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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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Entering The Knotted Line

Download: The Knotted Line Curriculum

Foundational Understandings

* Historical narratives are “authored.” History is not a neutral, objective, or universal report on what happened at a given time.
* Historical narratives are often framed by “the winner” or dominant society, and bury other stories. Anyone can be a part of creating and uncovering the other stories. 
* Different understandings are revealed when history is studied chronologically compared to when it is studied by the relationships between events/forces/themes throughout time.

Essential Questions

* How does the past live in the present?
* Why and how does history “repeat”?


Participants will…
...see themselves as connected to the past and develop an understanding of its impacts on their own lives.
...use multiple historical viewpoints to highlight the relationship of actions of oppression and self-determination. 
...expand their understanding of the connections between historical and current historical moments.

Facilitator Preparation

* Familiarize yourself with The Knotted Line content surrounding the Chinese Immigration Act.
* Familiarize yourself with The Knotted Line content surrounding current immigration laws and resistance.

Common Core Standards

Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

Workshop Details

Length of Time:  Two 55-minute sessions
Recommended Age Range: High school age
Ideal Number of Participants: 15-30


Blank paper (scratch paper is fine), markers, pens, pencils
String and tape
Computer/projector to play online video and Entering the Knotted Line slideshow

Session 1

1. Prepare an example image for the Pictures from the Past activity.
2. Preload the Knotted Line video, cued to 1:07.

Part 1: Personal Connection & Reflection, Developing the Reason to Learn

Pictures from the Past

15 minutes
Before participants enter the space, the facilitator places a blank paper on each desk or spot where someone will sit. 

Facilitator begins with this prompt:
Choose a moment in history—anywhere in the world, any era—that has affected you in some way. 
Think about this: was there an event that led to your ancestors changing locations, was there a decision that was made that impacted your community, was there a war/disaster/revelation/encounter that changed a culture that you come from?
It could have happened hundreds of years ago or just a few years ago. 

Facilitator note: This is a good place for the facilitator to help people conceptualize the activity more concretely by sharing a personal example:
For example, an event that affected how my family’s history played out was __________.
An image that I could choose to represent that is _______________.

Everyone take a minute or two to brainstorm, then use the markers/pens/colored pencils to draw that image that could represent a moment in history that has had a serious impact on your culture, family, or community. 

Markers, pens, and pencils are available on tables/desks.
Participants draw an image responding to the prompt.

When participants finish at their own pace, facilitator asks them to write somewhere on the page a few words describing/naming the historical moment being depicted.

When everyone seems finished, transition into the next activity.

Putting the Pieces Together

25 minutes
The group’s attention is guided towards a string that has been taped to the wall or a big white board.
Four people are invited to take pieces of tape and place their historical moment images on the line. If they are related, they can group them together, otherwise they should spread them out.
A second group of four does the same. The participants should be advised to cluster drawings together that have a relationship or can build off of each other, like a magnet or word cloud or scrabble board. The images don’t all have to stay on the line, either.
This continues until everyone has placed their images on the wall.

The facilitator prompts reflection with questions:
What kinds of experiences/moments/events have shaped us and how?
What are connections between our experiences?
Have these historical moments that have shaped our lives been destructive/harmful? Have they been creative/strengthening? Both?
How have these moments that have shaped our communities/families been represented to us in history class and in U.S. media? 
Have we learned what we want to learn about the history that is relevant to us?

The facilitator transitions the group by introducing The Knotted Line:
Now that we have reflected a little bit on how history has impacted us and shaped who we are, let’s explore The Knotted Line, which is an interactive art piece and website that we can use to explore U.S. history in a more creative and critical way—in a way that reveals all of the forces at play and the way we’re a part of it all. 

Different understandings are revealed when history is looked at chronologically or when it is looked at by the relationships between events/forces/themes throughout time. So let’s watch this video and see if it helps us understand The Knotted Line more clearly as a tool for studying history...

Part 2: Develop the Concept, Move from the Personal to the Theoretical

Introduction of The Knotted Line

10 minutes
Show a segment of the video, from 1:07-8:04.


