Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Primary Sources on Revolution and Religion

A quick follow up to our interview with Thomas Kidd. He is also the editor and co-editor of some tremendous primary source collections on religion in the 18th century. He published one of those marvelous Bedford series books on the Great Awakening, which has 36 documents from a range of folks influenced by the Great Awakening, and more recently co-edited with Matthew L. Harris of Colorado State University-Pueblo a volume of documents on the Founding Fathers and their debates over religion during the revolutionary era. This second book is truly about "fathers" (all of the documents were written by men) and they focus on traditional "founders" - meaning white men. Similar to John Fea's fantastic, award-nominated, fair and balanced book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, there seems to be a lack of attention to African Americans and Native Americans in these "Christian nation" debates, although many petitions from slaves in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania during the revolutionary era invoked God, Christ, and the notion of a Christian nation. Always more work to be done!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Scholars Speak - Thomas Kidd

Baylor Professor Thomas Kidd on the revolutionary era

Teaching United States History is lucky to have Thomas S. Kidd, associate professor of history at Baylor University, to discuss the era of the Revolution. Tommy is another amazing scholar, the author of a host of books (including one on evangelicals and Islam from the colonial period to the twenty-first century). Here, he reflects on the revolutionary period, whether we should approach it from the top-down or bottom-up approach, and what documents he likes to use.

1.      What drew you to the study of revolutionary America?

My earlier work as a historian was on early to mid-eighteenth century America, especially on Puritanism and the Great Awakening. But as a specialist in religious history, I knew that the topic of religion and the American Revolution was perhaps the most hotly debated historical subject in American popular culture today. So I became interested in writing a religious history of the American Revolution that would be accessible to a broader audience yet still academically rigorous.

Patrick Henry declaring "give me liberty or give me death"
That book became God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, which I published in 2010 with Basic Books. I followed that with Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, recently published with Basic Books. I thought that Henry would be an excellent biographical case study of the role of faith in the Revolution, as he was probably the most outspoken Christian among the major Founding Fathers.

2.     Major Problems in American History contains essays by Gordon Wood and Gary Nash on the radicalism of the American Revolution. Wood’s piece suggests that radical ideas moved from Enlightenment sages like Thomas Jefferson to the general public and made it possible for women and people of color to push for rights, explores how the push for liberty and freedom came from the marginalized and moved up the social ladder until elites took it on as well. From the perspective of religious and political history, which do you think is more accurate?

I hope it is not a cop-out to say that they are both right! Gordon Wood has brilliantly demonstrated that the Revolution set the stage for future reforms with its expansive notion of equality by creation (“all men are created equal”) and the ideological switch from monarchy to republicanism, and then to democracy. The final transformation into the Jacksonian democracy of white men was not necessarily what the major Founders intended, but their egalitarian justification of independence set loose ideological implications that proved hard to limit only to propertied men. But I think that historians such as Gary Nash correctly note that when viewed from the perspective of African Americans, Native Americans, and women, the short term “blessings of liberty” were limited, at best, and often pressure “from below” was required to advance substantial reforms.

From the perspective of religious history, I do think that the implications of the Revolution were radical, as the Revolution began the process of Americans disestablishing the state churches, fully endorsing religious liberty, and placing American religion on a much more voluntary, entrepreneurial basis.

3.      If you had to select only one or two primary documents from the revolutionary period to use in the classroom, which would they be?

Reverend Haynes
I’m tempted to say Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech because I enjoy Henry so much, but I would probably settle on Lemuel Haynes’sremarkable text “Liberty Further Extended,” in which Haynes, an African American evangelical pastor, employed the Declaration of Independence shortly after July 1776 to make a Christian argument for ending slavery in America. African Americans such as Haynes immediately recognized that if America was to fully embrace the notion that “all men are created equal,” liberty would have to be “further extended” to people of color and slaves.

4.      What’s your favorite essay or book on early America?

One could hardly choose a better essay than Perry Miller’s classic “Errand into the Wilderness.” This not only raises the question of the Puritans’ mission in America, but it also introduces students to a splendid example of historical writing, a topic which receives too little attention among historians.

5.      What are you working on now?

I am writing a biography of George Whitefield, the most influential revivalist of the Great Awakening and the most famous person in colonial America. It is due out with Yale University Press in time for Whitefield’s 300th birthday in 2014.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

First Assignments

Crafting and Grading the First Assignments

Our comrade at last week’s webinar on using blogs to engage students and faculty, Scott Williams just blogged about how he received his first batch of essays to grade for the semester. His “rambling” reflections led me to think about our first assignment and how in the future I want to incorporate blog assignments.

