the movement, what their experiences were like, and consider the relevance of this history today.

Video interviews with scholars and participants in the civil rights movement

Additional Resources:

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: “The Civil Rights Movement”
Includes primary source documents and multimedia accounts of the national civil rights movement. Click on the “Freedom Riders” tab under “Interactive Features” for an in-depth look at the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum: “Integrating Ole Miss”
Provides information and primary source documents related to the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi in 1962.

The NAACP Interactive Historical Timeline
This timeline highlights key events of the NAACP’s history and includes photos, video archives, and film clips.

The Slave TradeScreen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.09.20 PM

A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England [Curriculum]
Explores the nature of the triangular trade and the extent of slavery in New England. Using readings, primary sources, and simulations, students uncover the effects of the slave trade and slavery for Americans and explore how history, and the telling of history, affects us today.

 “Slavery Connects the North and the South” [Online Lesson]
Students utilize primary source documents to reconstruct the route of an actual slave ship and explore different facets of the slave trade, such as social attitudes and financial dimensions.

Video interviews with scholars on the slave trade  

Additional Resources:

Slave Voyages
The interactive Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database contains more than 34,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866.

African-American Mosaic
A Library of Congress online exhibition with graphics, primary sources, and historical narrative.

Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice
The center’s website features a list of resources (links) to curricula and historical documents on topics including the slave trade and the emancipation proclamation.

 

The Haitian RevolutionScreen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.21.31 PM

The Haitian Revolution [Curriculum]
Through readings, maps, digital activities, and simulations, students consider the development of the American colonial world and the legacies of the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world.

The Haitian Revolution Today” [Online Lesson]
Students use art, music, and literature to consider how Haitians today think about the Revolution.

Video interviews with scholars on the Haitian revolution

Additional Resources: 

The John Carter Brown Library: “Remember Haiti”
A selection of primary documents organized thematically.

 

1890s: The United States Enters the Age of ImperialismScreen Shot 2014-02-11 at 9.49.00 AM 

African-American-Community-Age-of-Imperialism” [PDF Lesson]
Students analyze attitudes of the African-American community towards the Spanish-American War through excerpts from black-owned newspapers. The lesson is part of the curriculum unit Beyond Manifest Destiny: America Enters the Age of Imperialism.

Additional Resources:

National Endowment for the Humanities: “The Birth of an American Empire”
A set of four lessons that provide guiding questions, background information, preparation instructions, and lesson activities.

 

Other Resources for Black History MonthScreen Shot 2014-02-07 at 4.07.35 PM

“African American History Month”
A (fantastic!) collection of resources from the Library of Congress, National Archives, and other organizations. Be sure to click on all of the main tabs, e.g. “Exhibits and Collections,” “For Teachers,” and “Audio/Video.”

National Endowment for the Humanities: History and Social Studies Curricula
These resources are not specifically tailored for Black History Month, but the extensive list of curricula can be searched by selecting subtopics such as “African American,” “Slavery,” and “Civil Rights.”

The History Channel: “Black History Timeline”
This timeline, ranging from 1619 to 2009, provides useful, succinct descriptions of key milestones.

Scholastic: “The Spirit of Service—Student Art Contest”
Challenge your students to participate in this art contest by creating a poster that commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. Open to K-12.

National Geographic: “Black History Month”
Features a collection of  resources ranging from maps on the underground railroad to an interactive summary of the history of jazz.

Choices International Education Internship

It will have been two years this summer since I joined the team at the Choices Program. I intentionally use the word team to introduce this job posting because my time at Choices has been constantly characterized by collaboration. The first day I started, I remember being asked to share my opinion on a unit that was already close to publication—Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. I read, made edits, and discussed my viewpoint with the other writers. Like that, I was welcomed on board.

