Friday, July 31, 2015

Tilting at Windmills, Vol. 1, No. 12

How I plan to Teach American History from 1865

     Yesterday I wrote about what I was going to teach when I covered Reconstruction in my American History after 1865 course this fall. In today's post I am going to cover a bit on how I will teach this era which serves as a thought process for teaching the entire course. I feel that when I articulate my thoughts I develop them in a far more realistic manner instead of focusing on idealism which turns out to be impractical in some classroom situations. 

     Keeping in mind that I will have a small class with anywhere from six to twelve students, I decided to go with three groups apiece. There is only one three section chapter, five four section chapters, seven five section chapters, and three six section chapters. Four groups would be optimal for this course, but I dislike two man groups except for my film course. Group size will be three people and the peer assessment evaluation will be in play.

     Peer assessment evaluation is used so that students make an active contribution to the group work. I send an e-mail out for each module of four chapters. Students can reply to me indicating that a team member is not doing the work and that the other members are carrying the load. Since much of the grading is through the group activities, slackers get penalized for up to half the points possible. This addresses the issue of group coasting where on student rides the coattails of the others. 

     This summer's course used 24 lessons and I currently have 26 listed now using the days system. I think I'm going to cut two of them out by turning two of the five section chapters into three group lessons instead of six. There is an overload of five section chapters in the second half of the class and that will allow for some balance and provide a cushion for the inevitable cancelled classes. 

A Bit Too Complicated
     The four essay assignments, mid-term, and final stay in place. The 24 quizzes will continue as well. I find those prompt students to do better or to even do the work because they know there is a quiz at the end of each lesson. Some of them are take home while others are in class. I prefer to mix that up because it keeps students off balance as well. I do have fifty points to put into the system as we do not have the Constitution to cover. I may insert a short section on Missouri History as two lessons although I have to confess I am not really wanting to. I would love to insert a game into the class and my old high school teacher Mr. Dorson had a nice pretty simple game he used for WWI in his Recent American History class. It took up two hour long class sessions, maybe three and that would fit perfectly here coupled with a short game essay. If I can remember enough of the rules I may use that instead. 

     I have decided that for Fall I will require students to present an index card with three questions written on it in place of the social media page that we used in the summer. I had originally tried to go with Twitter, but that seemed to be too difficult for people to develop an account for. When Canvas is up and running for my classes in future semesters I may change again. For now, the card will suffice for their attendance taking. 
     The key is still the lessons for each chapter. By having them read the chapter and then zero in on a section as a group by analzying it in greater depth with video, primary sources, and websites for more detail each group develops a better understanding of that particular section. When the groups present what they learned to the class, it is an opportunity for additional learning on all parts. While no student is able to develop a deeper grasp of each section, they at least learn more than just the book. They also put the pieces into the larger theme through the use of Wikispace and their essays. The exams will feature more essay work than ever because I believe that is the only way to truly develop an understand of what they have learned. 

     All in all, I think this course promises to be exciting. The lesson development phase is underway and will probably last most of the course as I refine parts of it, especially the PowerPoints I will have for back up use and in future online versions of the course. I think the students will like it as well. The best part is the first day is the last day for lecture!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

History According to Jim, Vol. 1, No. 12

Teaching Reconstruction

            I have a feeling some of my students are about to get a rude awakening. We will be launching the second half of the US History survey course this fall for students at my campus. I am not sure when the last time the course was offered at this particular campus. We see a huge number of students take the first survey course, but very few take the second one. I am hoping that after a few rotations with the flipped classroom we will see some changes in this, but time will tell. 

            I am going to launch the course with a double lesson plan on Reconstruction. This is available for coverage in the first survey course, but judging by conversations with my fellow instructors few of us actually cover it in depth. Time is always an issue with teaching the survey courses and invariably there is always a weather cancellation or something else that swipes one to two class dates away. That leaves Reconstruction with less time for analysis and it needs a deep analysis. Most instructors don’t cover the period for assessment purposes and that pretty much eliminates any chance students will pay attention to the lesson if there is even one held.