The first question my students must address in a standard 3-4 page, thesis-based essay is this: “Conquest is ‘the act of conquering, defeating, or subjugating,’ while contact is the ‘intimate or close interaction between two items or among many.’ Conquest suggests dominance. Contact suggests exchange. Is American history from 1492 to 1763 best understood as an era of conquest or contact?” I instruct the students to pick one side and not to argue that “both conquest and contact defined the colonial period.” Sure, we historians know that most “either, or” dilemmas turn out to have “both, and” solutions, but I want them to learn to martial evidence to make a case. Then, I want them to use specific historical evidence to justify their broader claims. At first, this seems confusing to them, but then when I compare it to how we discuss sports or dating, it makes sense. For instance, if John doesn’t want his friend to date Judy, he may say: “Judy is mean. For instance, she called Suzy a farty, mc-farter pants the other day.” [no one laughs when I say farty, but I get tickled by it]. They instantly understand how the general point is followed by a specific example. My survey students do not due outside research, but rather use the primary sources in Major Problems, the ideas and examples from Hist, lecture material, and … concepts and points from our glorious blog.
I also provide my students with a rubric from the beginning so they know how they’ll be graded and why they earned that C-. I remember when I got back my first essay as an undergraduate. After a series of marginal notes that read “p.v.”, “too colloquial”, and “logical fallacy”, the stark red letter horrified me: “B-“. I dutifully went to the cafĂ© where the graduate student held office hours (which I thought was too cool) for an explanation. The earnest grad student talked at me for 20 minutes, but I cannot remember one word she said. I had no idea how to improve and the B+ on my transcript indicates that pretty clearly. So much for my adventure with European history.

Rubrics are the best (see mine at bottom). They clarify what we want to teach; they signal to students what we’re looking for; and they make the grading process much quicker.

And now to the future. I want to devise blog assignments that work in tandem with the writing assignments. Does anybody have a good idea for an assignment where students would create blogs to address the issue of conquest or contact from Columbus to the Proclamation Act of 1763? Webinar friends ... this is a time to shine with those great ideas ... feel free to email me a paragraph or two if you want and we can post them.

(and for my students, indeed there will be a quiz on Monday: for some of the questions, I would look closely at how Virginian slaveholders opposed discussions of emancipation, at how Patrick Henry felt about the Constitution,  and how historians Alfred Young and Jack Rakove characterize politics in this period)

Commendable (5)
Satisfactory (4)
Inadequate (3)
Poor (2)
Unacceptable (1)
Ugh (0)
Introduction Clarity

Thesis Clarity

Secondary Context
from Lecture 
and Textbook

Use of
Primary Documents
and Evidence

Primary Documents 
and Evidence

Writing Clarity

Writing Mechanics

Appropriate References

Thursday, February 23, 2012

on blogs and blogging

Just finished a great "webinar" seminar with Ed about blogging and teaching, the take home point of which was this: I've got so much to learn! (Thanks Cengage Learning for hosting.)

There were 40-50 folks in the webinar and it quickly became a rich forum for exchanging ideas about how to use blogging in the classroom, and how to use computers and the internet as teaching tools more generally. There are a lot of really talented teachers out there doing really great things. Many folks are having their students blog about their own research processes, about historical topics, about how current events relate to the past. Some folks shared their rubrics for how to grade blog entries. Others simply discussed really innovative teaching strategies.

I hope we can keep the conversation going here, so please let us know how you have used blogging in the classroom. Has tweeting worked? Could tweeting work? How do you assess students who do these kinds of assignments? What other strategies have you tried? Inquiring minds want to know! Please share your ideas.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Revolutionaries: Heroes or Brats

A Quarter for Your Thoughts on the Quartering Acts
For some reason, my San Diego friends in the military always want to tell me about their housing situations. Last weekend helping a family move out of military housing, the wife explained, “We get this much a month, but if Bobby is deployed, then we get an extra blah, blah, blah.” I pretend to listen as I shuttle boxes from the pod to the apartment, hoping that they at least order some good pizza to pay for all my labor.

America is quite different today than it was in the 1760s and 1770s. First off, the United States is a nation separate from Great Britain. Second, we have a standing army and hardly anyone complains. But in the 1760s and early 1770s this was a big deal. I don’t fault the British for wishing to keep a standing army in the colonies after the Seven Years War. The American colonists were uncontrollable, especially in their desire to move west. They were also belligerent when it came to paying taxes. The mistake the British made, I think, was refusing to give the colonies representation. Why not just given them a couple seats in Parliament? Then the “no taxation without representation” problem was fixed, and perhaps the troops could have been stationed out west.

One bone of contention was the Quartering Act (well, actually two acts, but we’ll condense this to one). Since we typically think of the American Revolutionaries as heroes (and not ungrateful children who didn’t realize how good the British were to them), we usually explain why they were so upset at Parliament’s decisions like that of the Quartering Act. But, if the colonial governments would not pay for housing or food for the soldiers, where would they have stayed? How would they have survived? Today, we largely respect and revere our standing army. The idea that our soldiers should live as homeless or tent outside is unthinkable.

To teach the move toward Revolution that gripped the colonies from 1763 to 1775, I have my students look into the specific acts and try to assess how we would respond today to such an act. If, for instance, all of the military housing was destroyed and the government asked you to house a few soldiers in your fraternity house, would you do it? Would you pay a tax to make sure that wills, marriage licenses, and playing cards were official (usually the playing cards question confuses students, but then what if you went to Vegas and the deck had 1 ace in it and you didn’t know … wouldn’t that change your luck?!?).

So, a quarter for your thoughts on the Quartering Acts … or any others from the move toward Revolution. Are there ways you get students excited about 1/3 of the colonists deciding it would be better to be separate?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Using current events in the classroom

I had a teacher once who always tried to tie the theme of that day's lecture to a current event, hoping it would serve as a hook for us, her students. Sometimes it worked (David Koresh is a memorable example as an entry into the use of violence as a proper or improper form of protest--cue Bacon's Rebellion), sometimes it didn't (lots of times it was a stretch), but I always appreciated the effort.

Now I try to do a bit of the same. Sometimes I'll head straight for the big questions. My lecture on the late-19th century labor movement begins: "Who here has heard of the weekend? How about, 'workin' 9 to 5?'"

But I've found that news items seem to work best in small classes.

Recently I've been following with my class the plight of a 16-year-old atheist (a cradle Catholic who lost her faith when her mom got very sick and God didn't seem to respond to her prayers) who is protesting a huge, permanent poster in the auditorium of her high school. The poster is a pretty tame prayer about how one should act, and this student has no quibble with the central message of the prayer, just its religious overtones (it starts "Our Heavenly Father" and ends "Amen"--otherwise, not much else).

The heavily Catholic community is in an uproar and several poor florists have refused to deliver her flowers for fear of being outed as supporters. Fox News got in on the action, as did CNN and everyone else. Now a nationwide atheist group has given her a $40,000 scholarship for her bravery. All this is probably a lot more than she ever bargained for.

We're learning about the U.S. Constitution in class, and especially Article VI and the First Amendment. So our discussion has followed the case, pondering: who's in the right, not viscerally, but legally? What would our Founding Fathers do? It's less than clear, but good fun, and it forces us to look at the founding documents pretty closely.

It turns out that the prayer was put up in 1963. So I'm planning to ask my students soon (ahem...) why would Rhode Islanders put up a poster like this in 1963?

Anyone else out there using current events to teach? Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Scholars Speak - Fisher part 2

Goods and the Good
Here is part 2 of our interview with Professor Linford Fisher. He discusses the kinds of primary sources he likes for the classroom and how to integrate commercial history with religious history in the colonial period. I also want to draw your attention to his marvelous historiographical essay on "Colonial Encounters" in The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History. Our many thanks to Professor Fisher and we'll have more on his book in September!

3) If you had to select only one or two primary documents from the early colonial period to use in the classroom, which would they be?

I’ve always found it effective to use the list of grievances King Philip gave to John Easton in 1675. It opens up space to talk about the issue of Native perspective on colonial events (like warfare) as well as the thorny issue of authenticity in terms of Native voice. But the grievances are clear and also lead to a conversation about dispossession, livestock, and unwanted evangelization. See John Easton, “A Relation of the Indian War” in A Narrative of the Causes Which Led to Philip’s Indian War (Albany: J. Munsell, 1858).

