Today, one of my students did some research in class and showed that I’d made a mistake. This was fantastic, because it drives home a few different ideas:
1) it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them;
2) it’s bad to rely on one source, even if it’s a fancy animated source;
3) when you corroborate your sources, you often learn neat new information.
I was teaching about Teddy Roosevelt, and I showed students this 90-second video that shows how the Great White Fleet (a fleet of 16 new battleships painted white) traveled all around the world from 1907-1909 to showcase U.S. military power.
At the 1:08 mark of the video, the video draws a helpful line that traces the path the ships took on their voyage:
According to the animation, the Great White Fleet crossed the Atlantic and went through the Straits of Gibraltar (between Spain and Africa), then passed through the Suez Canal, and then headed over to India and then over to Japan and then on to Australia…
The people who made the video did such a nice animation… I can really picture how the 16 ships stopped at ports along the way to refuel and get more supplies.
There’s just one problem — the ships went the other way!!!
What I love is that one of my students pointed this out by doing research in class (we’re a 1:1 school, so all students have laptops). He was adding images to his notes (as I encourage students to do to reinforce their learning) and my student came across several maps that showed the ships going the other way.
Here’s one example he sent me:
As you can see, there are numbers and dates that show when the fleet hit each port on its itinerary. But surely the people who made the animation checked first before they invested all the time in making the animation…
Actually, no — the animation is wrong and this map that my student found is correct. How do I know? I checked a third source (and then a fourth before I decided to blog about this — how embarrassing would it be to get this wrong?).
Here’s a source from Wikipedia that corroborates the map my student found:
And here’s another source from the Theodore Roosevelt Center (which really ought to know what it’s talking about):
Called the Great White Fleet because the ships were painted white instead of modern gray, the fleet covered 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six different continents. The fleet first deployed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, and sailed to Trinidad, British West Indies, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and made port back in the United States at San Francisco. The fleet’s journey stopped briefly when they made port call at San Francisco on May 6, 1908, because some ships left the fleet for other duties while others joined the fleet for the next leg of its journey. The command also changed from Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans to Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry.
The Great White Fleet sailed again on July 7, 1908, and traveled to Hawaii, New Zealand, three ports in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Ceylon, and Egypt. They stopped in Egypt on January 3, 1909. Learning that an earthquake had struck Sicily, the Great White Fleet sailed to help with the wreckage and recovery work. After their assistance, they traveled on to Naples, Italy, and from there to Gibraltar and on to Hampton Roads, Virginia, where the fleet’s journey concluded.
I found it particularly interesting that “The fleet’s journey stopped briefly when they made port call at San Francisco on May 6, 1908, because some ships left the fleet for other duties while others joined the fleet for the next leg of its journey.” That reinforces the idea that these are real battleships that have real duties, so there had to be a substitution. I wonder how much food they had on the ship from port to port, and I wonder if they ever picked up local cuisines.
The video I showed to my students was one of the first ones that came up when I looked for videos of the Great White Fleet. It’s a good video in many respects, but it gets the direction of the route backwards.
I’ve told my students that this video reinforces why they need to turn in an early draft of their final research project — the past is complicated, and we need time to think things through… or at least make sure we’re at least going in the right direction.
The best thing about making a mistake (and taking the time to correct it) is that you’re more likely to remember the topic. If the video I found had gone in the right direction to start with, my student would not have had an “aha” moment, and it would not have been as interesting. This blog post would not have resulted and my students’ brains would have spent less time thinking about the Great White Fleet. So yay for mistakes!