The Voting Rights Act was passed 55 years ago today. A movement that outlawed widespread voting discrimination, particularly for people of color, yet we all must consider the conundrum: have we really moved that far ahead of where we were 55 years prior?!
I'm curious what everyone in the community is doing as a way of not only encouraging their students to make sure that they are registered but also their family members, friends, kids of voting age, etc. Please share it below!
I think we can all agree that exercising this right to vote has never been more important. The fight for racial equality is from over and we must all do our part.
... View more
Like most of you, no doubt, I’m bracing for a (hopefully) healthy dose of uncertainty during this coming fall semester. As faculty at a community college with a large number of nursing, health science, dental hygiene and engineering students, most of us who teach in the humanities and social sciences have given up our on-campus classroom space so that those professors who need to be face-to-face with students can do so safely. For the first time in my twenty-plus year teaching career, all of my classes will be completely online. I will admit to feeling overwhelmed by this reality in spite of the fact that I have taught online for more than ten years. I was an early adopter to the practice -- flexibility for working students and the creation of classroom space where students who are uncomfortable participating in person can find and share their voices are just two of the many positives of online learning. That being said, I never intended to move to a completely online teaching load and I’m feeling really sad about it. First and foremost, I will miss my students’ energy in the classroom. It’s reasonable to assume that the majority of us who teach -- at any level -- do so because we truly enjoy being with learners. We enjoy the process of guiding people through new information, and we take pride in the accomplishments of our students -- especially those who we have witnessed work extremely hard amidst difficult circumstances. I’m going to miss my daily interactions with fellow faculty. Email and virtual meetings, while productive, are not the same as being in a room with people who share our vision for the students we teach and want to work together to solve problems. I’m going to miss working quietly at my desk while my wonderfully smart and funny office-mate holds her student visiting hours. Meeting her sociology students and encouraging them to take a history course as a supplement to whatever field they are studying has brought many vibrant and energetic young people into my history classroom. I will miss being shushed in the library. And I’ll miss the staff members who keep our college running smoothly day to day and will continue to do so even when the majority of students and faculty are not on campus, especially the administrative assistants who keep me organized and always seem to have a snack in their desks on the days that my energy is lagging. As I prepare now for the semester to begin in three weeks, therefore, I’m looking for ways to not pass on this sense of sadness to my students. There already exists a barrier between students and faculty in online courses because of the method of delivery. How do we overcome that barrier and create the same kinds of connections we have had in the past with on-campus students? Will students attend my virtual office hours? Are there other ways to build bridges and community with online students that have worked in your virtual classroom? Please share.
... View more
With the widespread cases of people afflicted with Covid-19, it can be depressing to hear about the total number of people affected by this disease. Added to that stress is knowing that with the closing of businesses--both temporary and permanent--jobs are lost and the road to economic recovery will be a long one.
Historically, this isn’t the first virulent epidemic in the United States, there have been several instances:
HIV/AIDS Epidemic: The first case of the HIV/AIDs infection was in New York City in 1981--at the time doctors didn’t know what the disease was and what was causing it ¹. As of 2017, there are over 37 million people worldwide living with this infection. To commemorate those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS and to raise awareness on this issue, December 1st is known as World Aids Day².
The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (Spanish Flu): H1N1 was one of the most fatal diseases in the United States history. People from nearly all ages were at risk: those who are 5 years old or younger, 20-40, and 65 and older were vulnerable to the disease³. Worldwide, 50 million people died; 675,000 of them are from the United States⁴. While it is often called the "Spanish Flu" that is a misnomer--the actual origin of the outbreak is unknown⁵.
Polio: One of the few diseases that has been virtually wiped out in the United States for over 30 years⁶. Polio affected more than 37,000 people per year in the US alone⁷.
The one thing these three epidemics have in common is that things have gotten better. While it might not bring a lot of immediate solace to what’s going on, it is a re-affirming reminder that bad things do get better.
As the pandemic continues, it’s important to take care of your physical and mental health. Click on the links below for some great resources and tips on what you can do: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
If you’re interested in learning more about online teaching and the resources available, make sure to check out the premium content in our community page.
¹NYC Aids Memorial, The New York City AIDS Memorial, nycaidsmemorial.org/timeline/.
³ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, History of 1918 Flu Pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2018, www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm.
⁵Andrews, Evan, “Why Was It Called the 'Spanish Flu?'.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Jan. 2016, https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu
⁶ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Polio Elimination in the U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, 25 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/polio-us.html.
