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Activity

BIG PICTURE STORIES

The little story of you in the context of the big story of
the world

How do the times we live in make us who we are?

"Sociobiography" looks at how the big story of the world relates to the little story of you. It follows in the tradition of sociologist C. Wright Mills, who emphasized the influence of society on the individual. He argued that personal troubles are typically rooted in larger social forces -- that is, in public issues. Why do teenagers start smoking? Often because they've seen their parents do it and/or they have been influenced by media images that show smoking as cool. We all experience the effects of social forces that we can do little to avoid. As we begin to understand how we have been acted upon, we have greater freedom to control how we shape and produce the culture around us as well as ourselves.

This socioautobiography activity is a way to help teens and adults consider how social influences have shaped them. It can be a self-exploration tool, as well as a starting point for intergenerational discussion (e.g. a teenager can do an interview with an older adult).

To tie your life to major events, look back at some of the many books available that chronicle the major national/world events of your lifetime. History books that include pictures of the war years, the Depression, and other events are very evocative. Magazines (e.g. past issues of Life) often commemorate major events. You can also surf the web to jog your memory. The website www.ourtimelines.com allows you to enter the current date, your birth date, and some events in your life. A historical timeline will then be generated showing your personal events in the context of other historical events.

Browse through whatever historical material you have available and see what seems significant to you. When does your memory and awareness of certain events (e.g. stock market crash, World War II, the first man on the moon, racial riots, 9/11, etc.) kick in? How did you respond? Do events trigger memories of what life was like then? What society was like? What values and principles were important then? Think of inventions you've seen in your lifetime. What was it like before them (e.g. was there really life before TV, computers, the Internet)?

Now follow the questions below to write out or discuss the relationship between your personal life and public history. Writing will encourage you to think more deeply about each question, allow you to review and think about your answers over time, and can become a permanent keepsake for your children and grandchildren.

As you explore each question, you want to get at the interplay between your views of the world and how events, big or small, might have altered the course of your life. This activity involves more than just writing a chronological account. It's important to convey what these life events meant to you as a person living your life.

1. What two or three national/world events during your lifetime have had major consequences on your views, behavior, philosophy, and choices? Start by objectively describing the events in terms of their public occurrence. Include the time period in which each event occurred and any other relevant facts you can remember. Pretend you're a newspaper reporter. Answer "who, what, where, when, and how."

2. What do you remember about how each event affected your personal life? Did anything change in terms of your actions or behavior? What about what you thought?

3. How do you remember feeling, at the time, about each event? How do you feel about each now, in hindsight?

4. How did the event affect people in your family? In turn, how did that affect you?

5. What are some of the special features of the cultural time of each event that shaped your thinking and behavior? How did the cultural time shape and mold your values, beliefs, and view of the world?

6. How do you think the world would have been different had each event not occurred? How would you be different?

7. What have you learned from each event and its impact on your life?

8. What would you like your children and grandchildren to know about the event and how it affected you?

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org

Materials
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Paper
Pen/pencil
Optional -- books
  about historical
  world events;
  Internet

Connections
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Families
Schools (social
  studies/history)
Seniors groups

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