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The Center of the World offers insights into American history topics including the post-World War II economic order, city planning in the era of urban renewal, and globalization and its consequences. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this website to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: geography, economics, history, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Or visit PBS' Learning Adventures in Citizenship: From New York to Your Town website at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/newyork/laic/index.html for more educational materials, including lesson plans spanning nearly four centuries of New York history.

Civics

1a. Read about the destruction and rebuilding of the World Trade Center. What kind of memorial should be constructed for the victims of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Create a poster that shows an existing memorial you admire and provides brief background information on the person or event it commemorates. (The memorial could be national in scope, such as those in Washington, D.C., or one located in your community.) Mount the posters on the walls of the classroom.

1b. After everyone has viewed the posters, form groups of three students each to design a memorial for the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Each group should present its idea in the form of a sketch or three-dimensional model.

2. The September 11 attacks have led many Americans to pay greater attention to issues related to foreign policy and national security. As a class, prepare a brief guidebook that would help people become better informed about the war against terrorism. Begin by dividing the class into four groups and assigning each group to complete one of the following sections of the guidebook: a glossary (a list of people, places, events, and concepts related to the war against terrorism), a Q & A (several basic questions and brief answers about the topic), news sources (websites and other sources of accurate information and respected analysis), and a map showing the location of key events connected to the war against terrorism. Once these sections are finished, design a cover and table of contents for the guidebook and assemble the pieces.

History

1a. View the Port Authority video, "Building the World Trade Center," and read about the engineering and construction of the twin towers. The World Trade Center towers were 1,360 feet high. Together, they contained 10 million square feet of office space. One way to make sense of numbers this large is to express them in relation to more familiar objects. (A particular ship, for example, might be said to be 1.4 football fields long.) Think of a comparison that makes the height of the World Trade Center easier to grasp; then do the same for the amount of office space the towers contained. Share your comparisons with the class. Which ones are most effective? Which are most striking?

1b. View the video interviews of Mike Wallace, Pete Hamill and Carol Willis. They comment on lower Manhattan before the World Trade Center, and opposition to building the towers. What were some objections to the World Trade Center? How did the creation of the Trade Center change lower Manhattan? You may also want to read 19th-century writers' opinions of New York for more insight into urban development and change in New York City.

2. In the film, former New York governor Mario Cuomo says that on September 11, "we had this fantastic contradiction of people who hated you so much that they were willing to give up [their] life to take yours, and people who loved humanity so much that they were willing to run into the darn building... just to save the life of somebody they never met." Historian Simon Schama has said that the challenge for historians is to represent people in the past as living people again for their readers, because "history is not just a walk down memory lane. It matters... To understand who we are, where we go as a community, as a city, as a nation, we need... to understand history."

Explore the contradiction Cuomo describes between the motivations of terrorists and rescue workers by using Schama's method. Write two letters -- one from Osama bin Laden, and one from the head of the New York City fire department -- in which each person tries to explain to a member of his family or a friend why his organization acted as it did on September 11. When everyone has finished, read your letters to the class. What do they have in common? How do they differ?

Geography

1. Have the class examine the interactive map, Layers of Lower Manhattan, then conduct a "virtual tour" of New York City. Divide the class into eight groups; assign one group to be the tour leaders and each of the other groups to be responsible for one of the following: Ground Zero, Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, and Wall Street. The tour leaders should plot a route that begins and ends at Grand Central Station and includes stops at each of the above sites. Meanwhile, each of the other groups should research "its" site and prepare a brief overview of it for visitors, along with a photo of the site.

Now conduct the virtual tour: using a map of the city, the tour leaders should show the class where the tour group is going and announce each stop in turn. At each stop, the group in charge of the site should show its photo to the class, give a brief oral presentation on the site, and then answer any questions from other students.

2. Numerous films have been set in New York City, providing widely different impressions of the city over the course of its history. Divide the class into groups of two students each. Have each group choose a film that is set in New York City and report to the class on what kind of place the film presents the city to be -- wealthy or poor? Glamorous or run down? Exciting or dangerous? (Groups may want to illustrate their talks by showing brief scenes from the films.) When all groups have finished, hold a class discussion on the differences and similarities among the depictions in the films.

Economics

1. View the video interview with Niall Ferguson. The effects of globalization can be seen in a host of everyday products, from food to clothing to electronics to cosmetics. Divide the class into teams of two students each and have each team examine items at home and at local stores to find their country of origin. The goal is to find products from as many different countries as possible. Each team should show its results on a world map, listing each of the countries and the product(s) from that country. Post the completed maps around the classroom and tally the results: each team receives one point per country and one additional point for each country that it found but no other team did.

2. Read about the planning debate in New York from 1955-1975. Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and others have argued that "urban renewal" projects like the World Trade Center often replace diverse neighborhoods (ones that have a variety of uses, such as residences, shops, or recreation) with single-use projects that lack energy and excitement. Think of a place in your community -- it can be a neighborhood, a street corner, or even a single building -- that in your view effectively combines multiple uses to create a public space that is interesting and pleasant to be in. Photograph or sketch this place. Then, in a brief oral report to the class, explain what you like about the place you chose.


My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

How did you first learn of the September 11 attacks? Do you remember what you were doing when the Twin Towers fell? What did it mean to you? Do you have specific memories of that day?



  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • Rosalind P. Walter
  • New York Times
  • The Overbrook Foundation