Life writing – which includes a wide spectrum of sub-genres such as (auto)biography, memoir, letter, diary, (digital) life stories, and oral histories – has a long tradition in the U.S. and is becoming more and more popular all over the world. An abundance of artifacts compiled by famous, semi-famous, and not-at-all-famous people fill public libraries, private bookshelves, research centers, social media, hard drives, and websites. And that’s actually not even surprising since writing and/or talking about ourselves is a deeply rooted cultural practice and comes very naturally to most human beings. We do it all the time: We tell a significant someone how our day was, we put together our résumé when applying for a new job, we talk about childhood memories with siblings or a close friend. However, talking and writing about ourselves in an academic context and, to boot, in a foreign language is a completely different story.
Intellectual legacies of colonization play a powerful role in shaping how mainstream U.S. and global society has come to see Native Americans. Artwork from the 19th and 20th centuries – such as James Earle Fraser’s sculpture, “The End of the Trail” – have helped to create the image of Native Americans on horseback as representations most associated with Indigenous populations of North America. Type “Native American” into a search engine, and you’ll likely get many historical images of Great Plains Indians. In parts of Europe as well, the perception of Native Americans has been shaped in unique ways by authors like Karl May and the later movies based on his books. Without a doubt, our students’ perceptions about Native Americans are influenced by these fantasies and representations.
It’s that time of year again. February 1 marks the beginning of Black History Month. Before I suggest some useful resources, let’s briefly look at its origins.
Fact 1: The United States is not the only country to officially celebrate it. In addition to our neighbors to the North, who also celebrate this time of remembrance in February, the Irish and the United Kingdom observe Black History Month in October.
Fact 2: The roots of Black History Month in the U.S. can be traced back to historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, who together marked the second week of February – which coincides with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – as Negro history week in 1926.
Fact 3: Even the Great Emancipator had his failures, and so it’s undoubtedly best that in 1969 students at Kent State moved to celebrate the contributions and culture of Black Americans for an entire month, instead of placing President Lincoln, who upheld the mass public hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux on December 26, 1862, in the center of their celebrations.
So, if your school has never celebrated Black History Month before, it’s never too late to get on that ‘soul train’. And since we didn’t want to leave you in the lurch, we’ve provided a list of some suitable blogs we’ve published over the years on subjects, ranging from cultural icons, such as Aretha Franklin, Don Cornelius, and Beyoncé, to best books and fabulous films dealing with Black identity and history. You’ll also find information on some current controversies:
A virtual what? asked the perplexed high-school principal on the other end of the line. I was halfway through my one-minute pitch of the BEST Virtual Newsroom, a new cross-cultural media-literacy program for German and American teens. Apparently in a hurry, he huffed and quickly passed me on to a teacher of English at the Hamburg school. To my relief, she was more enthusiastic about the opportunity. She promised to distribute the call for applications.
I made that first cold-call in spring 2021. The Amerikazentrum Hamburg, a binational cultural institute, had approached me a few weeks earlier with the germ of an idea. Why not develop a virtual program to teach teens in Hamburg and its U.S. sister city Chicago the basics of journalism? A firm believer that media literacy is needed now more than ever, I loved the idea. I threw myself into the planning right away.
Ok, people. This is probably not going to be the most exciting post you’ve ever read, but if you teach at an institute of higher learning – especially in Germany – this post on our experiences with Grammarly Premium for the past year at Leuphana University Lüneburg may interest you warts, oops, I mean statistics and all.
Let’s start at the beginning for any of you who haven’t been bombarded with Grammarly ads. Grammarly Premium is a one-of-a-kind app for writers that uses artificial intelligence to scan a writer’s work in real time. It not only finds spelling errors, plagiarism, and over 400 types of grammar mistakes, it also offers suggestions on how to improve your writing style. It allows users to set the audience (reader’s level of expertise on the topic), register (formal or informal), tone, type of writing (academic, business, creative, technical, or personal), and genre (review, letter, fiction, etc.). None of Grammarly’s competitors has such sophisticated settings, which is one of the reasons we – after seriously reviewing the top five competitors, including ProWritingAid – decided to try it out with our students at Leuphana. Read more
It’s not easy to make a biopic that pleases the critics. And, to some extent, Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons, falls into that category. Harriet weaves together facts about Harriet Tubman’s life into a compelling story, but some critics are not so enthusiastic about the film’s aesthetic qualities. In Harriet, there are no truly unusual composition of shots or camerawork the likes of 12 Years a Slave, and the physical horrors of slavery receive almost no screen time, leading some to wonder if audiences are sophisticated enough to fill in the gaps. The audience sees, for example, the scars of brutal beatings without any supporting dialogue. Thankfully, Lemmons resists the temptation to take an overly didactic or ‘preachy’ approach. Any aspects of slavery – and there are several – that the film does not cover can be dealt with as film preparation. It is unrealistic to believe that one film can show all there is to show about slavery. It’s not the focus of the film anyway. This is in, the words of its director, a “freedom film.”
Both of these so-called limitations that I’ve just mentioned, however, make the film accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. They further make Harriet, rated PG-13, an excellent film to explore with EFL students in upper-secondary schools, especially since teachers are deeply concerned about the impact of media violence on young people. Let’s face it, some scenes in 12 Years a Slave, rated R, may overwhelm or traumatize teenagers. Before outlining further reasons for using the film in the (German) EFL classroom and providing some original teaching materials for this action-packed film, let’s preview the trailer and get a taste of the experience: