Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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.
|Patrick Henry declaring "give me liberty or give me death"|
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
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.
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)
Thursday, February 23, 2012
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
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
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
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!
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).
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.
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
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
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)
Monday, February 13, 2012
Here's more info: http://www.newberry.org/sites/default/files/calendar-attachments/FullProjectDescription%20d3%20Boggs.pdf
Sunday, February 12, 2012
|Tituba from late 19th century|
|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.
Friday, February 10, 2012
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
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.
Monday, February 6, 2012
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