Another source I think is rich and underutilized is Roger Williams, A Key Into the Language of America (1643). It is one of the very few ethnographies—even if clearly biased—from the English in the early decades of colonial settlement. It is rich and full of description that truly illuminate. I found myself returning to it repeatedly when writing the first chapter to my book and enjoying it quite a bit. Although it is too long to assign as a whole, you can easily select certain chapters and talk about Native practices and beliefs on a variety of issues. And the little moralizing poems naturally raise the question of bias and English views of Native cultures. But again, of course I think we need to read Williams critically and with both eyes wide open.

4) Another “Major Problems” essay by T. H. Breen focuses on the role of commodities and consumer goods in tying the colonial world to that of Great Britain. How did consumption or consumer practices influence Native Americans (if at all)? Did it impact their religion or religions?

Ironically, at least early in the colonization process, it would be more accurate to say that commodities and Native goods tied Europeans to the Americas, although certainly later the balance of dependency shifted in favor of the Euroamericans. North America had beaver pelts, deerskins, furs, and wood (especially important for the denuded English landscape); South America and the Caribbean had a bewildering variety of new food items that Europe hungrily adopted, such as potatoes, tomatoes, coca beans, and corn, along with tobacco and of course silver and gold. But Natives were affected by this trade and extraction. Not only were entire Native civilizations demolished, but sacred landscapes were changed. Scholars continue to find immense interest in the ecological changes triggered by land-clearing, deforestation, and beaver hunting instigated by the colonists. But Natives were also affected by the material trade and consumer goods themselves. James Axtell speaks of the “first consumer revolution” (echoing the eighteenth century one Breen writes about) that took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as Natives slowly incorporated copper pots, steel knives, guns, blankets, shirts, steel hoes, metal awls, paint dyes, alcohol, and even mirrors into their everyday lives. One of the biggest cultural costs of these new technologies was the long-term loss of more traditional ways of production, which, in turn, led to an increased dependence on a steady flow of European trade goods.
bear paw

In terms of religion, one of the biggest ways we can trace the effects of this influx of consumer goods is through funerary objects in Native graves. One of the most poignant examples of this comes from a late seventeenth century grave at Mashantucket, Connecticut. In a young teenage girl’s grave, amongst the more traditional funerary items such as a pestle and beads archaeologists in 1990 found a medicine bundle that contained fragments of a Bible page and a bear paw. I wrestle with the meaning of this a bit in the introduction to my book, but it seems to me it is a clear example of how the physical presence of the Bible and the teachings contained in it had become part of funerary practices and—perhaps equally as important—one additional potential means for providing in the afterlife or a deceased relative. But even more broadly, the educational and evangelistic efforts made by the colonists in Native communities meant that in churches and schools Natives were presented with an astonishing array of new material goods, such as all kinds of books and primers, inks and quills, eyeglasses (for reading), benches and tables, and European clothing and foods. 

5) What’s your favorite essay or book on early America?

I love Alison Games’ Web of Empire. It, more than any other book out there, I think, succinctly and effectively places colonial America in its rightful Atlantic and even global context. Atlantic history is still alive and well, I think, but the more creative scholarship seems to be moving in an ever-expanding transnational direction, all of which makes it daunting to keep up with the scholarship, let along contribute to it along these lines. For undergrads, I’ve found Patricia Seed’s Ceremonies of Possession does some of this same work, although in different ways. More strictly related to “traditional” colonial America, I’d have to say a favorite is Jill Lepore’s The Name of War. She’s a terrific writer and this book is witty and informative, as well as broad-ranging. I find myself returning to it when I need some writing inspiration.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On teaching students how to write

Who here has had any luck teaching students to write? Come on, be honest. And if so, please tell me how you've done it.

Every semester I start with the best intentions. I'll go over writing for several days. I'll let them do re-writes. I'll painstakingly edit their papers. Every semester the numbers get me down. There's too much to do. How much content can I sacrifice to teach students to write? Reading forty 5-6 page papers once is enough, but the re-writes too? Come on.

This semester I'm trying something new. Taking a page (if not a chapter) out of Lendol Calder's Uncoverage, this semester I'm teaching my "Religious History of America" class around a series of chronologically progressing questions. I've discussed the method before, but what's emerging is the opportunity to work with students on writing.

The class structure lends itself to it: five separate three-week sessions, with each section requiring a short 3-4 page response paper. This gives me ample time to work through content (the first two weeks of each section), then primary sources (the first two sessions of week 3) then writing (throughout, although each session is capped by a 3-4 page response).

