Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hastings debate

I'm sometimes asked to review other people's work, usually written, but this month I was asked to review something different: a debate. Eighth grade history teacher Eric Langhorst of Liberty, Missouri, divided his third-period class into two sections and showed them Ric Burns' documentary, after which the two teams debated whether or not Lansford W. Hastings was responsible for the Donner Party disaster. I listened to an MP3 of the debate received via e-mail (a podcast of the debate will soon be available at and e-mailed Mr. Langhorst my comments. As usually happens, the pro-Hastings and anti-Hastings sides both made some excellent points and some errors, but in spite of their limited exposure to the subject I think the students did a pretty good job.

Catching up

I may have been inactive on the blog for the past two months, but I haven't forsaken the Donner Party -- I've been busy researching, reading, and e-mailing. Especially e-mailing! A bumper crop of students are working on Donner Party projects for National History Day this year -- I must have had ten different groups contact me for information. I received e-mail from one person working on a Donner Party screenplay and from someone else planning a documentary. (I get similar requests every year, but 2007 is getting off to a fast start.) I've reviewed some manuscripts and critiqued a debate. There's lots of interest in the Donner Party out there and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, finally results.