Since my first month, I have had the opportunity to research and write on topics ranging from civil rights in Mississippi, to the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, to immigration reform, and the civil war in Syria. And the list goes on. When my friends or people I meet ask me what my day-to-day is like, they find it hard to believe I spend my hours reading history or keeping up with the news, and then finding creative ways to make these topics accessible to high school students. While some are confused by the concept of curriculum development, a common reaction is to comment on how fascinating it must be. I couldn’t agree more!

Coming straight from college, reading, research, and writing are all-too-familiar skills. But it did not take long after beginning my job to recognize the immense opportunities and welcome challenges inherent to working for Choices. Whether it was learning how to frame a complex event in history for fourteen to eighteen year-olds, or pushing myself to interview scholars on topics with which I was previously unfamiliar, my experiences at Choices mark a clear shift from anything I have worked on in the past. More importantly, contributing to the Choices Program has meant working to show students that their opinions on history and current public policies matter. That is truly the best part!

As the International Education Intern, you are involved in almost every part of Choices’ operations. Developing and updating curricula is the main gig, but then there are online Teaching with the News lessons to create, video interviews to help with, marketing materials to edit, and summer institutes to attend (and enjoy). You take away not only expanded skills in research and writing, but also an understanding of how to work with scholars across multiple fields and a familiarity with nonprofit operations in an academic setting. Which leads me to discuss the honor of being part of the Brown University community at large…

If I didn’t have the time in college to see every speaker or attend art openings, I feel that I have had the best of both worlds at Choices; I end the workday at five and have access to all the events of a university campus (and those of RISD as well). Plus, Brown is great to their employees. Free yoga classes, staff days where you get to learn about the history of Brown or sit in on classes, and incredible holiday parties. Needless to say, Brown and Providence have been wonderful and unpredictable places to explore.

photo 1

View across the river from the Choices offices.

You should apply for the International Education Internship if you are passionate about international issues, history, policy, and/or education. If you have any questions regarding the position, Choices, Brown University, or living in Providence, I am more than happy to answer them. You can reach me at leah_elliott@brown.edu.

In keeping with the BuzzFeed trend of making lists for everything, I’ve compiled two for your viewing pleasure:

Top 6 Memorable Moments as an International Education Intern

  1. Discussing politics with civil rights activist Judy Richardson at the Choices Summer Institute
  2. Searching the Brown archives for the original All-India Census documents from 1931 in order to make a data lesson for our India/Pakistan curriculum
  3. Writing a Teaching with the News lesson on the 2012 Presidential Election
  4. Auditing a class at Brown on modern Indian history
  5. Dropping everything to work with the writing team on a lesson regarding the civil war in Syria when President Obama threatened the U.S. use of force
  6. Meeting all the people who work in my building at the Continuing Education staff development day

5 Things I Didn’t Expect to Take Away from the International Education Internship

  1. A deep interest in the events going on in Egypt
  2. Knowing how to make a digital textbook with iBooks software
  3. The inability to read an article without finding typos or grammatical errors
  4. Understanding (well, sort of) the complex copyright system for photographs and video resources
  5. Knowledge about the quirks and hidden wonders of Rhode Island (our Administrative Manager, Kathie, helped with this one!)

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the State of the Union

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.”

-Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union Address, 1964

Coming on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty speech, there is a lot of speculation regarding whether President Obama will capitalize on this timing to address U.S. poverty in his 2014 State of the Union Address on January 28th.

A recent article in The New Yorker, “The ‘P’ Word: Why Presidents Stopped Talking About Poverty,” provides an overview of the number of times poverty has appeared in State of the Union addresses since Lyndon Johnson’s last term in office.

The author of the piece, Jeff Shesol, points out that it took five presidents and twenty-three years for the term poverty, or “the poor,” to be said in State of the Union addresses the same number of times as during the Johnson administration. (President Johnson used those words forty times; so far, for President Obama, the tally stands at eight.)

As your students watch and discuss the State of the Union Address on January 28, have them take note of those topics, including poverty, that do and do not make the cut in the president’s formal statement. Will Obama overcome presidential fears of the “P” word(s), or will he avoid the rhetoric that had powerful (and controversial) implications for 1964?