The short papers do their part too. Writing 5-6 pages per essays is a bit of a bear for students (one I remember from my undergraduate days, long before TXT messaging). Equally compelling: they are easier to grade.

Plus, the students are forced to fine-tune their arguments, learn how to substantiate a claim, and be brief. Brevity, of course, forces them to think through their essays beforehand and then edit them afterward. We'll see how far they/I come with this, but I think I'll come farther with this class than with any before. And I won't sacrifice too much content to do it.

I'm doing this again for sure. I think.

Oh, and if you're wondering, the first question was: "Were we founded as a Protestant nation?" The second: "Was the Market Revolution or the First Amendment responsible for the tremendous religiosity on display in the first half of the 19th century?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Scholars Speak - Linford Fisher

Religion, Religions, Religious, and Native Americans in Colonial America
We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Linford Fisher, assistant professor of history at Brown University, for a two-part interview on religion in colonial New England. Fisher is one of the finest young scholars in the field of colonial America and Native American religions. His first book The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America is available for pre-order and will be out this summer. It is certain to be a must-read.

(if I were a student studying for a quiz on Wednesday, I would pay a lot of attention to Dr. Fisher's discussion of David Hall's work) 

1) What drew you to colonial American history and to Native American religions?

File:Robert Keanye plaque, Boston, MA - IMG 6647.JPGI recently came across a hand-written sheet of paper (remember those?) from 2001 on which I had listed out potential dissertation topics should I happen to get admitted into a Ph.D. program. The list is pretty entertaining, but in retrospect, one of the twenty or so ideas was eerily prescient: “Evangelization of Native Americans.” But that wasn’t really where I was intellectually at the moment. I was admitted to Harvard to study late nineteenth / early twentieth century social reform and was hoping to build on my M.A. thesis on the settlement house movement (the thesis looked at Robert A. Woods and Boston’s South End House). In my first semester I took a “Radical Religion” seminar with David D. Hall—essentially a research seminar on transatlantic puritanism—and by the time I had handed in my final paper on Robert Keayne and the issue of usury in early Boston, I knew I was hooked on the colonial period. I dabbled for a while in transatlantic Puritanism but eventually realized that, no matter how much I was trying to focus on Puritans, Native Americans were omnipresent in ways that I couldn’t quite explain or understand. So I began to read widely in the literature on American Indians in the colonial period and soon realized that the period after King Philip’s War was this historiographical black hole, until the First Great Awakening, that is, when particular Native groups in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and on Long Island, suddenly reappeared long enough to convert en masse in the revivals. I wanted to know what happened to these groups between the 1670s and the 1740s and why they chose to convert so suddenly and completely in the Awakening. Despite being told by some well-meaning folks that there simply wasn’t enough out there to sustain a dissertation, once I started researching and writing I was amazed at how much I had from which to draw. Although the dissertation only went up to the 1780s, for the book I continued the story up through the 1820s, but in reality there is no real “ending” for Native religious engagement. What I found was that while the Awakening was one important season of religious engagement, it alone does not adequately capture the complicated ways in ideas about religion intertwined with concerns over land and community sovereignty. And, the narrative about “sudden and complete conversion” in the Awakening was wrong, by the way.

2) In one of the “Major Problems in American History” essays, David Hall discusses the “enchanted worlds” of colonial Americans. Did those enchanted worlds change during the eighteenth century and did Native Americans participate in those enchanted worlds?

Although I love Worlds of Wonder, I have long found that colonial Americans continued to live in enchanted worlds, despite the apparent breakdown in the sharedness of this world in the early eighteenth century between educated elite leaders and the people in the pew. Even more, history has a funny way of moving in cycles; fast forward another hundred years and, immediately following a supposedly “secular” phase of American history—i.e., the decade or so immediately following the American Revolution—suddenly you have massive revivals breaking out in Kentucky, Virginia, and eventually New York and New England. I increasingly believe that there have always been portions of American society who live in “enchanted worlds” – both in the eighteenth century and now (the rise of global Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement attest to the ongoing power of enchantment today, I think). In the colonial period, many Natives fell in the “enchanted world” camp. Some of this was due to their pre-contact beliefs and practices that lent themselves to reading divine or supernatural causes to illness, weather changes, and other inexplicable events (much like the worlds of wonder Hall describes). Doug Winiarski has a great essay, “Native American Popular Religion in New England's Old Colony, 1670–1770,” which illuminates some of this belief among Natives post-contact. But even among Natives who could be seen as “New Light” in orientation, belief in an enchanted world abounded. The Mohegan Joseph Johnson noted that on December 22, 1771, all those in his uncle’s house heard an “Uncommon noise, as if one Struck with all his might upon the housetop,” once in the evening, and twice more at daybreak. Just the day before, a large black spot “about the bigness of an half Copper” appeared on the palm of the hand of Johnson’s aunt, which stayed for a while, then vanished, but left her with “a strange sort of feeling after Some time.” “What can be the meaning of these,” Johnson pondered, “we must leave to time to determine.” The question was not whether there was meaning in such events, but what that meaning was.

