Product Review of Ford’s Theatre
Ford’s Theatre is the website version of the famous Washington, D.C.-based theater (and now museum) where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. A big part of the museum’s outreach and education focus is on the events of the assassination itself as well as its legacy. Using primary accounts and documents, learners can learn about the assassination, the investigation into the plot to kill Lincoln, the trial of the people behind the plot, and the reaction of the country to his death. In addition to the primary sources, learners and educators have access to lesson plans, writing prompts, and discussion ideas that encourage a full analysis of the assassination.
In addition to the assassination, Ford’s Theatre explores other essential elements of American history, including Reconstruction, the Civil War, and racism (past and present). The site makes use of speeches, plays (such as August Wilson’s Fences), and videos featuring modern historians, intellectuals, policymakers, and more — including readings and performances of plays. Lesson plans come with Common Core connections, supporting materials, and full step-by-step instructions for the classroom. Most of the materials are free; however, there are live virtual field trips and facilitated explorations of resources that are available for individual fees.
Ford’s Theatre does an undeniably good job exploring the details of Lincoln’s assassination and the events that followed. However, history educators will be just as interested in the site’s other materials. For instance, the resources that will help learners examine the way Lincoln’s positions on slavery evolved through his presidency, why there was a need for the 14th Amendment after the failed promise of Reconstruction, and the continued impacts of discrimination are all powerful ways to foster student understanding of history and civics. Teachers should certainly check out the resources on Lincoln’s assassination, but then go beyond them and use Ford’s Theatre to develop student understanding of the broader contexts of the Civil War, its aftermath, and its enduring impact.
Ford’s Theatre offers high-quality and classroom-ready learning materials, all designed to provoke critical thinking and meaningful engagement with history and its modern legacies. This work, however, is somewhat obscured by the theater’s own history as the site of a consequential and well-known event. Much of the site’s content privileges the assassination of Lincoln (and understandably so); however, it’s the other materials that go beyond the assassination that truly shine, and have particular resonance today in light of continued struggles with racial injustice that connect so closely with the time of Lincoln and the Civil War. The Ford’s Theatre site makes a commendable effort to help learners and educators explore these other aspects of American history — including modern issues — but the site’s organization could be better optimized to help educators make use of these standout materials. Ideally, educators would touch on the assassination and then go beyond it to the events before and after Lincoln’s death (e.g., the Civil War and Reconstruction). It seems like the site is in the midst of a transition to facilitate this, but currently educators might still get a little stuck in the death itself. With that said, Ford’s Theatre does handle the Lincoln assassination well, encouraging learners to analyze and understand a host of primary source materials and to draw connections from that event to others. So even if educators do just focus on that event, they’ll get a satisfying experience.
Overall User Consensus About the App
The site itself isn’t going to be great for learners, but the resources will be engaging if embedded well within a larger unit. The videos and field trips (some of which are paid) could boost engagement.
Curriculum and Instruction
The lesson plans and videos foster deep, inquisitive learning and encourage learners to take an analytical, source-driven approach to history.
Teachers can browse a wide range of classroom-ready materials and supplementary resources. There’s not much in the way of an orientation, though, and some of the best content feels a little buried.