Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Truth in History and The Battle of Who Run
Author:
Kyle Norwood
Course:
US History
Time Frame:
2 block scheduled periods (3 hours)
Subjects:
World War I

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • This activity asks the essential question “Is it ever possible to know the truth with a capital “T”? The focus is on Captain Harry S. Truman’s command of Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery during what became known as the “Battle of Who Run” in August 1918.   Students begin the activity with the telephone game that hooks into a larger discussion about truth in history from the perspective of a 20th century historian.  A variety of primary sources reveal the complexity of historical interpretation and memory from the point of view of President Truman and his contemporaries.  The activity concludes with an assessment that engages students with family members in an interpretation of their own lives.

Rationale:
  • The purpose of this activity is to lead students to their own conclusions about how they can become better historians.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Standard 29 Social Studies skills.  The student applies critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of valid sources, including electronic technology. 
  • Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Standard 30 Social Studies skills.  The student communicates in written, oral, and visual forms.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • “Captain Harry Truman.” National Park Service, n.d., https://www.nps.gov/articles/captain-harry-truman.htm
  • Erickson, Hal.  Military Comedy Films:  A Critical Survey and Filmography of Hollywood Releases Since 1918.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012
  • Handlin, Oscar.  Truth in History.  Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979.
  • McCullough, David.  Truman.  New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1992. 
  • Paul, Marla.  “Your Memory is like the Telephone Game.”  Northwestern Now, Northwestern University, 19 September 2012, https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2012/09/your-memory-is-like-the-telephone-game

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Williams, Tammy.  Somewhere in France.  Presentation as part of the 15th Annual Truman Library Teachers’ Conference “The United States and World War One” at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, MO, 16-20 July 2018.
  • Link to letters

Full description of activity or assignment.

Background:  Provide students with a background of President Truman’s World War I experience. 

 

  • For teachers, read David McCullough’s Truman, pages 116-135.

 

 

Hook Exercise:  Begin the activity with the telephone game.  If not familiar with this game consult the following link:  https://www.wikihow.com/Play-the-Telephone-Game 

  • One suggestion for a quote with which to begin the game is “Captain Harry S. Truman commanded Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery during the Battle of Who Run in August 1918.”  A similar but shorter statement might be more appropriate, depending on the level of instruction.

 

 

Activity (Part I)

  • Assign students in pairs a secondary source document from “Oscar Handlin on Truth in History” (see below, Attachment A).  Instruct them to re-write the statement in their own words with no more than three or four sentences.  Have a discussion about the complexity of interpreting the past.  Draw distinctions between “the past” and “history.”  One approach might be to link the objective bits and pieces of “the past” to the subjective interpretation of those facts by historians (“history”).  End with a question about the limits of finding objective truth when interpreting the past.

 

 

 

Activity (Part II)

  • In groups of seven assign each group member a primary source from Tammy Williams’ Presentation “Somewhere in France.”  Students will focus on the documents under the title “War and Memory:  ‘The Battle of Who Run.’”  The link is here

 

  • On butcher paper, students will copy the chart “Somewhere in France:  War, Memory, and ‘The Battle of Who Run’” (see below, Attachment B).  The chart will be completed by each group.

 

  • Each student will address the “Journal Questions” listed with the chart (see below, Attachment B).

 

  • Each group will perform a gallery walk of the charts attached to the wall.  Provide groups with different color markers and instruct them to make comments on each chart.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Create a timeline of your life from the time you were born to the age you are now.
  1. Using butcher paper, draw a timeline with a mark for each year of your life (10 points).
  2. Use one color to write the three most important events of your life on the timeline.  Label each event with your age and a brief description of what happened and why it is important.  Be creative and think of images that are reflective of these events.  Sketch them in.  (15 points)
  3. Ask family members what they think are the three most important events of your life.  Use a different color to place those events on the timeline.  Label each event with your age and a brief description of what happened and why they think it was important.  (15 points)
  4. On notebook paper, write a reflection that:
    1. describes the similarities and differences between the events you chose and those your family chose (15 points);
    2. explains why you think you and your family members interpreted the past similarly or different (15 points);
    3. includes at least 1 specific reference to any of the secondary sources and at least 2 specific references to any of the primary sources used in this activity (15 points);
    4. addresses the essential question:  Is it ever possible to know the Truth with a Capital “T”? (15 points).
  5. Oscar Handlin on “Truth in History”

     

    Secondary Source I.