5 minutes
Facilitator asks for participants’ questions and responses.

Anything that the facilitator feels they can’t answer accurately or completely, they should record and offer to research (or invite participants to research) and bring back responses next workshop. 

The group is informed that the next workshop will involve diving into The Knotted Line and working with it now that the main ideas are clear. 

Session 2

1. Preload the Entering the Knotted Line slideshow.

Transhistorical Analysis: Connecting the Dots

45 minutes
Slideshow presentation

What follows is only a suggested script for walking through the slideshow. It should be adapted to your needs.

Slide 1:
We are going to explore how The Knotted Line works.

Slide 2:
Before we go into it, let’s think of the usual ways we learn history. 
Facilitator solicits responses from participants and writes them on the board/paper. 
Facilitator can offer examples to stimulate ideas if participants need it: books, documents, family stories, movies.
When we learn about a particular moment in history or the history of a certain people or place, do we usually learn about it from different angles? Or only one angle? 

Slide 3:
Facilitator reads slide and asks the question:
What does the prefix “trans” mean? 

Slide 4:
Facilitator offers examples to augment participant responses: 
 “TRANSatlantic” (across the ocean), “TRANSgender” (beyond or traversing gender), “TRANSformation” (change in form), TRANSportation, TRANSition….

Slide 5:
So when we say that The Knotted Line looks at history through a transhistorical view, what does that mean?

Slide 6:
Facilitator reads the slide. 

Part 3: Active Experimentation with New Knowledge and Concepts

Slide 7:
Facilitator reads the first part of the slide then asks a participant to volunteer to read the highlighted information out loud.   
Facilitator then asks:
Even if right now you don’t know anything else about this law, let’s just guess based on what this tells us—what do you think we might be able to learn or discover about race and labor and immigration laws in this country from this act? 
If you DO know anything else specific about it, share that too!
After several participant responses, the facilitator changes to the next slide. 
(Sample ideal participant responses: some immigrants are welcomed and allowed to “succeed” while others are not depending on where they come from, immigration laws are changed based on what labor the U.S. economy needs, immigrants are only valued for the work they can do.)

Slide 8:
The facilitator begins by explaining that these are two paintings from The Knotted Line. This is going to be a brief exploration of how The Knotted Line uses images to explore history and tell stories. 
The facilitator then asks participants to reflect on the first painting: 1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act:
What does this painting tell us?
What does this image have to do with that law?
What does this tell us about the process of building the railroad?
(Sample ideal participant responses: This painting shows that it was Chinese people doing the work and the white guy is dressed in a suit and off to the side without any tools. It shows that it is the white guy overseeing it while the other men are working. It shows that Chinese workers were necessary while building the railroad and then there was a law passed to exclude new immigrants when it was finished.)

After collecting several participant responses, the facilitator then asks participants to reflect on the second painting: The Last Spike. 
This painting is titled The Last Spike. What moment is being represented here?
Do you think that’s really how that moment went down?
Who do you see represented in this picture? Who is not included in the frame?
What does this image have to do with the Chinese Exclusion Act?
What story does this tell about the building of the railroad?
What does this painting reveal about how history gets told in the U.S.?

(Sample ideal participant responses: This is supposed to be the completion of the railroad. White men in suits are represented here as if they were the ones doing the work. The two Chinese workers are kneeling, holding shovels, and there is one person who looks like they are Native American. But everyone is outnumbered by white men who look important and are doing things. It shows how a painting that glorifies the technical and economic achievements of white men is also erasing of the work of people of color and poor people that created the railroad (and built much of the country). If their story isn’t included, it is easier to pass laws to exclude them because they aren’t seen as central to American history.)

Slide 9:
Facilitator reads the question: Why does this matter?
Follow up question:
Why is it important to think about laws or wars or other things that happened in the past?
Solicit several student responses.
Sample thoughts to share to add to participant responses:
The story of immigrants “stealing” jobs and “weighing down” the economy is a common story that was present in 1882 and today. Yet economic history shows that immigrants contribute a ton to local and national economies through their labor and the taxes they pay, and that actually it’s business owners looking to increase their profits who are the ones driving the push for cheaper labor.