... View more
In a recent blog I suggested that we ask our students to think about statues and memorials in their local communities that they would change. One of my goals for the coming school year is to encourage my students to be more aware of their local history and try to place it within the larger narrative of our nation’s past. In 1944 the American Historical Association published American History In Schools and Colleges in which they addressed the vast field of US history education. While there is much about the document that is now out of date -- content recommendations, for example, completely exclude women and non-white people -- I find one of the authors’ many conclusions still worthy of consideration: “The study of American history can help to produce loyal, intelligent, cooperative, well-rounded citizens only if our society honors citizens who possess these qualities.” (Chapter Two) I am struck by this statement as someone who relishes teaching my students about the uncooperative and disloyal. The Patriots were not cooperating with the mother country when they tarred and feathered Loyalists and declared their independence in the 1770s. Nat Turner refused cooperation with his master when he led an insurrection in 1831. Abolitionists expressed disloyalty to the nation when they rallied against anti-slavery petition gag orders and the Fugitive Slave Act. The 20th century has no shortage of intelligent but disloyal un-cooperatives: Alice Paul, WEB DuBois, Malcolm X, Dolores Huerta, and Gloria Steinem to name just a few. What draws me to this aged quote from 1944, however, is that some semblance of this ideology still lingers today: the sentiment that certain people should be memorialized as examples to the rest of us. Who we choose to honor is a central question present in today’s public debates about monuments, statues, flags, and names of military installations. Recently journalist Murray Whyte grappled with this topic in an insightful article titled “Weighing the fate of our most problematic public art” ( Boston Globe , July 10, 2020) Whyte describes the challenges faced by communities struggling to decide what to physically do with monuments determined to be no longer welcome or acceptable. “While defenders, such as the president, cite ‘heritage,’ there is no getting around a simple fact: Colonial monuments were always about domination -- powerfully, clearly, and publicly,” Whyte argues. “In the Jim Crow South, Confederate monuments were symbols of an old racist order, alive and cruelly dominant long after the Union victory in the war. But does locking away history, however ugly, counter the damage it causes?” Whyte’s piece encourages us as students of history to think about ways in which memorials and public art that reflect problematic historical moments in our nation’s past can encourage further discourse. Historians and artists that Whyte spoke to expressed concern that complete removal of certain monuments may mean a loss of opportunity for public conversation about uncomfortable historical realities. Where do these relics go? How do we continue to engage with them even if we as a society have acknowledged that they should not be revered? As historians we need to be continuously cognizant of what our students take with them from our classrooms into the public space. Students who understand that the disloyal and uncooperative have made significant, often positive changes in our nation’s history will, I believe, be better able to contextualize memorials and recognize that the nation’s historical record is far more complicated than any singular monument. As we look toward a future of new public efforts to document our nation's past I hope that we as a society are able to embrace a more diverse and honest conversation about our collective history.
... View more
This summer our college filled three online sections of a six-week intensive Black History course in a matter of weeks. The sheer volume of student requests for capacity overrides led us to add to the number of sections of the full-semester course we will offer in the fall. Here at the community college where I teach students are undoubtedly motivated to understand how we as a nation arrived at current debates about race and racism. Teaching the course has been both exciting and overwhelming because so much is happening in real time around topics about which I’m introducing to the students. News references to “Jim Crow” and “Black Wall Street,” for example, are leading students to wonder about other subjects that were never taught to them in general United States history classes. Keeping the students focused on covering fifteen textbook chapters in just six weeks with the world changing seemingly by the minute around them has been difficult. Try as I might to stick to the course syllabus, weekly discussion boards have inevitably strayed to conversations about current events. I decided early in the first session of summer classes that I needed to try to satisfy both aspects of student curiosity simultaneously -- history and current events. Midway through the first six-week session, therefore, I began sending an extra email to the class each week specifically about current events with links to articles and/or videos to help the students explore a topic that I had seen or read about in the news further. The first link I sent was a “60 Minutes” piece on the Greenwood (Tulsa) Massacre of 1921. My brief email reminded the students about upcoming assignments and then added the link at the end. The cynic in me assumed that my already busy students would ignore the link. Instead I received a handful of emails sharing perspectives about what they had watched. The positive reactions from students encouraged me to continue the practice for the rest of the six-week session. I discovered along the way that a local historical organization had compiled a list of ways that residents could celebrate “Juneteenth” in our state. Sharing that list revealed to my students that Black History physically surrounds them every day -- not only during the month of February. At the end of the course I sent the students a final email that included a list of articles that I believe will be meaningful to the group now that they have completed a Black History course. This list included articles about textbook biases and surveys of current beliefs about the history of slavery. While many of these articles were published prior to the most recent round of civil rights activism that began in May 2020, my hope is that my students now have the historical context through which to understand articles that they likely would not have read prior to studying Black History in a formal course setting. The task of keeping students focused on the past to complete the course goals was enhanced by encouraging them to think about the present. By sending students links to articles and videos I hope that I encouraged the students to look beyond the news sources they might typically read and open their minds to new perspectives. Several students thanked me for helping them sort through “too much” information coming through their social media feeds while others shared articles with me that provided a foundation for further discussion and gave me a window into the news sources that students are regularly reading. How are you balancing the challenge of teaching history and current events this summer? Please share.
... View more
June is Pride Month! Every year, organizations from all over the world hold events to raise awareness on LGBTQ+ issues while also celebrating their pride in being a part of the community.
In honor of Pride Month, I wanted to highlight some of the pioneers who had a major impact on the LGBTQ+ community.
Marsha P. Johnson- Marsha Johnson was a major advocate for the LGBTQ+ rights and had made significant contributions to the community. Originally from New Jersey, Marsha moved to Greenwich Village as it was one of the few places in the country that was a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community¹. She was an active participant of the community and was one of the front-line protesters during the StoneWall riots². Marsha continued to advocate for the community and co-founded STAR ( Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and helped create one of the first homeless shelters for LGBTQ+ youth³.
Edith “Edie” Windsor- Edie Windsor was one of the biggest catalysts for overturning the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) through her case Windsor v. United States. At the time before her case, Edie Windsor's marriage was not recognized by the federal government and after the death of her partner, she was ineligible for deductions on her estate tax⁴. She had sued and challenged Section 3 of DOMA which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman⁵. Her Supreme Court win was the first of many for the LGBTQ+ community; subsequently, the Supreme Court was responsible for helping overturn Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act through Hollingsworth v. Perry, and Obergefell v. United States, respectively.
Keith Haring-World renowned artist Keith Haring played an instrumental role in raising awareness to the issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community. Keith Haring, originally from Pennsylvania, moved to New York City towards the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic which he then contracted later in 1987⁶. Working with multiple organizations and using his art, Keith Haring helped challenge the stigma of being gay and having HIV/AIDs. His artwork is renowned, it’s almost impossible to grow up in New York City during the 90s without seeing his artwork plastered in apparel, posters, and sometimes even mugs.
