Place Through Time: From Place Triangle to Place Prism


By Sharon Laidlaw, Director of the Place Network, Teton Science Schools


It’s May of 2020, and “one foot in front of the other” is both a physical routine and a mantra for those of us in education. I’m taking a walk through my neighborhood park to clear my head and shake off the Zoom-gloom, passing the fenced-in basketball court that I’ve passed daily since the start of the pandemic. This time I spot something new: In the wooded area behind the court, I notice a second, smaller fenced-in space–a little chain-link annex. I wander over to see what it encloses, and my breath catches when I see five flat stones poking up from the ground in a neat row. I press my face up against the metal fencing and read the etchings on the stones:


“Father: John Bargsley: March 13, 1828-Oct. 13 1904.”


“Mother: Sarah Bargsley: Sept. 2, 1834-May 4, 1922.”


“Ada Lena Bargsley: July 6, 1877-May 4, 1922.”


How did “Mother” and “Ada,” born 43 years apart, die on the same day? What was it like here 100 years ago, that this hill in a subdivision of tightly packed, modest homes—where someone would later establish a nature preserve and park—seemed like the right spot to bury them, alone? How did this family live, and how did the spot cease to be marked?’


any understanding of the ecology, culture, and economy of my smallest scale of place—my neighborhood—suddenly seemed incomplete without answering these questions about these people and dates from the previous century.

For years, Teton Science Schools has used the Place Triangle to frame the lenses through which we consider place: ecology, culture, and economy.

But any understanding of the ecology, culture, and economy of my smallest scale of place—my neighborhood—suddenly seemed incomplete without answering these questions about these people and dates from the previous century—about the Bargsleys and the context surrounding their deaths and burials in the early 1920s. And my family—and the Bargsleys—are only the most very recent inhabitants of this land, which has been the ancestral homes of the Jumanos, Coahuiltecan, Comanche, Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, and Sana tribes. What have been the ecologies, cultures, and economies of people’s existence here throughout the years?


The Educational Consulting team of Teton Science Schools is calling us to elevate the importance of these historical stories of place by extending the Place Triangle along a spectrum of time—by learning about history along these three dimensions and by designing for the future we envision. We call this new, 3-D conceptual representation of place the “Place Prism.”

Place-based education invites us to develop an understanding of the complex, interwoven strands of events, personalities, customs, commerce, forces of nature—and more!—that make up the varying scales of place we inhabit today. Notice that history is not separate from the present and future; there is no line separating the present of our place from what it has been, what it is today, and what it will be going forward. One blurs into the next. Our understanding of the dimensions of place is incomplete without the history behind it. And an understanding of history and present context would not be relevant or meaningful without a vision for engaging with place that carries us forward into a vibrant, sustainable future.


I later learned that a tornado devastated my neighborhood on May 4, 1922, and that there are at least 10 unmarked graves near the Bargsleys’ headstones. Once I started looking for history at this very local level, I also discovered that the names emblazoned on the neighborhood street signs I took for granted—Thomas Kincheon, Elija, Minnie, James Ander—were the names of a family of former slaves who established the community shortly after emancipation in 1865, and who were later forced out of the neighborhood by segregationist policies in the 1950s. The Bargsleys and the Kincheons lived side-by-side on the land my family now inhabits.


I whisper words of acknowledgement, naming what I know to be true: I am in this place because of present-day technology that warns me when Texas’s notorious weather turns ominous. I am in this place because my skin color and the color of my ancestors’ skin gave my family rights to push other people away from their homes. These things are true, and I name these facts not out of a sense of guilt, but out of a sense of wonder and gratitude and responsibility—an awe that inspires me to use this connection to the history of my place to do better for the future. The Place Prism nudges me to know these things and to help the learners with whom I work develop the curiosity and courage to know them, too.



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