(part 2 will be posted on Friday so we can all have something to chew on for the weekend)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Religious Pluralism for Community College Teachers

Here is an amazing opportunity for our readers who teach in Community Colleges. The Newberry Library in Chicago will host a seminar on religious pluralism with an all-star cast of scholars to lead them, including Diana Eck, Tisa Wenger, and our own Kevin Schultz.

Here's more info:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Salem in the Classroom

Teaching Salem
Ten years ago, I spent a lot of time on Salem in the undergraduate survey. In part, this was self serving. I was a religious historian and the witch trials were a moment where I could harp on the importance of religion – how colonial New Englanders saw themselves living amid wonders, enchantments, and judgments (as historian David Hall so beautifully wrote about in Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment). In part, this was because I focused far more on how people experienced their lives in the past than on what caused events like the writing of the Constitution.

And wow, if ever there was a moment in colonial America that was a good place to stop and ponder, Salem is it. Take, for instance, the source material (here's one site with tons of materials). There’s tons of it and so much of it has been digitized. We have court proceedings where women speak, where servant-slaves speak, where colonial elites and everyday people go back and forth. And not just one person (as in the case of Anne Hutchinson) … lots of women and men.

Tituba from late 19th century
My favorite, and probably for many of you, is Tituba. There is so much that’s fascinating about her story, and I highly recommend Elaine Breslaw’s book on her. We can read her testimony, where the devil appears to her. The devil seems to act like a white master: he threatens her with physical and spiritual harm; then he tantalizes her with temptations of nice and pretty things. So students can read her testimony to understand her imagined world. But then we can ask some other questions. How do we explain a moment when colonial authorities were looking to Tituba for answers and aid? How do we explain that Tituba was not executed at Salem? She lived on even though she claimed direct encounters with the dark side. And then, how do we explain representations of her in American art that shifted in presenting her as Indian-looking to more and more African? Students could trace how Tituba was represented over time. (this, it seems to me, is part of the story of how Americans in the twentieth century remembered slavery as only a history of African Americans and forgot the history of Indian enslavement – a point Rebecca Goetz made last week).
Diorama from 2001

There are so many different ways to teach Salem. One could create accusation games where students get 10 extra points if they write down someone who cheated on the last quiz, 5 if they write down someone who they thought may have cheated. See if anyone writes anything down, and then get into what happens when blame becomes useful (and of course, no one gets any points, but the students who wrote names down feel pretty bad about themselves). Or, one could have students follow individuals like Giles Corey to learn through biography.

For students who might be studying for a Monday quiz, they may want to consider the testimony of Tituba in Major Problems; they may want to think about the differences between how David Hall describes colonial New England, and how T. H. Breen does; an A student may consider Anne Bradstreet’s concerns for her children in her 1656 poem, and how Alexander Hamilton described the material possessions of those in the colonies.

And finally, Professor Schultz asked how do I account for the Salem outbreak. To be straightforward, I don’t. I leave it as a mystery for my students – that the beauty of history is that our arguments about causation are educated, informed, thought-out, refined-by-debate arguments … but they are nonetheless arguments. I’m just waiting for some fiction writer (if he or she hasn’t already) to put together something on vampires at Salem. If Abraham Lincoln was actually a vampire hunter, I’m not sure why Cotton Mather wasn’t too.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Unteaching images of slavery

When I was in graduate school, I TAed for a class on the Civil War. The prof usefully told us that the class would have almost nothing to do with the battles or the military strategy of the war or the generals, and everything to do with the context, the politics, and the ramifications.

A small handful of students immediately left and are now probably serving as re-enactors somewhere in western Pennsylvania or northern Virginia.

The midterm question for the course, though, has always fascinated me: By what year was the civil war inevitable?