The list goes on and one, these are just some of the people who had made an impact in the LGBTQ+ community. To learn more, feel free to click on these resources from National Geographic, LGBTQ History, and CNN
1. Gillian Brockell, “The Transgender Women at Stonewall Were Pushed out of the Gay Rights Movement. Now They Are Getting a Statue in New York.,” The Washington Post (June 12, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/06/12/transgender-women-heart-stonewall-riots-are-getting-statue-new-york/.
4. "United States v. Windsor." Oyez. Accessed June 29, 2020. https://www.oyez.org/cases/2012/12-307.
6. Ending HIV. “Gay Art Legend Keith Haring.” Ending HIV, May 29, 2020. https://endinghiv.org.au/blog/legends-keith-haring/.
... View more
The former state hospital in my town has been repurposed into an office building and luxury apartments. I drive by it regularly on my way to the grocery store. Its existence inspired the research I began in 2015 seeking to better understand the care of mentally ill women in the late 19th century. My initial curiosity about that building has contributed to my reading dozens of books on the history of mental illness and women’s healthcare, in addition to spending many, many hours in libraries and archives. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed my research considerably. The archival work I was conducting is paused for the time being because access to the libraries is no longer available. Moving all of my courses online and planning for a seemingly un-plan-able fall semester have meant that time I would have spent this summer on research and writing has instead been dedicated to lots of online meetings and e-mail discussions about this past spring and the fall semester ahead. And yet, the voices that have spoken to me through my research still constantly weigh on my thoughts. Group exercise classes were allowed to resume outside last week here in Massachusetts so my favorite yoga teacher held our class in the courtyard space at the former state hospital -- beautiful green grass, benches, flowering trees and shrubs surrounded the students who remarked on the beauty and tranquility of the space. What played over and over in my head, however, were the stories of men and women who had lived amidst the walls of what formerly was a state institution for those deemed “insane.” I was struck in that moment by how easy it is for history to be forgotten and stories lost -- for kind, well-meaning people to have absolutely no idea of the space they are in, its history and significance. The history teacher in me had to resist the urge to interrupt students’ friendly banter about the beauty of the place with anecdotes of the sadness that would have surrounded us in that same space many years before. The experience has me thinking about voices that are lost as we re-purpose old spaces and contemplate the monuments that decorate our communities. Most of us spend very little time considering their meanings or wondering why one building is saved and others are demolished; why one person is memorialized and others forgotten, until we are forced to consider such questions. Right now, for example, statues of Christopher Columbus, Theodore Roosevelt, and Confederate leaders, among others, are being removed nationwide. It is time, as a society, to start really thinking about whose likeness should be erected in place of these relics of the past. Part of my planning for fall, then, is to design an assignment that will ask students to “replace” -- in essay form -- a historical monument/statue in their community. I’m asking the students to think not only about the history of the chosen monument as it stands today -- what/who it memorializes, when it was built, etc -- but also about ways in which the local community has celebrated or protested the memorial’s existence. What reactions does the current monument elicit from people in the community? From visitors? And, most importantly, to the student, does the monument represent the community’s past, present and future? I’m hoping that this assignment will force students to think more seriously about the issue of historical monuments: who makes decisions about the figures that a community chooses to publicly revere and why. For my students here in New England, I think this is especially relevant to ensure that they do not see the issue of Confederate statue removal as specific to only southern states but as a challenge to all communities throughout the United States to do better.
... View more
Juneteenth. An aphorism? A portmanteau? A celebration marking the end of slavery? It seems that in a time where the holiday is more widely celebrated nationally than ever before, many questions still remain for a majority of the country.
This is the first time I’ve ever received the day off from work to commemorate Juneteenth. Many are aware of the term, but are hard-pressed to describe it to others. A simple internet search lets you know that “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.”  However, it does raise questions for many that feel puzzled about why they never learned about this event in their elementary schooling.
Interestingly, the June 19 event in Texas actually happened two and half years after Lincoln’s much-revered (and widely-taught) Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. As I understand it, these 250,000 enslaved people living in Texas simply did not know they were free, either as a result of poor communication in the era and/or, most likely, an unwillingness to inform them of their freedom on behalf of the slave owners.
With the heightened tensions around race and obscured or whitewashed history, it seems like a great opportunity for us to educate ourselves on why this holiday has long been celebrated by so few and overlooked by so many.
Some resources to read up on Juneteenth that I’ve stumbled upon:
What is Juneteenth?
Mental Floss: 12 Things You Might Not Know about Juneteenth
Article: Tulsa still haunted by memory of white supremacist massacre on eve of Trump visit
These are only a few of the resources I found, but I’d love to know what you use to research Juneteenth! Please share in the comment section below.
