Found History 6–12
Understand bias in history through exploring exhibit text and creating a found poem.
GRADE LEVEL: SUGGESTED FOR GRADES 6–12
Humans are the authors of history, and therefore bias is weaved into the stories told. Depending on who is telling the story, when they lived, and what they experienced, one person’s take on something may be different from another’s. Gather fragments and phrases from text in the Becoming Los Angeles exhibition and use them to construct a found poem. Explore Angelenos’ experiences throughout time by sharing and discussing these poems.
- Poetry can be created using found text
- History has inherent bias because it is authored by humans
- Bias can be shown through word choice and inclusion or exclusion of subject matter
- Students will build a poem using found text fragments and discuss its “slant” or “take” on the exhibition
- Students will discuss historical authorship bias and subjectivity
- Students will understand that multiple forms of bias exist: cultural bias, time period bias, associative bias, etc.
Becoming Los Angeles Hall
- Found History Notes (at the end of this page)
- Strips of paper (for building an example poem as a group)
- Blank paper or notebooks (for gathering found text during exhibit exploration)
- Clipboards (optional)
- Construction paper, markers, glue, tape, scissors, etc. for poem building (if doing this part back in the classroom)
- Found Text
- Found Poem
1. The educator will introduce students to the concept of bias and lead them through a poem-building example.
2. Students will free-explore the Becoming Los Angeles exhibition and collect fragments of text from signs and objects that they find interesting.
3. Students will build a poem from the fragments they collect.
4. Reconvening in a group, students will voluntarily share their poems and discuss differences in how they each interpreted the exhibition.
Introduction (5–10 min)
Inside the Becoming Los Angeles exhibition, lead students to the Mission displays, the L.A. Aqueduct display, or the Mexican-American War display. Using one of these displays, introduce the concept of bias. Explain that bias is a prejudice for or against something, and that it’s usually considered to be unfair. Bias can be shown through language choice, associations between events and people, the explanation of events through the eyes of one culture, events explained from a present-day perspective, or even the subject matter itself (i.e. what is included or excluded).
Look at the language of the display. What kind of effect does it have? What are the important words? What if those words were different?
Point out that there are multiple sides to the information seen in the display. Are multiple sides, or points of view, represented here? Which ones might be left out, and why?
Who is the intended audience or who is represented by the display?
What is “authorship?” Can you be an author of history? How? Is it possible for an author to be objective? Why or why not?
Why does it matter who tells a story or a history? How might that affect what you—the students— ultimately learn?
Group Example (5–10 min)
Pass out strips of paper and explain to students that they will be exploring point of view using found text, a collection of words and phrases gathered from a written work or multiple works. First, do an example together; ask students to look around the chosen section of the hall to find a text fragment or phrase that they like or that makes them think. It is important to note that the phrases don’t have to make sense—they only need to sound interesting to the students. Each student will write their fragment in big letters on their strip of paper. Gather the text fragments and show students the possibilities of cutting and arranging phrases in interesting ways. You may end up with some nonsensical phrases, but as long as the content came from the text of the exhibit, feel free to use it.
Next, show students how to build a found poem by putting some of the pieces together. A found poem is the literary equivalent of a collage, a poem created by reassembling found text to create new meaning. Add or cut single words as necessary to help it fit. When the piece is done, read it out loud and ask students what they hear or observe. Does the poem make sense? What kind of ideas or themes does it present? Does it give the same impression as the exhibit? Does it have a bias? Why or why not? If so, what kind?
Exhibit Exploration (15 min)
Pass out sheets of paper, or have students take out their notebooks. Ask students to wander the entire exhibit, collecting as many phrases and words as they can in 15–30 minutes. Remind them not to try to fit the phrases together beforehand, but just to pick whatever attracts them. Quantity of text pieces is most important at this step, as students can always cut out text as they build. Students may focus on a single section or try to view the whole exhibit, but they should have at least 15 separate phrases by the time they’re done exploring.