     

    Subtle links join subjective to objective elements in the practice of the historian’s craft.  While the world of the elapsed past has its own reality, independent of who attempts to view and describe it, and is thus objective, the scholar’s vision is subjective, at least to the extent that his own point of observation and the complex lenses of prejudice, interest, and preconception shape what he discerns and therefore what he can portray. 

     

    Source:  Oscar Handlin, Truth in History (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979), 1

     

     

    Secondary Source II.

     

    The historian consequently must know not only how to explore the sources and how to fit together the data garnered from them, but also in internal and external constraints which affect the performance of those tasks.  As a result, he depends both on a command of techniques and on self-understanding . . . recogniz[ing] that only an awareness of his own situation can offset the distortions of a limited perspective. 

     

    Source:  Oscar Handlin, Truth in History (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979), 1

     

     

    Secondary Source III.

     

    The use of history lies in its capacity for advancing the approach to truth.

     

    The historian’s vocation depends on this minimal operational article of faith:  Truth is absolute; it is absolute as the world is real.  It does not exist because individuals wish it to any more than the world exists for their convenience.  Although observers have more or less partial views of the truth, its actuality is unrelated to the desires or the particular angles of vision of the viewers.  Truth is knowable and will out it earnestly pursued; and science is the procedure or set of procedures for approximating it.

     

    What is truth?  Mighty above all things, it resides in the small pieces which together form the record.

     

    Source:  Oscar Handlin, Truth in History (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979), 405-06.

     


     

     

    Secondary Source IV.

     

    History is not the past, any more than biology is life, or physics, matter.  History is the distillation of evidence surviving from the past.  Where there is no evidence, there is no history.  Much of the past is not knowable in this way, and about those areas the historian must learn to confess ignorance.

     

    No one can relive the past; but everyone can seek truth in the record. 

     

    For, when truth ceases to be an end in itself and becomes but a means toward an end, it also becomes malleable and manageable and is in danger of losing its character . . .

     

    Oscar Handlin, Truth in History (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979), 405-06; 414.

Attachment B

 

 

Somewhere in France:  War, Memory, and “The Battle of Who Run”

 

 

Doc.

Author/Date

Purpose

Evidence (include 3 facts)

Missing Evidence (what questions about the document remain unanswered?)

A.

 

 

 

 

B.

 

 

 

 

C.

 

 

 

 

D.

 

 

 

 

E.

 

 

 

 

F.

 

 

 

 

G.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Diary Notes of August 29-30, 1918 (page 36)
  2. September 1, 1918 letter
  3. Memorandum from Major Marvin Gates to Colonel Karl Klemm
  4. November 23, 1918 letter (pages 4-9)
  5. Handwritten Account of Activities of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, ca. 1918
  6. Memoir of Sergeant Verne Chaney (pages 18-21)
  7. Longhand Note of Senator Harry S. Truman, “The Military Career of a Missourian,” ca. 1940 (pages 14-16)

Journal Questions:

  1. What kind of document is it?  a letter? diary? memorandum? recollection?  How does this information shape one’s interpretation of the document?

 

  1. What kind of language is used in the document?  formal/informal?  first, second, third person?  How does this information shape one’s interpretation of the document?

 

  1. What details (or lack thereof) do the documents reveal?  Is the document long/short?  Under which circumstances might the author have been under that helps to answer these questions?

 

  1. Do the sources collaborate what messages are being conveyed?  Cite specific examples.

 

  1. Will we ever know just what happened at “The Battle of Who Run?”  Is it ever possible to know the truth with a capital “T”?  Explain.

 

Source:  Tammy Williams, Somewhere in France.  Presentation as part of the 15th Annual Truman Library Teachers’ Conference “The United States and World War One” at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, MO, 16-20 July 2018.  Retrieved from https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/WWI%20Teacher%20Conference%20Links%20for%20Teachers%20-%20Truman%20Library.pdf