... View more
28 years ago today marked the beginning of one of the most prolific events in American History: the LA riots. Five days of civil unrest led to numerous assaults, property damage, and race relations deteriorated drastically. But, how did this all begin? For years, there was always tension building up between multiple ethnic groups, and the government, but what really sparked the riot was the Rodney King trial. On April 29 1992, people eagerly waited for the verdict on the trial of Rodney King. The trial was to decide whether the court should indict four white officers who were charged for assaulting Rodney King, an African American, after they had pulled him over for speeding through a highway and for trying to dodge the officers¹. Before the trial began, it was already problematic. Of the twelve jurors who had served on the trial, nine of them were white, none of them were African American². Three hours after the court acquitted the officers, people started rioting: businesses were robbed and destroyed, and white Americans as well as light-skinned Latinos became became targets³. In addition, the LA riots also involved the Korean community, which already had a tense relationship with the African American community. Around the same time as the Rodney King incident, a Korean store clerk shot and killed a 15 year of African American who they had thought was trying to steal a bottle of orange juice⁴. Race relations in the United States continue to be in flux, often meandering between many high and low points. Even in a city as diverse as New York City is not exempt from this problem. Growing up in New York City, I’ve had the benefit of experiencing one the city’s most valuable assets--its diverse community. But, despite this, communities in New York City continue to struggle to build a strong relationship with one another, and especially with the government. For example, under “Stop and Frisk”, one of the most controversial policies in New York City, a majority of the people who were stopped were African American and Hispanic⁵. Even if it wasn’t their intent to target those groups, given the long complicated relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, it’s hard to not feel like they were being targeted. Pernicious policies such as this continue to have an everlasting impact on those affected and it is a part of the legacy of those who fail to curtail it. In this case, it was former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who had supported the policy, but he has since backtracked when presidential candidates derided him on the efficacy of this policy during the Democratic debates⁶. Communities that are in close proximity to one another that are vastly different from one another often clash. Speaking from my own experience having grown up in a community that is mixed with Chinese, Italians, Jews, and Hispanics, something that can be considered normal in one group can be perceived as an offensive slight to someone else. Cultural and language barriers, as well as socio-economic status, often prevent people from building the relationships that are integral to the well being of the entire neighborhood, which creates racial enclaves where people are socially closed off from outsiders of their group. Ultimately, I believe that all groups must come together to have a hard discussion about what their needs are and how they can work together to create policies that are beneficial to all groups involved. During my tenure working for a few social services nonprofits, something that stood out to me was having community leaders and representatives work closely with government officials to address the needs of the neighborhood. Additionally, one thing that I thought was beneficial was to have community events. In my old neighborhood, there were frequent block parties where all local residents, and those outside of it, gathered to enjoy the festivities and get to actually build relationships with one another. This is by no means a panacea to the problem, but I believe that it is one of the many ways we can build a positive relationship with members of the community. The Associated Press, “Rodney King riot: Timeline of key events”. The Associated Press, 2017. https://apnews.com/fa4d04d8281443fc8db0e27d6be52081/Rodney-King-riot:-Timeline-of-key-events Serrano, Richard A., Lozano, Carlos V., “Jury Picked for King Trial; No Blacks Chosen”, Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1992, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-03-03-mn-2987-story.html Bates, Anjuli, Bates, Karen Grigsby, “When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back At The Rodney King Riots”, NPR, April 26, 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/524744989/when-la-erupted-in-anger-a-look-back-at-the-rodney-king-riots Ibid. Southall, Ashley, Gold, Michael, “Why ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Inflamed Black and Hispanic Neighborhoods”, The New York Times, February 19, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/17/nyregion/bloomberg-stop-and-frisk-new-york.html Ibid.
... View more
For me, and no doubt many others in the Macmillan Community, staying motivated since the widespread social distancing orders and campus shutdowns began in March has been extremely difficult. I’d love to be able to say that I’ve used extra time at home gained from not commuting to write or to read. Instead I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time keeping track of how many weeks it has been since I was last in my campus office (seven) and how long it has been since I had my haircut by a professional (seventy days). Some of the things I never thought I could miss -- a student walking into class after I had started lecture and asking a question I had already addressed -- are now the mundane normalcy I long for. When it was clear that I would have to move classes from on-campus to online, I made a few changes to my syllabi. I had intended for students in one class, for example, to be using books and other library reference materials (not online) for an end-of-semester project. The closing of our campus as well as public libraries meant changing the assignment drastically to accommodate the students while still meeting the academic demands of the course. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can only do my best with the situation that all of us faculty face in this pandemic. I’ve said much the same to students who have been in touch about work and family issues that are significantly hampering their ability to complete the semester. This week, then, I want to find some positive areas on which to focus amidst this scary and depressing academic semester. There are some interesting assignments and projects being created by historians in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that are helping me to stay interested in the larger challenge of historical memory that will be so critical to future generations. Here are just three examples: The Washington Post last week highlighted an assignment created by University of Central Florida adjunct faculty member Kevin Mitchell Mercer in which students were asked to write about an artifact from 2020 that historians could use a century from now to tell the story of the pandemic. The Twitter discussion that followed the newspaper's coverage of Mercer’s assignment provides some insight into how our students are struggling with this major disruption in their academic and personal lives and will be valuable to future historians studying the social implications of the pandemic. In light of the intense focus now placed on 1918, the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (SHGAPE) has put out a call for fellow historians to more fully document the history of the 1918 pandemic. SHGAPE will publish contributions by historians and other academics as blog entries intended to expand understanding of the 1918 pandemic while we grapple with the current crisis. Interested researchers from any field should visit this link . Finally, the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy seeks public participation in its effort to document the experiences of Americans in pharmacies during this pandemic. The organization invites the public to “share your pharmacy stories, photos, videos, artifacts, and other documentation of the COVID-19 pandemic.” For more information visit the Project’s web site https://aihp.org/collections/aihp-covid19-project/ The advertising industry keeps reminding us that we are “all in this together.” So what are you doing to keep yourself intellectually motivated during this difficult time? Are you planning for summer and fall classes or simply trying to get through the end of spring semester? Please share!
