History is replete with examples of what humans are capable of in times of war, including horrible crimes against their fellow humans. In this case, the students are looking at war not from a military perspective, but a civilian one. Not just a civilian, but a survivor. The subject of the graphic novel The Complete Maus is one of a handful who lived to tell others about one of the worst atrocities committed in recent memory: The Holocaust. This lesson for 11th graders utilizes a discussion of the graphic novel and the creation of graphic novels about the Holocaust by the students themselves, pulling information from The Complete Maus and other primary and secondary sources.
Art Spiegelman created this two volume set as a way to become closer to his father and to learn more about his experiences as he was interred in a concentration camp during World War II. The author uses mice, rats, and cats as the anthropomorphic representations of the players in this drama to dazzling effect. This Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel will transport the students back in time, and show them heart-wrenching glimpses of what it was like to survive at a time when survival was no longer a guarantee, but impossible for millions.
Researching this topic will give the students a wider world view of what went on in this turbulent time, strengthening their research skills by looking for both primary and secondary sources, their critical thinking skills since they are looking at a historical fact, and their critical reading skills as they try to understand the tone and context of Mr. Spiegelman’s words and images. When they combine all of these, their own graphic novels will reflect the hard work and effort that it took to learn about a subject that is denied by some, yet mourned and remembered by all.
Special thanks to Melodi Pulliam, graduate of NKU's Library Informatics program, for creating this lesson as part of her Capstone Project before graduating in 2014. Image Source: Penguin Random House -
Primary sources are first-hand accounts of historical events, like the Holocaust (including books, letters, recordings, etc.) while Secondary sources are materials written about the event after it has already happened…that is why you need both to study and cite history and it’s facts (UTSC, 2014).
University of Toronto-Scarborough Library. (2014, Mar. 19). Primary & Secondary sources explained. In Finding Primary Sources: Research Guides. Retrieved from guides.library.utoronto.ca
Assignment for an 11th grade audience: Students will read The Complete Maus as a starting point and from there, research the Holocaust using primary and secondary sources. They will use this information to create their own graphic novel about the Holocaust.
1.This assignment will be one where students can let their creative juices flow. The students will be creating a graphic novel of their own, based around some aspect of the Holocaust (their choice), drawing information from primary and secondary sources (3-5 with 3 being the minimum), with the proper citations.
2. Students will do a mix of online and in person research to get the needed information.
3. This will be the point when they set up the tone, context and overall “feel” of their graphic novel, and they will illustrate it as they see fit. Please remember that these will be on display later for others to see, so not too much violence or criminal activity (self-explanatory).
4. This lesson is meant to show students many different point of views and experiences of the Holocaust, and for students to collect some of those views and experiences and create a perspective (their own) that is unique and original (a fresh set of eyes).
Recommended Websites for Further Research
Also, please encourage the students to do their own search through the Library of Congress website, as they will find many valuable primary and secondary sources directly from before, during and after the time period. Library of Congress homepage: http://www.loc.gov/
Kentucky Standards and Common Core Standards for lesson
The lesson uses the Kentucky state History of the Holocaust-High School Curriculum Guide for standards and best practices. The Kentucky Standards and their definitions are listed first, followed by the corresponding Common Core Standards.
Students will understand that history is an account of human activities that is interpretive in nature, and a variety of tools (e.g., primary and secondary sources, data, and artifacts) are needed to analyze historical events.
Students will understand that history is a series of connected events shaped by multiple cause-effect relationships, tying past to present.
Program of Studies: Skills and Concepts
Students will demonstrate an understanding of the interpretative nature of history using a variety of tools (e.g., primary and secondary sources, Internet, timelines, maps, and data):
a) Students will investigate and analyze perceptions and perspectives (e.g., gender, race, region, ethnic group, nationality, age, economic status, religion, politics, and geographic factors) of people and historical events in the modern world (world civilizations, U.S. history)
b) Students will examine multiple cause-effect relationships that have shaped history (e.g., showing how a series of events are connected)
The above standards are all Kentucky created standards that are aligned with these Common Core Standards:
Students will use a variety of tools (e.g., primary and secondary sources, data, artifacts) to analyze perceptions and perspectives (e.g., gender, race, region, ethnic group, nationality, age, economic status, religion, politics, geographic factors) of people and historical events in the modern world (1500 A.D. to present) and United States History (Reconstruction to present).
Students will analyze how history is a series of connected events shaped by multiple cause and effect relationships, tying past to present.