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Memory Trunk


It is often said that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Here, we ask students to remember in order to repeat --the act of remembering. This assignment asks students to remember by making a memorial to a person who made an impact upon them. In addition to teaching students the importance of rememberin g those who have passed away, this assignment connects the student’s experience to a broader legacy. Throughout history, different civilizations have erected memorials to show respect and to remember the dead. Indeed, most of the world’s existing antiquities represent memorials, from the Egyptian and Mexican Pyramids, to Greek temples and tombs, to India’s Taj Mahal. In the recent past, scholars have explored the role of memorials and the importance of sharing memories as a group in order to collectively grieve and remember.




You will need:
Lesson plan length: 2 – 6 weeks.
A box or container that opens and closes.
Objects that may serve as memory trunks include donated purses, shoe boxes, inexpensive plasticware and cardboard jewelry boxes big enough to include the assignment components.
Items to assist in decorating trunks including craft paint, pens, construction paper, fabric, decals, etc.
Presentation tools depending upon class capabilities.
Presentation tools depending upon class capabilities. low tech: poster board for each group to present Photo-Essay and for display in classroom. high tech: computer assisted PowerPoint presentations to post on the classroom website.

Instructor’s role: Initially, instructors play a directive role in going over the reading, glossary terms, and discussing examples. Instructors should evaluate the enclosed resources and determine the relevancy of the samples to their students. Instructors should consider integrating local history whenever possible.

Lesson Hypothesis:
This assignment allows students to place themselves within a broader continuum of human experience and teaches the importance of acknowledging loss and of remembering.

goals & objectives

In completing this lesson, successful students will:

• Define and understand the glossary terms included.
• Compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.
• Identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.
• Recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including the limitations on determining cause and effect. • Interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.
• Understand the meaning, implication, and impact of historical events and recognize that events could have taken other directions.
• Analyze human modifications of landscapes and examine the resulting environmental policy issues.
• Work on a memory trunk both at home and in the classroom.
• Remember someone from their lives.
• Share their memory trunks with the class.
• Reflect on each other’s memory trunks and different approaches to making a memorial.

the lesson

Exercise 1: Remembering to Remember
Students are encouraged to review what they have learned in Social Studies to date and explore how and why it is important to remember the past. While this is a relatively simple lesson to complete, its long-term rewards to students can be immeasurable. As individuals in a rapidly changing world, students are accustomed to new technologies, transformed landscapes and death (often through mediated forms). The importance of acknowledging loss in its varying levels is an important step in remembering the past. This is a good assignment to do around Halloween and El Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead.

The Instructor should go over the glossary terms and discuss social history and the concept of remembering with the class. History at its most basic is the study of change over time and the formal analysis of this change.

Why is History important?

  • To show discovery and lessons learned, as in the case of the history of medicine.
  • To make meaning of the human condition.
  • To acknowledge loss.
  • To advocate reform or change.

According to William Lund: “History is important because WE ARE the past: we are the sum of all the events--good, bad, and indifferent--that have happened to us. This sum product guides our actions in the present…. The only way we can understand who we are and how we got to be that way is by studying the past. Similarly, the only way we can understand others is by studying their past. If we don't understand what made them who they are--in terms of how they think and act--we will make all sorts of mistakes in our interactions with them. Think of how you treat people differently based on how you know them. The same is true for countries when it comes to diplomacy. Our failures in Iraq were borne of a limited understanding of who they are (because we haven't taken the time to truly study and understand their past).”

Instructors should go over the following questions with the class as a group: What are the different ways that we remember as a society? Why do we remember? Who and what do we choose to remember in our community? Should we include other subjects? Why? Why not?


  • Veterans Day: who or what are we remembering?
  • Presidents Day: who or what are we remembering?
  • Columbus: who or what are we remembering?
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: who or what are we remembering?
  • Cesar Chavez: who or what are we remembering?
  • Mother’s day, Father’s day: who or what are we remembering?
  • Day of the Dead: who or what are we remembering?

Memorials are public markers or monuments to the past and can be for a specific person, place or thing. Memorials are done to honor the dead and the living. Memorials are important recognitions of death and loss. What are examples of memorials from your city?

  • Flag at half mast
  • Statues
  • Murals
  • Newspaper obituaries
  • Cemeteries
  • Stamps
  • Tattoos
  • Online memorial pages
  • Highway and building dedications

Instructors should review local history and determine any memorials in the community.

Exercise 2: Memory Trunk Assignment Sheet
For homework, assign the “Memory Trunk Assignment Sheet.”
Pick a person who made a significant impact in your life that you want to remember. You will be making a memorial to this person so bring items that will embellish your container in the spirit of the person you are remembering. In addition to gathering items to decorate your memorial like craft paint, fabric, feathers, decals, or copies of photographs, consider what would best represent your subject like poetry, quotes, or songs. Consider what you will put on the inside and what will go on the outside. You will share your completed memorial with the class.

Describe the person by completing the following questions:
1. Name.
2. Birth date and place (approximations are acceptable).
3. Short story or little known facts about this person. This answer should not be a tribute to the person, but as honest an assessment as possible.
4. Why is this person special?

Exercise 3: Building A Memory Trunk
Students should spend time individually and in groups to create their memorials using their containers and the completed “Memory Trunk Assignment Sheets.” Students should share the completed trunks by displaying them in the classroom and through class presentations. Students should answer the four questions from their “Memory Trunk Assignment Sheets” as well as explain their design decisions.

Instructors should reflect on the assignment with the class after it is completed. Did they enjoy the process? Was there anything they learned about in completing the assignment? Were there any stand out examples the class thought worthy of sharing with the school or the local community?

William Lund. “Why is history important? – Yahoo! Answers.” Yahoo!. accessed on November 15, 2008.

case studies

"Durango" by Max Benavidez

"Remembering to Remember: An Homage to Karen Boccalero