... View more
Although I’ve been working with college students now for more than twenty years, this semester has been unlike any we in academia have experienced in the past. A few years back, during a particularly difficult New England winter, my college canceled school on three consecutive Mondays because of snow storms. That semester one of my US History II classes met only on Mondays for 2½ hours. Very few students in the class had internet in their homes so most relied on the college computing center for WiFi and technology access. I remember being flustered at how far off the syllabus we were when the semester finally ended in May. Here, in the spring 2020, however, we have clumsily converted our on-campus courses to fully online. I say clumsily because most faculty had a week or less to figure out how to best implement changes to on-campus practices in an online environment. For my colleagues at a community college we faced the enormous challenge of insufficient internet and technology access by our students. In the face of this pandemic we have been fortunate that our college has the resources to lend materials to students and help them gain short-term home access to WiFi. Since hindsight is, of course, 20/20, I thought it would be helpful this week to acknowledge three simple things I wish I had known and/or done in January 2020: Students must have a library orientation during the first weeks of the semester. Usually we venture to the library as a class after the midterm for guidance on research projects. Had I taken this step earlier in the semester, however, more of my students would have been comfortable accessing library materials from home when the COVID-19 closures began, which would have made certain assignments easier to integrate. Students must have everything they need for the entire semester at the start. In the past I have been really lax with students when it comes to getting copies of supplementary readings (novels, memoirs, etc). Oftentimes on the first day of class I will say something to the effect of: “You do not need a copy of this novel until late March.” Not anymore. Lesson learned the hard way as I currently have students unable to get access to library materials and unable to afford to purchase books online because of COVID-19-related loss of income. Students must be able to download and upload materials to/from our learning management system. My on-campus students generally pass in written work in printed form. I’m learning from this semester’s experience that many of those students who choose to never take online classes do not actually know how to upload their work as an email attachment or to a learning management system’s drop box. This fall I plan to have every on-campus student submit a one-paragraph autobiography to me via our LaunchPad dropbox as a low-stakes assignment. In turn, they will be downloading my autobiography. I’m hoping to quickly identify anyone who may need extra help with our online tools as the semester is starting. Given the speed at which we were forced to move from on-campus to fully online, these three simple tasks completed at the start of the semester might have helped my students and me transition with less stress. As educators we already need to be adaptable in unexpected situations. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how important it is for us to prepare for big-picture crisis management. While we are fortunate to have the option to continue working with our on-campus students through online platforms, we still need to work together to find ways to make the process seamless in the future.
... View more
I think it’s safe to say that none of us are experiencing the spring semester we envisioned when it began in January. I was on Spring Break when COVID-19-related closures, cancellations, and postponements began. My college extended our break a second week to give faculty time to plan for fully-online teaching and students an opportunity to figure out what their at-home technology needs will be. For students who take all their courses in traditional, on-campus classrooms the change to fully online is daunting. A few have emailed me and expressed concern about their internet access. I’ve sent dozens of emails to students over the past seven days with instructions about plans for this coming week online. I can only hope that students are able to access email at home and are carefully reading my messages. It is my hope that in the months that follow this crisis there will be a larger discussion about internet access for all. As a commuter campus, many of my students rely on the college’s computing center or their public library for WiFi access necessary for their academic work. With the campus completely closed to human visitors, it remains to be seen what the impact will be on students’ ability to complete courses. No doubt we are all struggling to learn as much as possible about the current pandemic while finding ways to help our students understand the historical context. For those of you not familiar with the history of medicine and healthcare in the United States, I want to recommend some resources that may be useful during this time. For general suggestions about connecting the history of medicine to survey-level US history classes, see my blog from January 2019 “Making Connections: History & Medicine” . If you have not previously incorporated healthcare history into survey courses, now is a great time to start planning to do so in the future. Revisiting my 2018 blog about influenza may also be helpful, see “Sharing ‘the Flu’ with Students” . My US History II students studied the 1918 outbreak in February. I’ve heard from several students who feel some relief in having historical context with which to evaluate this current crisis. Finally, there are many informative articles being published online that can be useful in our struggle to contextualize current events for today’s anxious students. I highly recommend history faculty visit PULSE: Medical & Health Humanities , a site produced by scholars in the Netherlands; particularly useful is Professor Manon Parry’s article “Learning from the (Recent) Past” (March 23rd, 2020). In addition, many scholars are sharing materials online to help each other through this challenging teaching moment. The American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM)’s Facebook page is a great place for historians and teachers to ask questions and exchange information, including primary sources, during this crisis. Finally, it may also be meaningful to remind your students that they are living through a major historical event. Suggest that they keep a journal or scrapbook to memorialize this period of their life. Historians of the future will one day be gathering evidence of what we experienced during this pandemic. Encouraging our students to document their personal experiences is a great way to connect them to the larger human narrative that we seek to share as historians.
... View more
In January the New York Times evaluated the narratives presented by eight US history textbooks to explore the choices states make about history education. Focusing on California and Texas, in “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two Stories” Dana Goldstein argues, “In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.” As a full-time faculty member I have complete control over which textbook I choose for my community college students. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by the Times examination of the textbook question because what students learn in K-12 truly influences how they think about the world around them and the ideas of our national history that they bring with them to college. In most public schools history teachers are racing to cover dozens of topics in the span of a nine-month school year. For those whose states require standardized testing for graduation, the stakes are often higher and more complex. The political differences evidenced by the topical choices made by textbook publishers did not surprise me. More conservative school boards choose textbooks that reflect their way of thinking and vice versa for moderate and liberal boards. What fascinated me most about the Times piece were the comments by readers. I’m assuming that demographically the average New York Times reader is both educated and interested in the world around him/her. Threads among the more than 600 comments, however, reflected readers’ short-sighted assessments of the quality of teachers who use textbooks. “Very Silly in Colorado,” for example: “I had incredible history professors in high school...none of them used textbooks.” “James from Boston,” a teacher, boasts the “use [of] zero textbooks” in his classroom. Other readers suggested the development of one textbook to be used by public school children nationwide would solve the problem of over-zealous school boards. “AJC in Paris” writes “If only we could have a National Curriculum researched and vetted by educators only.” These -- and many, many other -- comments concern me on a number of levels. The notion that a classroom teacher is somehow deficient or lazy because he/she uses a textbook needs to be dispelled immediately. I teach at a community college. My students range in age from seventeen-year-old high school students working towards college credit to traditional eighteen-year old freshman to middle-age parents trying to complete degrees or changing careers. We need a common place to start: a shared narrative to explore, which is what a good textbook provides. Are there students in my classes who disagree at times with the textbook publishers’ thematic choices or are critical of what they view as a political perspective? Absolutely. Nonetheless, the text is a central starting point for my teaching. Am I biased in my choice? Yes! Although I teach the general US surveys, I deliberately choose a textbook that focuses specifically on social and cultural history. No doubt a political historian would find my choice short-sighted. The notion of a “national curriculum” is also problematic. The idea that such a thing could be created without bias is implausible. Historians are among the scholars best suited to convey to students a deeper understanding of the reality that all information is, in fact, biased: from the newspapers that we read, to the texts/emails/letters that we send, to the textbooks in all of our classrooms. In the classroom we make choices based on what we believe will work best with our student population and school boards do the same in their communities. Recent criticism of the The 1619 Project by prominent scholars should remind us that even historians do not completely agree when it comes to modern-day interpretations of America’s past. As historians and teachers, the best that we can do for our students is offer them a starting point for understanding our national past, recognizing that all interpretations are going to be influenced (in good ways and bad) by biased sources. Encouraging the students to find the flaws in the sources -- even in their course textbooks -- might be the most effective way to guard against creating a generation of students whose beliefs conform to only one idea or argument. Helping our students recognize and question bias needs to start in our classrooms with our textbooks.
