An American Family Story in Ten Parts

1. In 1621, Thomas Prence arrived in Plymouth Colony and claimed “one akre” of land in the new settlement. Thirteen years later, a combination of ambition and a reputation for being one of the most ardent Separatist Puritans in a colony full of Separatist Puritans led to his election as governor, and he would remain a member of Plymouth’s political elite from that point forward. After the 1657 death of William Bradford-Plymouth’s original governor and more than any other man the motor that drove the colony-Prence once again became governor. Continue reading “An American Family Story in Ten Parts”

Constitutional Liberties and Race: Terms and Conditions Apply

A couple of weeks before the holiday, a robust debate emerged on the AAIHS blog about the Thirteenth Amendment, in particular the effects of its notorious “loophole” as described in the recent documentary 13th. Patrick Rael’s “Demystifying the Thirteenth Amendment and its Impact on Mass Incarceration” got the conversation started, and Dennis Childs’s “Slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment, and Mass Incarceration” was a scathing rejoinder to Rael’s post. For those who haven’t seen 13th, or are unfamiliar with the loophole, the Thirteenth Amendment, which “ended” slavery, reads as follows:

SECTION 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. SECTION 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Continue reading “Constitutional Liberties and Race: Terms and Conditions Apply”

The Great Student Blogging Experiment: Some Results

Early last fall, I wrote about my plans to add a fairly elaborate blogging component to my upper-level Latin American history course. This semester-long blogging assignment was, I hoped, a way for me to replace the “traditional” research paper capstone assignment,which I believed had become at best stale, and at worst, counterproductive of the goals I had for my courses. I wasn’t the only one questioning the standard research paper assignment or its structure; in particular, a great, provocative article on the subject by Rebecca Schuman affirmed my thought process and provided the impetus for me to radically rethink the research and writing components of my upper-level courses. So off we went.  Continue reading “The Great Student Blogging Experiment: Some Results”

Objective History is Impossible. And That’s a Fact.

There are facts, and there are historical facts, E.H. Carr reminded us years ago. Fact: lots of people crossed the Rubicon. Historical fact: Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE. A fact is embedded within a historical context–or set of contexts–that gives it historical significance and meaning. So when does a plain old “fact” rise to the level of “historical fact?” The short answer: when a historian decides it does. The fact and its context acquire historical meaning in retrospect, as they are recovered, interpreted, and presented by the historian. Caesar crossing the Rubicon is important if you care about Caesar and the developments with Rome that came out of his decision to move south out of the alps. Facts happened. Historical facts happened, but then someone asked of them, “so what?” That’s it, and that’s all.
Continue reading “Objective History is Impossible. And That’s a Fact.”

What is “Historical Literacy?” I Wrote Some Things.

My first post as a Contributor to the Teaching US History blog is up today. In it, I ruminate a bit on our love-hate relationship with the survey course, and think about what it means to be “historically literate”:

Leave aside for the moment the fact that merely putting material in front of students is no way to guarantee learning, and consider that no other discipline makes this type of claim about their survey course. My colleagues in the Psychology Department don’t say that PSYC 101 renders a student proficient enough to become a therapist. Biology 101 isn’t sold as the only course one needs before they can operate on someone. I can’t take Geology 101 and expect the USGS to let me come along when their team goes down into the volcano’s caldera (alas). But somehow the history survey renders a student perfectly conversant–nay, intimately familiar with–US History? That’s absurd, and we need to stop presenting–and defending–the US survey this way

For the rest, head over to teachingushistory.co and check it out. While you’re there, if you’re not familiar with the blog, take some time to browse around. There’s really good stuff there from a lot of really interesting and cool contributors. Thanks to the editorial staff for letting me join the merry band of teaching historians!

 

In the Shadow of the Civil War’s Beginning

As a scholar engaged in a study of the Civil War Era in the United States, It’s been my job lately to think about the way we remember and interpret this period. And the more I think about it, the more I believe we’ve been doing it wrong. Our national obsession with primarily Eastern, predominately politico-military events from April, 1861 to June, 1865, creates a refuge for bad history–teleology, really–that has had nothing short of a disastrous effect on the way we reckon with things like class, race, and freedom.  Continue reading “In the Shadow of the Civil War’s Beginning”