High Impact Practices – Investigations at the African Burial Ground

Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the laws, documents and customs relating to African burials in early New York City.

Working collaboratively, teams of students will investigate various sub- topics and report (in writing and orally) on:
TEAM ONE: The earliest Last Will and Testament of an African in New York City and The Last Will and Testaments of  slave owners in New York City.
TEAM TWO: The laws regarding slave burials in New York City as well as other laws relating to slavery in eighteenth century New York City.
TEAM THREE: Eighteenth century burial practices in New York City including varieties of grave-goods and burial rituals.
TEAM FOUR: The recent history of the Burial Ground and the New York State laws on the desecration of graves.

The justification for this topic is to illustrate the unchanging nature of wills in the common law system as well as to reinforce students’ ability to analyze will clauses, In addition, this unit will expose students to the history (past and recent) of the African Burial Ground and the laws relating to burials in the eighteenth century and today.


1. A comparison of historical and modern New York wills.
2. The laws relating to slave burials in New York City
3, A comparison of eighteenth century burial practices (and grave-goods) compared to modern practices
4. The recent history of the African Burial Ground and the laws concerning the desecration of graves

a. Focusing event: A field trip to the African Burial Ground (290 Broadway)

b. Teaching procedures: Lecture from a National Park Ranger, an hour visit to the Visitor’s Center where students can begin researching their assigned portion followed  two weeks later by a group wiki and a group oral report (each group presents their research for no longer than 10 minutes – each student speaks for no more than two minutes) and individual memo on Blackboard.

c. Student Participation : Students will receive a personal grade for posting a memo synthesizing their research on Blackboard, Teams will also receive a group grade for their wiki postings and oral report.

1.Communication Skills: the ability to read, write and speak effectively.
2, Critical Thinking: the ability to analyze complex issues and to evaluate information.
3. Research and Computer Skills: the ability to acquire, evaluate and synthesize information using appropriate technology in an ethical and legal manner
4. Humanistic and Social Inquiry: an understanding of and respect for cultural diversity, the human experience and the interconnectedness of global and local concerns.

1.Will analysis exercise
2. Individual memo – rubric
3. Team wiki posting – rubric
4. Oral presentation – rubric

Cargo Cult Science

I would like to say THANK YOU to whoever chose to give us Surely You are Joking to read over winter break.  It was a perfect selection.  Feynman’s joy in teaching (and life) was inspirational.

You asked us to discuss his writing about research in particular.  The obvious chapter on research was Cargo Cult Science, which was adapted from Feynman’s commencement address at Caltech in 1974.  In it, he spoke of the need for scientific integrity in research and why it is so important to be utterly honest in reporting even data that questions a researcher’s conclusions.

Law and Paralegal Studies students are not required to do research in labs (ala the physics and psychology experiments that Feynman describes) but we do require them to do many hours of research in law libraries.  One of the most important concepts that we  constantly reinforce is that you never look only for the law that supports your case but also for the law your opponent will likely cite.  We teach our students to anticipate the research that will weaken their conclusions, similar to Feynman’s insistence on publishing all research findings “not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another”.

Until I read “Surely”, I only knew of Feynman in relation to his testimony to the Rogers Commission about the cause of the Challenger explosion in 1986.  There is a famous photo of Feynman  freezing an o-ring in a glass of ice water.  My friend had it made into a t-shirt back in the day…