My heart-of-hearts answer has always been 1793, with the invention of the cotton gin. What makes the cotton gin so transformative, of course, is that it's central to the democratization of slavery, if such a phrase makes any sense at all. But with a few acres of land, a handful of slaves, and access to a cotton gin, a small farmer could make his or her way. Thus slavery expands westward, and regional variations become a looming crisis, which quickly becomes inevitable.

Right now I'm teaching slavery and religion (particularly the religion of the slaveholders--slave religion is next week), and I'm using the churches to show how slavery goes from being a "necessary evil" to a "positive good" in the 1820s and 1830s, decades that I've just taught them were the time of the Second Great Awakening, perfectionism, Finneyite revival, and the creation of a Benevolent Empire. Now this?

Religion was only one of the three arenas of the South's justification of slavery--economics (Dew) and politics (Calhoun) were the other two. But religion is so useful because the major denominations divide in the 1840s, prefiguring the national divide a short while later. Plus, trying to explain the Curse of Ham is incredibly difficult, because it just makes so little sense at all.

This leads us to a discussion of willful ignorance. Clearly willful ignorance was at the heart of the "positive good" argument, and this contrasts sharply to the image of slavery many students have inherited from Gone With The Wind. And that's part of the point. Teaching them that willful ignorance leads in sometime horrific places and to images that nevertheless shape our world goes a long way toward teaching them about the variables in history, and that the past isn't even past.

On the other hand, teaching them that willful ignorance is not just a thing that is located in history is another problem all together.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Revelations from Salem

What Salem Teaches Us

After yesterday’s lecture on British colonial development from 1607 to 1698, one of my students asked at the end of class, “what do historians think happened at Salem? It just sounds kinda kooky.” Oh goodness, my friend. Do historians have thoughts about the Salem Witch Trials … why yes they do: everything from moldy bread causing hallucinations to younger women trying to take revenge on older women to conspiracies against women obtaining property and power to fears of violence on the frontier to losers in the expanding economy lashing out at the perceived winners. For every historian, there are probably three arguments about why there was an outbreak of accusations at Salem.
When I lectured on Salem, however, I didn’t try to explain what caused it. I didn’t delve into it much, in part because we'll discuss it on Monday after reading some of the court testimony from Tituba. During lecture, I pointed out that during the trials, about 150 people were imprisoned and about 20 were executed or died in prison. I use Salem to show not that the colonies were backward, but that they were growing and succeeding. I asked my class, could the Jamestownians of 1607 have imprisoned 150 of their lot? Could they have done it in 1608? How about 1609? Could the Pilgrims have done it in 1620 and survived? How about the Puritans at Massachusetts Bay? After the requisite silence (it appears that all large classes must have 5 to 15 seconds of silence after any question is asked), one student said, “well, no, cause how would they grow their crops?” Another quickly shot in, “umm, they barely had 150 people and everybody was too busy dying.” A third kicked in, “if you have to fight against Indians, you don’t want your people in jail.” Exactly! The witch hunt at Salem could happen because the colonists were successful. They had risen in number (to about 250,000 total in 1700 with more than 50,000 in Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth combined) such that they had time for mass witch hunts, mass imprisonments, and even executions.

So I never answered why Salem happened. But I think it works as another piece of evidence for colonial growth, a growth that would then go into overdrive during the eighteenth century and leave many colonists believing they can actually take on and beat one of Europe’s most powerful countries in 1776.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Goetz part 2

The Scholars Speak (part 2 with Rebecca Goetz).

Our thanks again to Rebecca Goetz of Rice University for discussing colonial settlement, the role of religion and enforced labor, and the differences and similitaries between the North and the South.