            So with that in mind, I decided to include Reconstruction. So much of our history goes through Reconstruction. In fact, the national arguments over the meaning of the confederate battle flag and memorials are tied directly to this period. It is also the sesquicentennial of the period and in my opinion is the least known period of American history. Actually, the entire period from the end of the Civil War to WWI is probably a vacant mental picture for most Americans. Most will not know anything from this period or even that the Gilded Age took place in it. Judging by the people who think that racism only recently became a problem in this country, I’d say the period needs to be brought up in depth.
            This is the period that the lost cause people are able to take advantage of people’s ignorance and twist information to support their myths. Many are adherents of the Dunning School which postulates that Reconstruction was a failure because it violated republicanism by taking the right to vote or hold office from southern whites. This is part of the foundation of white supremacy in America. I tend to agree with Eric Foner that Reconstruction did not fail so much as it was left uncompleted, partially dismantled, and left for almost a century before the nation picked up the principles and completed it as part of the Civil Rights Era. 

            To be fair, modern historians have several competing interpretations of it, but I will be following Eric Foner’s view. I took all three of his classes via EdX and was quite impressed with his work. I also read through his book on the subject which merely convinced me even more that he was on the right track. I think it is somehow appropriate that Foner has helped revolutionize the interpretation on Reconstruction since he teaches at Columbia which is where Dunning developed his views a century ago.

            I love what Foner says about the enforcement of the Constitution in the Civil Rights Era. He says no constitutional changes were needed in the Civil Rights Era other than the poll tax. Government just needed to enforce the existing laws which had been made in the Reconstruction period. Now this ties in with his views with Reconstruction as the Second American Revolution. A revolution is about changing the existing structure in a fundamental and radical way. Reconstruction was about changing the structure of America as to include black Americans as equal members. It met with great resistance in the South where white supremacy united the various classes of whites and generated the lost cause myth development as a reaction to this revolution. 

            It did not fail so much as sputter to an end because the federal government chose not to enforce the laws it had created to enact that revolution. Only when better men came along did the reins of Reconstruction get picked up again and this time borne to completion. Unfortunately, there are plenty of lesser men and women with us today that would like to roll back the gains made in this revolution and restore white supremacy. Hopefully, my class will be one that helps my students develop an interpretation of the period that reflects the Foner views.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blog of the Week, Vol. 1, No. 12

     In this week's installment we turn our attention to Michael Lynch's blog, Past in the Present. You can find the blog at  Michael has been blogging for several years and also edits another blog at the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy. He teaches at Lincoln Memorial University and has a BA in History from that school and MA in US History from the University of Tennessee.

     His areas of interest on the blog usually cover American History from the Revolution through the Civil War. He has a peculiar interest in Tennessee history and believe it or not, has been posting repeatedly about anything to do with the Jurassic Park series. I am going to guess he has seen Jurassic World at least three times. Hey, even a historian can have their fanboi moments!

     It seems that he started this blog back in July of 2008 which means he just celebrated the seventh anniversary of blogging. A hearty congratulations to Michael on that anniversary! He has kept up with the blog consistently and while he does not seem to have a schedule, makes at least a new weekly post. The blog is on Wordpress.

    If there is a drawback to the blog I think it is in how it is set up. I find it a bit sparse and stripped down which I think is slightly unusual for a blog that has been in operation for seven years. The obligatory information is there on the right sidebar, and I do really enjoy seeing the Twitter feed, but I somehow feel as if Michael could have more informational links available. Maybe it is just me. He does sprinkle a lot of links throughout his posts, so that is something that is very much appreciated.

     One thing I really do enjoy when I visit other blogs is looking at their blogrolls. I have found several blogs this way and Michael's blogroll is a good one. Michael's posts are very good ones as well. They are informative and there are some consistent commenters. I do like that the site is not focused on one particular event such as the Civil War or Revolution. This allows the author some room to discuss history on a broader scale and I think that is important. Don't get me wrong, the specialized blogs have their place too, but many seem to repeat each other. Michael does not do that and I think it is rather refreshing to read what another historian is thinking about when it comes to history at large.

     All in all, I like the blog a lot. I am a daily visitor and enjoy what I read here, even the Jurassic World posts. I'm pretty sure Michael is sneaking in courses on dinosaurs and is a budding paleontologist. He did say he went back to the University of Tennessee as a doctoral student, but he did not say it was in history. Good luck with the grind regardless of the major.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 12

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, 2nd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. xiv + 736 pp.

            Robert Middlekauff’s 1982 contribution to the Oxford History of the United States was the inaugural volume of the series. It was a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize and was extensively overhauled in 2005 for an updated second edition. Middlekauff’s work has been a wonderful addition to any library that covers any part of the American Revolution. As with any event in history, the exploration of its roots are critical to understanding why it occurred and in the way it did. Middlekauff devoted the first third of the volume covering those roots and the years leading up to 1775 before the opening fight at Lexington and Concord. This is very important because there has always been a very large question concerning how quickly the American colonists changed from loyal supporters of the British crown and British citizens to disloyal rebels and American patriots. 

