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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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Exploring 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?


Participants will…
...practice a transhistorical analysis.
...interrogate ways that the past is important to the present.
...connect moments from different time periods to deepen their understanding of U.S. history.

Facilitator Preparation

Common Core Standards

    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
    Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
    Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


Length of Time:  Two 55-minute sessions
Recommended Age Range: 14-23
Ideal Number of Participants: 15-30


Session 1

1. Print Iceberg worksheet, Power Words list, X-Moment Evidence Card, and X-Y Axis Worksheet.
2. Preload and click “Launch” before the group begins.

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

Iceberg Activity

15 minutes
Facilitator draws up on the board the outline of an iceberg, with the water line drawn leaving a smaller portion above water than below.

Facilitator: In the tip of the iceberg we write things about ourselves that can be known and seen—what are characteristics and things about us that fall into this category? 

Facilitator asks participants to give examples and then offers these if helpful:
For some of us, sometimes—religion, community, ethnicity, neighborhood, nationality, gender, etc.

The facilitator writes some of the examples up on the tip of the iceberg.
Along the water line, we write recent events/policies that have shaped us or had an impact on our selves, families, and/or our daily lives. For example, I would write (facilitator provides a tangible personal example).
Other examples might include recent drug laws, recent immigration policies, whether our state legalized gay marriage, neighborhood zoning, school system, etc

Underneath the water, we look back to older events/laws/people that may affect our lives today. For example, I would write (facilitator provides a tangible personal example; these might be big events like a specific war or natural disaster, or they might be small stories passed down in a family).

Each participant fills in their own Iceberg worksheet thinking about each category.
So now that we’ve reflected on what’s beneath the surface of our current reality, we’re ready to explore the way The Knotted Line draws connections between different parts of U.S. history and our own lives…

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

Set Up for Exploration Project

15 minutes

The  X-Y axis slideshow includes facilitator notes for giving instructions for the hands-on Knotted Line Exploration Project. Participants can also go through it individually so that they can begin working with at their own pace. 

Part 3: Active Experimentation with New Knowledge and Concepts

X-Y Axis Exploration Project

25 minutes
Participants access (the size of groups will change depending on access to computers or prints of the work) and play with the site. Once they are comfortable with the navigation, they should go through the steps outlined in the above slideshow.
Participants will need the following materials:
-Power Words list
-X-Moment Evidence Card
-X-Y Axis Worksheet

Facilitator should remind participants that they will continue with the work in the following session.

Session 2

1. Preload and click “Launch” before the group begins.
2. Print Evidence Cards.

Facilitator note: This workshop is designed as part of the longer projects in this guide. If you have limited time, you can shorten the research aspect and move on to the creative writing activity earlier. 


10 minutes
Go-around: What is a thread, a theme, an idea that you found flowing through U.S. history as you explored The Knotted Line? It can be positive, negative, anything.
Check for understanding on the process: What are people having confusion with as they do this work? Can anyone describe helpful tips for navigating the site or understanding what we are doing?

Deepen the Research

20-45 minutes
Hand out the Evidence Cards.
Now that you’ve started your research, you should find one or two additional pieces of historical evidence about your chosen X and Y moments. Use these cards to keep track of your research and notes.
Facilitator note: If you are doing the creative writing activity you should have participants choose one x-moment and one y-moment to focus on.

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

Historical Collision optional

25 minutes
When the group has done enough research to have a fuller idea of their two moments, transition the group:
We are going to play with history a bit now. Imagine that your two moments have just been smashed together in a crazy time-space warp. Describe the scene—what is happening? How do people communicate? Is there some sort of conflict? 

Leave enough time to have a handful of people share out their writing. They should start by saying what their chosen x and y moments were.

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