Be sure to check out our “Surveying State of the Union Addresses” Teaching with the News Lesson, which we first released last January. This lesson features an interactive video timeline (including LBJ’s 1964 speech) and updated graphic organizers for your students to fill out before and after the address.

In the lesson, students will:

  • Understand the constitutional basis and history of the State of the Union Address
  • Explore significant moments in twentieth century State of the Union Addresses and identify important historic themes
  • Collaborate with classmates to identify likely topics for the State of the Union Address
  • Assess President Obama’s State of the Union Address

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Have You Developed an Innovative Approach to Teaching About September 11?

The 9/11 Tribute Center annually presents awards to teachers who have created exemplary educational projects that help sustain the memory of September 11th. Innovative teachers are honored for how they have engaged their students in the discussion of the ongoing impact of September 11th, and for their focus on humanitarian responses to 9/11. Projects selected have introduced 9/11 through curricula in the arts and humanities: history, language arts, visual, media and performing arts.  Each school receives a financial gift and framed Certificate of Merit, presented during a formal award ceremony.

Submissions should include:

  • Project description
  • The inspiration for the project
  • Examples of resources or lessons plans used
  • Photos of the students working and samples of their project(s) and,
  • Reflections on the experience.

Submissions can be emailed to education@tributewtc.org. Please include your name, school name and address, grade(s) involved in project, and number of class periods used for this project.

More information, including information on past award winners, can be found at tributewtc.org  All applications are due by January 27th, 2014.

Google Takes on History

On November 13, 2013, Google India released a video advertisement, Reunion, which tells the story of two fictional, elderly men—Baldev and Yusuf— who are long-lost childhood friends. Baldev lives in India, and Yusuf lives in Pakistan. Baldev’s granddaughter uses the Google search engine to track down Yusuf, and then coordinates a reunion between the two men with the help of Yusuf’s grandson.

Within twenty-four hours of its release, Reunion had well over 900,000 views. To date, the advertisement has been watched over 10.6 million times on YouTube. Why has Reunion with its simple plot, become so immensely popular?

The story is sweet, but interestingly, takes on one of the most volatile events of the twentieth century—the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into separate states, Pakistan and India. Partition coincided with the end of British colonial rule in the region, and led to the migration, often forced, of some twelve million people and the deaths of one million. Reunion does not mention partition in word, but implies that this moment had far-reaching consequences, including ripping best friends apart. One gathers that Baldev, a Hindu, left his childhood home of Lahore for India, while Yusuf, a Muslim, witnessed Lahore become the capital city of Pakistan.  Then, over six decades later, these men—separated by time, distance, and their different nationalities—embrace one another in a heartfelt reunion facilitated in part by Google’s search engine.

Why would Google take on such a sensitive topic, one of loss, hardship, and national identity? Sandeep Menon, the director of marketing at Google India, stated, “We wanted to strike up a conversation to showcase the different uses of Google, and tell magical stories that show why our users love the product.” Reunion is no doubt a “magical” story, but the history that it touches upon runs wide and deep across the Indian subcontinent and not without controversy. Partition is no lighthearted matter, and its darker sides are left untouched in Reunion.

Ultimately, Reunion can be seen as a commentary on the continued salience of the partition of 1947.  The national boundaries of India and Pakistan were created during partition, yet these physical boundaries remain contested, as many people’s identities cannot be neatly divided between the two countries. Reunion also demonstrates that the history of partition is negotiable, not just for individuals, but for large corporations with their own set of interests as well. Google seems to be using partition to prod people into not only watching Reunion, but also into joining the over one billion people who use Google as their go-to search engine.

If you are interested in exploring the history of partition and the subcontinent’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, check out Choices’ curriculum unit, Indian Independence and the Question of Partition (released August 2013). The trailer below provides a summary of the main themes explored in the unit.

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