... View more
As Black History Month comes to a close, I think it's important that we remember that learning about Black history shouldn't be confined to the month of February; it is imperative that we continue to learn and understand the contributions Black Americans have made in the United States. Here is a list of great books and videos to learn more: Read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet A. Jacobs The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison Beloved, by Toni Morrison Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison The 1619 Project, by The New York Times Chocolate Me!, by Taye Diggs Becoming, by Michelle Obama Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances by Leland Melvin I am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo Brown 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World, by Charles R. Smith Jr. The Dangers of Whitewashing Black History | David Ikard | TEDxNashville Talks to celebrate Black History Month BlacKkKlansman Freedom Riders 5. Quincy
... View more
We are almost at the midpoint of spring semester and requests for letters of recommendation are starting to pile up. Teaching at a community college necessitates that faculty support students' transfer applications, which are generally due later in the admissions process than those of first-year students. The fact that the overwhelming majority of my students are not continuing on in my field of study makes writing these letters more challenging. I would love to be able to share the perspective that a student’s love of history would no doubt flourish when he/she had the opportunity to take upper-level courses. Reality, however, is that in the nearly fourteen years I have taught community college students, fewer than a handful have gone on to major in history. It’s my job, then, to help admissions counselors to see that a community college student’s success in a college-level humanities class is, in fact, indicative of his/her potential to be successful in virtually any area of study. While I cannot be certain that my approach to writing letters of recommendation for transfer students is the “right” way, here are some of the things that I ask my students to think about and share with me before I write a letter: What specific field is the student hoping to enter and why? What has he/she done work/internship/class-wise that has led to this decision? What specific personal challenges has he/she overcome to be successful academically? How has community college prepared him/her for the next step in their journey? In my letters I focus on the specific skills that I believe college-level history classes offer to all undergraduates, regardless of their intended field of study: critical thinking, research, and writing. Since all of my students are required to complete a research project I am able to describe the individual student’s written work and what he/she accomplished with the assigned project. For many community college students, history is one of the few fields in which library-based research is required. I emphasize to college admissions committees that to pass introductory-level college history classes my students have had to prove proficiency in basic research methods that include developing thesis statements, supporting arguments with primary source documents, and properly citing materials. Since my students regularly participate in group discussions, I tell admissions counselors about the individual student’s ability to formulate an oral argument and share ideas with the class. This is particularly useful as a letter of recommendation topic when a student has shown leadership potential in a group setting. I’m currently writing a letter for a student who will study engineering at his next college. Simply telling the admissions committee that he received an A in each of my introductory level classes, I believe, is insufficient. It is in our students' best interests that we as humanities faculty directly identify to people outside of our fields the academic competence and confidence that students gain from humanities courses like history and how those skills can be applied to virtually any academic field. And, that we convince admissions counselors that our students' humanities experiences at the two-year college level will make them quality contributors to their next academic community.
... View more
As a historian I struggle with Hollywood-versions of history. Based on a “true story” or “actual events” generally indicates, to me, that some well-meaning writers have taken an historical event and glamorized it for a modern-day audience. While the scenery and costumes might seem authentic, the stories themselves are often re-invented with minimal historical accuracy. In 2002, during my first teaching job after graduate school I taught a class that covered US history 1960 to the present. We spent a lot of time talking about popular culture and I encouraged students to share with the class music from the period that they found historically relevant. That same semester I let students earn extra credit by seeing movies related to topics we covered in class and writing reviews that addressed historical accuracy. This assignment was useful until students became more internet savvy and realized that they could plagiarize reviews from web sites without ever having to see the films. Although I have since stopped rewarding students extra credit for seeing historically-based films, I still love to discuss them in class. In recent years several films have provided topics for discussion, including “Hidden Figures,” “Green Book,” and “Selma.” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” sparked an interesting pre-class discussion recently as students sought to understand what actually happened to actress Sharon Tate versus the filmmaker’s fictionalized version of events. My Macmillan Community colleague, Jack Solomon, addressed this film in a recent blog about facts in this era of fake news. “1917” is another historically-based film that has captured a lot of attention in recent months. Having read numerous reviews of the film, I finally had a chance to see it with my high school-age son. Since I’m not a military historian I am not able to evaluate the accuracy of director Sam Mendes’s recreation of World War I battlefield scenes. I did, nonetheless, appreciate the way in which the film captured the anxiety of being a soldier in the era of trench warfare, including the shocking visual horrors of the battlefield. As we talked about the film afterwards, I found myself wishing that I knew more about trench warfare so that I could answer my son’s more specific questions. Herein, I thought, lies the problem with Hollywood’s historical fiction: historians are not readily available to talk to movie-goers post-viewing about what is/is not accurate in the film. A few days later, however, an amazing thing happened: my son told me that he had chosen the English poet and war-veteran Wilfred Owen as the subject of the in depth author study that his 10th-grade English class was beginning. “1917,” it seems, had inspired him to think about how the characters in the film would have described their experiences in writing. Studying Owen’s poetry, he hopes, will provide some insight into an aspect of the war’s history that viewers of the film can only imagine. I share this story here on my blog because I have been guilty in the past of avoiding historical fiction because of what it gets wrong. I’m inspired to find new ways to get my current students to think about 21st-century historical interpretations because of the possibility that modern-day depictions of such events might in fact encourage them to want to learn the true historical facts. Ideas and suggestions welcome!