            The themes of pre-revolutionary American are explored along political, social, and religious lines as well as economic. How these themes converged to explode into the Revolution is to understand the ideology of the Revolution itself. This work came out during the years when historians like Bailyn and Wood were concerned with the political ideology and focused on the Republicanism that emerged from those colliding themes. Middlekauf did not devote many pages to social, cultural, gender, or class issues in the first edition, but did include them in the revised second edition which revitalized the book and refreshed it. As a result, the second edition retains its place as an outstanding contribution to Revolutionary history and has not become dated by newer historiography like so many other comprehensive works have become.

            Once Middlekauff arrives in the War for Independence the volume settles down to mainly political and military histories, although the second edition expands on women’s roles in the conflict and American Indians while also expanding on developments leading to the creation of the Constitution in 1787. I was a bit disappointed in the familiar assertion that the American victory at Saratoga had a direct impact on France signing the Franco-American Alliance treaty rather than the fact that the French had been preparing to enter the war as soon as they could convince Spain to join the alliance and they spent 1777 preparing the French fleet for war. However, this is a common theme in revolutionary history and one which historians often disagree. In any event, Middlekauff definitely highlighted the important role the French played throughout the Revolution.

            By this point of the war the British had began to realize that the conflict had become a global one which had major strategic problems for them. In hindsight it became obvious that their lack of planning and unwillingness to escalate the forces required for victory or understand the scale of the conflict had played major roles in their eventual failure to successfully resolve the situation. With France in the war, Britain regulated the North American colonies to a sideshow and focused on maintaining what it felt were more lucrative colonies in its empire. Middlekauff definitely points this out and how this new strategy completely altered the war’s aims. As many historians have pointed out, the results of the war were not inevitable and at any point had American forces not won some of the battles that they did win from 1778 onward, the results could have been very different from what did transpire.

            I was happy with the two chapters that were heavily edited for the new edition concerning inside and outside the campaigns. The role of smallpox in the war was often overlooked for years, but historians have concluded that inoculation of American troops may very well have been one of the most important decisions Washington made during the entire military phase of the war. In addition, Middlekauff painted an update picture of both that decision and how troops experienced the war. This is an expansion of the more modern bottom up view of the Revolution. I think this is important too because it helps negate the old interpretation that the Revolution’s outcome was a Providential event. By exploring the many small details that influenced the events of the conflict Middlekauff is able to show that the final outcome of the conflict had far more to do with logistics than with Providence. 

            There was no possible way for Middlekauff to explore in great detail every aspect of the period that he covered without writing several volumes and employing a small company of historians and researchers. The era is just too vast. However, as a volume that highlights the important themes and events that transpired in that time, he is able to deliver a fine body of work that should whet the appetite of anyone interested in the broader overview of the Revolution. At the same time, his sources can be used as a launching point to a greater exploration of particular interest for any reader. The volume is quite useful for a survey class on the subject and can form the backbone text for that class when supplemented by primary sources and additional readings to reinforce it. As such, it has found a home in my library and has been used in my own research on the period as a starting point on multiple occasions. It is a worthy entry and a handy reference.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tilting at Windmills, Vol. 1, No. 11

      Not too much for this edition of Tilting at Windmills unfortunately. I did however spend the last two days working on an article for The Journal of the American Revolution on which I hope to finish proofreading later today for submission. My summer course for American History to 1865 ended Wednesday and I had final grading to do as well. I wanted to review my teaching a bit before launching into writing a few posts on my experiences with a completely flipped classroom.

So until the next Tilting session, enjoy summer! Once the article is published I will post it here for your perusal as well, but they should have first rights to its appearance. After all, the article is about the use of Reporting the Revolutionary War and the website in the classroom as content.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

History According to Jim, Vol. 1, No. 11

The Oxford History of the United States

     Once upon a time two historians had the idea for a multi-volume history of the United States which would in their words, provide a summary of the political, social, and cultural history of the nation for a general audience. Those two historians were C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter and the time was the 1950s. Obviously, a bit of water has passed under the bridge. These two titans of history never got around to writing a volume for the planned series, but eventually the concept did bear fruit.

     Several historians were connected to the series at one time or another, but none of the original historians wrote a book for the series. Instead, they wrote books which were good, but not in keeping with the scope of the series. In addition, the field of history itself changed in the 1960s as several subfields were firmly established as having serious validity in the grand scheme of history which wrought a major upheaval in the historical profession itself. Finally, in 1982, the first volume to see print as part of the series was published. This was Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789.