Slide 10:
Facilitator asks a participant volunteer to read the slide.
Afterwards, facilitator asks participants to think of what forces and ways of thinking about things are at play now.

Slide 11:
The facilitator asks a participant volunteer to read the slide and the question.
Examples if participants need help thinking of them:
- story of Columbus “discovering” America
- the story of Thanksgiving (romantic story of friendship between pilgrims and Native Americans, whitewashing of colonization and exploitation)
- the story of the Iraq war (it was about fighting terrorism and weapons of mass destruction which didn’t exist)

Slides 12, 13, 14:
Facilitator reads.

Slide 15:
Facilitator asks participants to look at the slide and respond: 
According to this slide, what does the X-axis show us?
What does the Y-axis show us?
What is being “connected”?
(Sample ideal participant response: different historical events at different times that have similar things happening or have affected each other are being connected, the ideas and beliefs behind the events/laws)

Slide 16, 17:
Facilitator goes through them. 

Slide 18:
Facilitator asks participant to read the first event given as an example and writes “1941” on the board.
Then another participant is asked to read the second event example listed.
The facilitator writes “1942” on the board a few inches to the right of “1941.”

Slide 19:
Facilitator reads the question: How are these events possibly connected?
The facilitator should help the group make this connection: Entering a war means soldiers (who used to be workers) are now going overseas to fight. Production and demand is increased in a wartime economy. This gap is filled by the Bracero workers, who are a cheaper workforce that is seen as temporary until the end of the war.

After some discussion of how they may have been related/connected, the facilitator offers a second question:
What does looking at the connections between these two events help us understand about how immigration policies work?
(Sample ideal participant responses: labor is central to immigration policy, demand for cheaper labor, labor as a race issue, labor as a gender issue—only men allowed under Bracero and early Chinese immigration policy.) 

Slide 20, 21:
Reminder: The X-axis is about when events happened along the timeline—1991, 1992, 1993...
The Y-axis is looking at these same events in terms of how the powers and ideas involved have popped up at different times throughout history and/or how these different events are connected to each other—they’re not just happening randomly. 

Slide 22, 23:
Facilitator reads.

Part 4: Integration of Concepts & Experience, Learners Representing New Knowledge in their Own Voice

Slide 24:
So...let’s examine how all of this relates to our lives a bit more...
Facilitator asks a participant to read the example aloud and then asks the question at the bottom of the slide. 
After soliciting several responses from participants, the facilitator might offer these examples:
gay marriage, prohibition of alcohol/marijuana, dress codes, immigration laws.
With each of these examples and examples offered by participants, the facilitator asks everyone to reflect on how they’ve changed and why.

Slide 25: 
Using the examples we’ve looked at, the Y-axis might connect these different moments around immigration and labor. Even though they are about different people, areas and times, they still have connections. 

Slide 26, 27:
Facilitator reads and then explains:
Put simply, the Z-axis is the histories that we as historians write, create and contribute to ongoing history. People working with the Knotted Line have created audio pieces, videos, dance performances, animations, written stories and essays, board games, playing cards...these are all examples of the Z-axis. 

Facilitator note: For a selection of student sample work, the facilitator can visit here and select several they believe will be interesting or inspiring to their group in particular. Enter them into the slideshow or show them separately at this point to give participants a more concrete sense of the Z-axis.

Closing Question:
10 min
Facilitator asks:
Last session you thought about a historical moment that affected your family in particular. What is one other way that the past lives in our lives today?
Facilitator gathers several responses if it’s a large group, or one thought from each participant if it’s a smaller group. 

If the preference is to do something active after a long slideshow, ask the group to get in a circle and think of a motion or movement that responds to the above question. In the circle, each person shares their motion. As they do it, everyone in the group copies that motion.

Facilitator explains that now that they’re familiar with how it all works, the next session (Exploring the Knotted Line) will be working with The Knotted Line in a hands-on way.

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