3. North versus South
Ed’s third question deals with differences between the colonial North and the colonial South. As he points out, textbooks often present the northern colonies, most notably the New England colonies, as religious, enchanted, and driven by consumer goods. The south is presented as a place obsessed with profit and with slavery. I think these divisions are largely artificial. The roots of this division are twofold: it stems partly from a temptation to read antebellum sectional divisions back on the colonial period, and partly from Jack P. Greene’s synthetic history of the colonial period Pursuits of Happiness. In Pursuits, Greene argued that Americans have too long been taught that New England was the source of the United States’ political and intellectual heritage. Greene showed that New England was in fact atypical: its demographics and culture were wildly different from that of the mid-Atlantic, the Chesapeake, Carolina, and the Caribbean. New England was comprised primarily of families and it resulted in a self-reproducing population of English people almost immediately. No other English region in the New World was like that. Far more typical were the wild demographies of the Chesapeake, where migrants were comprised mainly of young single men and it took decades to create a self-reproducing English population. Greene, I think, was right on about New England’s atypicality, but his synthesis has led to other divisions between New England and everywhere else. I don’t find these particularly productive.
Take religion, for example. New England’s puritans were a pious lot, and the Chesapeake harbored England’s lawless and godless. New Englanders lived in an enchanted, supernatural world, full of devils and witches and  portents. In Virginia, damned souls made tobacco for profit (apologies to Edward Bond). It’s a common portrait, and it would make historians’ lives so much simpler if it were true. But it isn’t. Consider this document:
“Upon the first day of April my wife was washing a bucke[t] of clothes, and of a sudden her clothes were all besprinkled with blood form the first beginning to the rincing of them, at last in such abundance as if an hand should invisibly take handfuls of gore blood and throw it upon the linnen. Where it lay all of an heape in the washing-tub, she sent for me in, and I tooke up one gobbet of blood as big as my fingers end, and stirring it in my hand it did not stain my fingers nor the linnen: Upon this miraculous premonition and warning from God having some kinde of intimation of some designe of the Indians (though nothing appeared till that day) I provided for defence, and though we were but five men and mistrusted not any villainy towards us before: yet we secured our selves against 20 savages which were three houres that day about my house. Blessed be the name of God.”
You’d think that this prophetic bit of blood in the laundry came from New England, but if you thought that, you would be wrong. James Horn uses this document from Virginia in 1644 in his book, Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake (1994, quote on page 381), to introduce a chapter on religion and popular belief. Horn argues, quite convincingly and with plenty of evidence, that English society in the Chesapeake was highly religious, and not all that different from New England. Edward Bond, in his Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (2000) makes a similar argument: historians must take the religiosity of English people outside of New England seriously.
The same goes for New England and slavery. Slavery was not just the province of the colonial South and Caribbean. Slavery was legal in all colonies; New York City’s population was 40% enslaved by the middle of the eighteenth century. The great merchant houses of Newport and Providence were up to their necks in the African slave trade. And New England’s founding fathers, even the oft-admired Governor John Winthrop, were perfectly happy to trade in Indian slaves with the Caribbean. (How else would one dispose of captured survivors of the Pequot War? We’ll be hearing more from Linford Fisher on this shortly.) No one in New England or elsewhere was making abolitionist arguments. (Well, hardly anyone, but that’s a post for another time.)
I suppose it is convenient to teach undergrads from the formula of difference, but I think a greater understanding of colonial English society emerges from thinking about similarity.  The divisions of the antebellum world shouldn’t be read onto the seventeenth and eighteenth-century past.
4. Primary Sources
Ed’s last questions ask me to name two favorite primary sources and one favorite secondary source.
I’m going to cheat a little on this one! I like to teach with two kinds of primary sources: court records and political cartoons. Court records are marvelous because they give us a window into everyday lives and their little conflicts. They also allow the voices of the underclass—servants, slaves, and poor planters, to emerge, in the way that reading the letters, diaries, and other papers of the planter class do not. Consider this one from 29 January 1657/58, Northampton County, Virginia:
“Whereas I Jane Delimus having wrongfully scandalized and abused Mrs Ann Stringer ye wife of Capt John Stringer in saying and reporting that shee marked a sow of myne which I acknowledge to be false and untrue therefore I humbly desire her ye said mrs Ann Stringer to forgive and remitt my offence which I am heartely sory for.” [Volume 8, fol. 1]
There’s so much here to talk about: gender, status, the importance of livestock, even imagining the background that might help us make sense of what appears to be a petty dispute. I could drive an entire class period around this document.
Here’s one of my favorite American Revolution cartoons, by Paul Revere. If you thought the Quebec Bill didn’t matter, think again!
In terms of secondary sources, I think my absolute all-time favorite read is John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive (1994).  This is the story of a young English girl, taken and held for ransom by French-allied Mohawks. When her family finally got the money to redeem her, there was a problem: Eunice Williams did not want to come home. Ah, the problems of colonialism…
[for History 109 students, they may want to take from these interviews which historian in Major Problems saw patriarchalism as milder, why would a slaveholder like William Byrd punish his slaves, which former slave recounted the horrors of the Middle Passage, what happened to a slave if she or he converted to Christianity in colonial Virginia, and what the rise of chattel slavery did to patriarchy; see you for our quiz today!]