     The original hardcover edition of this book contained a projected outline for the series on the rear dust jacket flap that showed eleven volumes for the set and listed the authors. Of those listed, only three were actually published as part of the set. These were over the Civil War, the New Deal era and WWII, and the Early Republic era. The rest of the list failed to be produced by the original authors although one volume on the Jackson era was written, but excluded due to the excessive focus on economics.
    C. Vann Woodward was the original editor of the series until his death in 1999. David Kennedy  took over the editorship of the series after that. As of today, eight volumes have been published for the series with four more in the works. The series has met with great success since the first volume was published. I have all of the eight published works at the moment and have found them to be quite useful in developing my survey and film classes. I am looking forward to the publication of the remaining four volumes which are supposed to be done by 2017, but I'm not holding my breath.

     For historians looking for a series on the history of the US, this is a great series. The authors are first rate. Their research is outstanding. Events are covered in good detail and if you want more information the notes with the sources are readily available to work from. I have used them extensively in my own research and found them to be a great starting point to build on. They are my go to books when I am looking for information on the grand scheme of events.

    This is list taken from Wikipedia showing the 12 volumes, their release dates, and awards earned. 

Volume Author Title Release date Pages ISBN Awards
1 Peter Mancall American Origins 2017 TBA TBA
2 Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton Imperial America, 1674–1763 2016 TBA TBA
3 Robert Middlekauff The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 1982; 2005 (2nd ed.) 760 978-0195162479 Nominated for 1983 Pulitzer Prize for History
4 Gordon S. Wood Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 2009 800 978-0195039146 Nominated for 2010 Pulitzer Prize for History
5 Daniel Walker Howe What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 2007 928 978-0195078947 Won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for History
6 James M. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era 1988 904 978-0195038637 Won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for History
7 Richard White The Long Crisis 2016 TBA TBA
8 Bruce Schulman Reawakened Nation: The Birth of Modern America, 1896–1929 unknown TBA 978-0195156362
9 David M. Kennedy Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 1999 990 978-0195038347
Won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for History
10 James T. Patterson Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974
1996 880 978-0195076806 Won the 1997 Bancroft Prize
11 James T. Patterson Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore 2005 448 978-0195122169
12 George Herring From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 2008 1056 978-0195078220 Nominated for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blog of the Week, Vol. 1, No. 11

     Blogging is an exercise which really has no definite rules. There are a lot of blogs out there, but I tend to stick with certain ones such as history. Blogging has also been around for a long time on the Internet and while the younger generation is not blogging like they used to as they flit among the  social media pages in search of the next new thing, there are plenty of people who continue to blog because it is one of the best information transferring systems on the Internet for academic types. In fact, more of those people or groups are still beginning to enter the blogosphere and one such is the Organization of American Historians.

     Recently, the OAH began its blog, Process. This is a blog that is open to all of its members to use as a means of sharing their thoughts. Unlike most blogs which are forums for their creators, Process is one where potential contributors send in their pitch for a post. They are then commissioned by the staff concerning a topic and after the post is written, it gets reviewed. So basically what we are seeing is a peer reviewed blog which means the information is going to be accurate which is not the case for many bloggers out there.

     Process began on March 2nd, 2015 and runs one to two posts a week. Comments are welcome and moderated which makes this a far better place for actual intellectual conversation than the insult fests over on HNN. The topics are not solely historical. Teaching is a featured topic and current events are often explored through a historical lens. The range of history runs all fields too.

     I think this is a very welcome addition to the OAH stable of publications. One of the greatest things about being a historian is when your voice is heard. The OAH has been working hard to create platforms for that purpose. The Journal of American History, The American Historian, and now Process form a trio of platforms that allow multiple voices to be heard without one having to be a professor at a D1 university for twenty or more years.

     With that in mind, if you are looking for information portals, consider Process. I have not been disappointed since it began to appear. History is such a huge field and there are so many perspectives out there. The posts have been nothing short of intriguing as all kinds of subjects have appeared in the blog. Process allows for the creation and distribution of inforamtion with its historical background shortly after it occurs whereas the print publications are often being developed months if not more than a year before it sees print. This is why the OAH having this blog has made what I think is a substantial step toward maintaining relevancy in our field.

     This is the information age and as a result we want information on current events quickly, not months later. Blogs are excellent platforms for that information and Process is rapidly establishing itself as an academic cutting edge blog for accurate information distribution. So go to and see for yourself. Be prepared to learn!