- Peer Review: American Experience: Fatal Flood
American Experience: Fatal Flood
- Feb 17, 2003 by History
Overall Rating: 4.4 stars
Content Quality: 4.4 stars
Effectiveness: 4.4 stars
Ease of Use: 5.0 stars
- The "Fatal Flood" was a PBS television special about the Mississippi River
flood of 1927. The site includes primary source documents, a sample Delta blues song about the flood, flood film clips, maps, and information from historians.
- Type of Material:
- Recommended Uses:
- To supplement a discussion about the history of the American South during the decades of migration to the North.
To assist students in evalutaing the effectiveness of federal and state responsibilities to residents during natural disasters in the decade of the twenties.
- Technical Requirements:
- QuickTime or RealVideo for film clips.
RealPlayer for songs.
- Identify Major Learning Goals:
- To encourage students to:
a. develope skills of analysis and to compare primary sources including text,
maps, data, and photographs.
b. develope the ability to create charts and graphs.
c. increase understanding about race relations in the lower Mississippi Valley
in the early twentieth century
d. increase understanding of the social impact of "natural" disasters such as
flooding on working class Americans.
- Target Student Population:
- High School
- Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
- Some understanding of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Southern
history would be useful.
- This web site was designed to accompany the PBS show on the 1927
Mississippi River flood. The movie was based upon John Barry's 1997 book
Rising Tide. Barry essentially told two stories in his book. One was about the
emergence of a "levees-only" policy of flood control along the Mississippi
River and how that policy exacerbated the effects of the flood. This site gives
scant attention to that story. The other story in Barry's book is about the
impact of the 1927 flood upon race relations in the lower Mississippi River
Valley, particularly in Greenville, Mississippi. This is the story that is at
the center of the PBS show and this web site. The 1927 flood is an
effective vehicle for an in-depth exploration of race relations in the South in
PBS provides both background materials about racial politics in
Mississippi and primary sources about the flood. Background materials include a
timeline of events beginning with the construction of the first levees in New
Orleans in 1726 and information about the Kl Klux Klan in the 1920s, the Great
Migration, Delta Blues music, and Governor James Vardaman. Primary sources
include transcripts of some newspaper articles about the flood, three reports
from the Colored Advisory Commission, some photographs, a clip of a blues song,
three short film clips taking during the flood, and excerpts from Will Percy's
Lanterns on the Levee. PBS also provides a transcript of the TV show.
The background information is accurate, clearly written, and relevant. The
primary sources allow users of the site to see and hear about how African
Americans experienced the flood and its aftermath. The wide variety of
materials gives students the opportunity to develop skills working with
different kinds of sources.
- There are two sets of concerns. The first has to do with two features of the site that at best contribute little to students' understanding of the impact of the flood upon race relations. One feature is a comparison of two maps; the
other is an on-line poll. My other set of concerns has to do with the amount
and breadth of the primary materials.
One section of the web site provides two maps showing the reach of the
floods of 1927 and 1993. One of the lesson plans provides additional data about
both floods and asks students to compare the two events. This comparison is
out of place on this web site. It doesn't have any thing to do with race
relations or racial politics. Furthermore, the comparison students are asked to
make is superficial. John Barry argues that the flood of 1927 changed America;
no one argues that about the 1993 flood. Some of the post-1927 changes Barry
identifies - the federal government's assumption of full responsibility for
flood control and abandonment of the levees-only policy ? may have affected the
reach and magnitude of the 1993 flood. But, students are not given information
either to assess the relationship between the two events or to compare their
historical significance. The site author should keep the map of the 1927 flood,
but drop the comparison to 1993.
In the "Special Features" section of the web site is an on-line poll that
asks two questions ? one about the actions of LeRoy Percy, a prominent white
citizen of Greenville, and one about whether the person taking the poll would
have evacuated during the flood. I think that the question about Percy is
definitely worth asking, because it pushes students to understand and evaluate
behavior and ideology in particular contexts. I also applaud inclusion of a
lesson plan that has students write an essay assessing Percy's actions. But the
on-line poll is an ineffective teaching tool. It might encourage some site
users to read more about Percy, but the poll allows people to answer without
having read any of the material. Furthermore, the poll does not offer a way for
respondents to explain and discuss the reasons for their positions. It
effectively communicates the idea that one can formulate an opinion on what is a
complex question with minimal effort.
Finally, I would like to see more primary materials offered at the site.
The links in the lesson plans to other web sites are good. But I feel PBS
has barely tapped into what is available on the 1927 flood. In particular, more
documents from white sources might better help students understand the racial
politics of the time and place.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
- The web site includes a "Teachers' Guide" consisting of four sections each
containing two lesson plans. The sections are history, economics, civics, and
geography. For the most part, the lessons are appropriate and engaging. I
especially like the lesson that asks students to write an essay assessing
LeRoy's Percy's behavior. The "Teachers' Guide" also provides a "helpful hints"
section that contains a summary of answers students should give for each
Some of the lessons direct students to other web sites, such as the Library
of Congress' "American Memory" site, for primary materials to supplement those
provided on this PBS site. Drawing upon other sites is a good teaching tactic,
not only because other sites provide documents that supplement the small
collection of resources at this site, but also because it exposes students to
other good history sites and because it mimics the research process, which
involves drawing upon sources in different locations.
- As mentioned elsewhere, the lesson asking students to compare the 1927 and 1993 floods is not appropriate for this site. In addition, some of the lesson plans could be more challenging, especially those in the history section.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
- The site is well-designed and easy to navigate. Users always know where
they are when in the site, and the site makes it easy to move to other sections. Furthermore, the site contains numerous internal links that
effectively tie together different pages to different sections of the site.
Download times for the videos and songs are short. But the quality of the
videos is much better in QuickTime than in RealVideo.