... View more
January 25, 2020 is an important day for Chinese people: it’s the beginning of the Chinese New Year. But, what makes this new year more special than every other new year is that it’s the beginning of a new cycle. As we finish up the year of the pig, the 12th and last animal in the zodiac cycle, the start a new cycle with the very first animal in the Chinese zodiac--the year of the rat. There are various stories on how the Chinese zodiac came to be. One of the most popular stories is about the race orchestrated by the Jade Emperor. In short, the Jade Emperor asked 13 animals to partake in a race and their placement in the race will determine the order of the zodiac¹. Because the rat was the first one to win the race, the first animal in the zodiac cycle begins with the rat. As for the 13th animal, there are various reasons why the cat is not part of the zodiac. The one I heard growing up was that the rat tricked the cat to cross a river to test the currents and it nearly drowned. That is also why cats and rats are enemies and it’s why cats hate water. In contrast to the more lighthearted story of the Chinese zodiac, the story about Chinese New Year is darker. According to Britannica, there was a monster named Nian (meaning “year” in Chinese) that would attack and eat villagers every year². But, villagers fought back: people wore red because Nian was afraid of bright colors, and they lit fireworks because it was afraid of loud noises. This practice still occurs in China: to celebrate the new year, people still wear bright colors like red and gold and light firecrackers to ward off bad luck and evil. Every Chinese family celebrates Chinese New Year in a different way, but there are some common practices: Wearing red and gold/yellow clothing to usher the new year with good luck and auspiciousness Having a giant banquet with family members with vegetarian/vegan options since many people opt out from eating animal products on this day. Giving red envelopes with money inside. People avoid giving amounts that have the number “4” in it because the number is a homonym for the Chinese word “to die”. For me, Chinese New Year is about representation. Despite growing up in a liberal city, I often felt neglected when it comes to learning more about my heritage and even more so when celebrating it. Chinese New Year was not a recognized holiday, taking a day off from school counted against me. When I was a student, I often asked my teachers to include a lesson plan on Asian American history and our contributions to society. More often than not, I got a quick lesson on the Transcontinental Railroad. But, we are more than just our hardships; Asian Americans have made large contributions to society and in American policy, most notably in the Supreme Court Case: United States v. Wong Kim Ark³ . With the start of the new cycle and the new year, I can’t help but reflect on how much has changed in the last 12 years when the current cycle began. 12 years ago there were fields that were difficult, if not impossible for Asian Americans to break into. And yet, we continue to make strides to break through the bamboo ceiling. In cinema, Nora Lum known to many as Awkwafina, became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for her role in The Farewell ; Sundar Pichai is the CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google; and as of today, we currently have two presidential candidates who are of Asian descent: Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard. I am both confident and refreshed in knowing that our collective efforts in challenging the status quo is making a difference. I cannot wait to see what the new crop of Asian American trailblazers will do for the next generation of leaders. Footnotes BBC. “Why a pig is the last animal in the Chinese Zodiac.” BBC.com. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zd9nd6f Tikkanen, Amy. “Chinese New Year.” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tano Oyez. “United States v. Wong Kim Ark.” Oyez.org https://www.oyez.org/cases/1850-1900/169us649
... View more
It’s the first week of spring semester and I’m already feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of duties ahead of me in the coming months. Yesterday in class I heard myself telling students “not to be overly stressed by the syllabus on the first day.” At the same time in my own head I was thinking: “how will I ever get all of this accomplished in 3½ months?” Reality is that I’ve been teaching long enough to know that while the semester will move quickly somehow what I planned for my students will get done. It struck me yesterday, however, that the students who sit before me do not have years of academic success to fall back on as reassurance that they can conquer the challenges ahead. While some students come to a community college for reasons that include economics, change of career or geography, many also come because they have failed to achieve their academic goals at four-year colleges. I’m thinking a lot this week about how we as faculty can help those students who have under-achieved in the past be successful in the future. Yesterday, in addition to outlining the syllabus and academic requirements, I added a short pep talk to my course introduction: not one person in the room, I reminded them, signed up with the intention of failing and/or withdrawing. I asked them to think carefully about what being “successful” will require. Success amidst the challenges of family and work life will require putting in the time necessary to complete course assignments. As I went through the syllabus yesterday I suggested that students give serious thought to how long it will take each of them to read a textbook chapter. In other words, I encouraged them to start the semester off by planning their homework time realistically . In any academic subject area, step one of this challenge is getting students to accept that they need to make a significant time commitment to their academic success. In reading-intensive subjects such as history and English the necessity of mapping out their use of time is often overlooked because they may not be asked to turn something in with every section of reading assigned. Talking with students on the first day of classes I was reminded that one of the biggest obstacles to student success is their willingness to acknowledge when things are not going well and to ask for help. While this responsibility falls squarely on each students’ shoulders, I’m planning to introduce an additional safety net to my introductory level classes this semester by taking advantage of our college’s new outreach program from the Student Success Center. My on-campus classes will be introduced next week to an “academic coach” from the Center who will share with them all of the support systems available at the college and then be available to my students throughout the semester via email and individual appointments. My hope is that by introducing this academic coach to my students in a short 10-minute presentation during our class time they will be better equipped to ask for extra help with writing and reading when challenges arise during the semester. Ultimately, my students need to be able to transfer their community college credits to four-year schools. Beyond the credit hours and grades, however, they need to take with them the skills and confidence necessary for academic success. I’m hoping that linking an academic coach to my introductory history courses will offer them extra support in this process and result in better student outcomes. Looking forward to sharing an update later in the semester! What challenges are you preparing for as we begin spring semester?
