Objective: Through the use of stories and photographs from the White Bear Lake area, students will discuss the advantages and challenges of oral history.
Materials: Various versions of “The Legend of White Bear Lake,” to be read by the teacher or students. Photograph for projection or display.
Preparation: Post the photograph linked below in a place where it will be noticeable, but don’t draw attention to it during the first part of class.
Introduction: Tell the students that the class will be focusing on local history and developing new historical skills. We tend to think of history as being about people from long ago and far away, but that’s not necessarily true. History is all around us, even in our own backyard! You can look at the big picture of world history, or national, state, city, or even family history. For the next few days [or hours or weeks, however you spread out the local history lesson] we’ll be learning about White Bear Lake history. Learning about our own town’s history can be very exciting, but there are also some challenges. Local history often is not as well preserved as national and world history, and historians use many different types of sources to find out what happened. For example, think about the last family vacation you took. You might have brought back photos or told stories to your friends about your adventures, but you probably didn’t write a book about your trip. Similarly, a lot of local history comes from oral and pictorial sources. For example, the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes who originally lived around the lake relied on oral history to explain how White Bear Lake got its name.
Oral history: Read the various legends of White Bear Lake, or have the students read them. Why do you think there are different stories? Point out the photo that has been displayed in the room and then remove it so the students cannot refer to it. Ask several students to tell you what was happening in the picture. Are our memories always accurate? When would oral history be the most useful? Discuss the advantages and challenges of oral history (you may even want to write the main points on the board).