Poem Build (10–15min)
Note: This can be done back in the classroom. Once the students have collected their fragments and phrases, regroup and show/read them one or two examples of found poems. Next, ask them to build their own poems by fitting together some of the phrases they’ve found. Make sure students know that they don’t need to use all of their found text. Students can add connecting words (e.g. and, the, except) if necessary, but they should limit that as much as possible. The pieces can be nonsensical, but students should have a finished product to discuss.
Discussion (10–15 min)
Have students volunteer to share their pieces, and ask the group what meaning they think the pieces convey. Does the poem have a theme? Does it present the exhibition in a certain way? Perhaps one student has a feminist take while another student’s lines are in chronological order. Bring the discussion back to the idea of bias. Are their works “biased”? Did everyone see the exhibit in the same way or not? If they had only heard one or two of the pieces, what might they think of the exhibition? What did hearing all of the pieces do for their perception? How might this phenomenon affect the way historical texts are understood?
When collecting, look for a variety of phrases:
- Complex or unusual nouns: (“The grandson of slaves”; “Radium Sulphur Springs”)
- Complex or unusual verbs: (“became the planet Mars”; “and tenders the mark and brand in the margin”)
- Prepositional phrases: (“like this City of Angels;” “on a kitchen table in New York in as little as seven days”)
Try to cut already-interesting sentences open by splitting prepositions from their objects, cutting out prepositional phrases, or splitting adjectives from their nouns:
- …Death Valley stood in [for Egypt]
- …an elegant refuge in the heart [of Los Angeles]
- …the tick-tick-tick of the Rain Bird [sprinkler system]
Pull from artifacts themselves, and not just from signage in the exhibit:
- “…and tenders the mark and brand in the margin (as the brand assumed by him and upon examination of the record)” -from a record of Ranchers’ brands and counterbrands
- “…Oh! How it sparkles; oh! how it foams. It chases a microbe wherever it roams…” -from an early 20th century advertisement for Radium Sulphur Springs
- “Days of Thrills and Laughter” -the name of a movie made in early Hollywood
Sample Line List
at the time Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo arrived Unknown Date
hot tar between rows
landscapes that once resembled well-kept parks made up a racially mixed community
locked young women away separately performed in secret
work acquiring souls…and new subjects… like this City of Angels
the American people were erupting
The grandson of slaves
She died at age 112
Plan de la ciudad de Los Ángeles
more easily bought, sold, and subdivided fly to new locations in swarms
this devastator locust
disaster completed the damage
an elegant refuge in the heart
settled with knives, guns, or iron knuckles
This wooden pipe
essentially viewed as nonpersons
shipped around Cape Horn
crossfire between rival Chinese groups
Calle de los Negros
Key to Los Angeles County Jail
Orange Empire Trolley Trip
There it is! Take it!
Oh! How it sparkles; oh! how it foams. It chases a microbe wherever it roams
Radium Sulphur Springs
on a kitchen table in New York in as little as seven days
City residents limped through
Death Valley stood in
became the planet Mars
Days of Thrills and Laughter
this rickety plane
hundreds of thousands of curious spectators Todd Shipyards
Renegade skateboarding in L.A. swimming pools left dry
the tick-tick-tick of the Rain Bird
at the time Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo arrived —this devastator locust—
the American people were erupting
before being hollowed out into finished hot tar between rows.
Performed in secret
the tick-tick-tick of the Rain Bird
became the planet Mars:
an elegant refuge in the heart.
Now on this day comes Teresa Palomarez shipped around Cape Horn.
She died at age 112
on a kitchen table in New York in as little as seven days.
Deadman’s Island was deemed a navigational hazard like this City of Angels.
There it is! Take it. [The]
Key to Los Angeles County Jail.
settled with knives, guns, or iron knuckles burned more easily and more frequently [than] this rickety plane.
In years when wild crops failed,
hundreds of thousands of curious spectators locked young women away separately
in the margin.
Women’s work began
to produce desirable objects
The United States prevailed
and tender[ed] the mark and brand
Oh! How it sparkles; oh! how it foams.
Days of Thrills and Laughter.
Common Core State Standards Connections - ELA/Literacy
RST.6-8.2, SL.8.1, SL.8.4, SL.8.5, WHST.6-8.9
SL.11-12.5, WHST.9-12.9, RST.11-12.7, RST.11-12.