... View more
I’ve been viewing the documentary “The Murder of Emmett Till” (PBS) with students in my US History II sections for as long as I can remember. The tragic history of this young boy’s murder, more than any other civil rights-related story I’ve shared, seems to captivate the students, many of whom are only recently out of high school, and instill in them a deep sense of frustration and anger. It forces them to grapple with the profound sadness of Mamie Till while also recognizing the courage with which she challenged Americans to face the horrifying reality of violence against African Americans in her lifetime. As I plan to teach the course again in the spring I’ve been (as always) reassessing my syllabus. Based upon this semester’s students’ interests, I’ve decided that we will increase our study of the Till case in the spring to include both online resources and recent coverage of the reopening of the case by the Justice Department. Here are some of the resources I plan to use with my students. PBS maintains a web site to accompany the film with numerous articles valuable for class discussion and analysis. Included is the published confession by the two men who murdered Till as well as historical information on lynching in the United States. Florida State University has launched The Emmett Till Archives with archival materials derived from the case as well as audio-visual documentation of interviews with participants in the trial and subsequent legal actions. 2018 news coverage of the re-opening of the Till trial is available through numerous national news sites, including NPR , Time , and CNN , providing students the opportunity to consider how the narrative of the Till case is being shaped in today’s world in light of Black Lives Matter and other major civil rights initiatives. Discussion of the Till case this past semester prompted students to ask questions about the clumsy process of school desegregation following Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which is not a topic I typically cover in the course. For spring semester I will be using components of Old Dominion University’s Desegregation of Virginia Education (DOVE) web-based resources. I’m hopeful that the interest expressed in this topic by my fall semester students will be shared by those I teach in the spring. The biggest challenge will be deciding where I can trim the syllabus to make space! Have you done any trimming to your US II syllabus recently? Suggestions welcome.
... View more
December 15, 1791--Virginia became the last state needed to ratify the Bill of Rights, giving the bill the necessary 2/3 majority of votes needed to be made into law¹ . Since its inception, the Bill of Rights has become the cornerstone of American civil liberties, but the interpretations of these amendments have always been in flux--changing to suit the needs and interpretations of both the legal system and the country's political opinions. For instance, the Bill of Rights included 12 Amendment, two of which were left out, one later then was ratified in 1992 becoming the 27th Amendment¹ . The Supreme Court continues to have an impact on the Bill of Rights. Here are several landmark cases that have redefined the boundaries of the Bill of Rights: 1. Schenck v. United States (1919) In a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court had ruled that freedom of speech can be limited during wartime and when it can cause harm. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1900-1940/249us47 2. Olmstead v. United States (1927) The Supreme Court had ruled that the government is allowed to wiretap people without a warrant and that it is admissible in court. It wasn't until 40 years later that this ruling was overturned in Katz v. United States. https://billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons/olmstead-v-united-states-1927/ 3. Furman v. Georgia (1972) The Supreme Court had decided that the death penalty is a "cruel and unusual" punishment under the 8th Amendment and, therefore, was unconstitutional. Four years later, the Supreme Court reversed that ruling under Gregg v. Georgia. https://billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons/gregg-v-georgia-1962/ If you would like to incorporate information on landmark cases in your classroom, feel free to check out: https://billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons 1. Bill of Rights is finally ratified - HISTORY
... View more
Students are turning in final projects this week for my online courses. With only two weeks until final exams, the end of the semester is bearing down on us all. And though these students have been working with me since the first week of September, many are still struggling with a basic life skill: following directions. They have had several weeks to work independently on their projects and plenty of time to ask questions. Yet, in spite of what I have offered them in instruction and assistance, I am receiving finished work from students who clearly did not read the directions. Case in point: sources. Here is the actual text from my instructions (highlighting in original): Required Sources: Three articles from assigned academic databases (*see below*) *ACADEMIC DATABASES: Students must use materials from the databases linked through the college library to our course. Link is accessible through our course LaunchPad. *UNACCEPTABLE SOURCES: Wikipedia, History.com, Ask.com OR anything NOT from the assigned academic databases. To my horror, the first few projects I received from students contain none of the required sources. I am wracking my brain to understand why. Was I mistaken to believe that highlighting what I considered an essential requirement of the assignment would force students to pay attention to it? Is there some new way of drawing students’ attention to key elements of instructions that I have missed? Or, are my online students simply not reading the directions? As a strong proponent of online courses I teach half of my course load online. Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the students might miss by not physically being in a classroom for instruction. I, for example, do not have the opportunity to observe confusion on students’ faces when I give assignments. Instead I have no choice but to rely on students’ willingness to email me with questions. Is there something more I could be doing? Do we, as faculty, have an obligation to ensure that our online students have read and understood the directions? For those who teach online in any discipline, what (if any) steps are you taking to address this challenge? Please share.
... View more
Hello everyone! In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Macmillan hosted a plethora of events to raise awareness about Native American culture and history. Here are some of the events that we had held. Earlier this month, we had a screening of Rumble: The Indians Who Have Rocked the World. The documentary focused on the contributions made by Native Americans in music and in modern culture. Interested in incorporating this movie in your class? Feel free to check this out , it’s a great resource with lesson plans and ideas on how to do so. Last week, we invited Heather Bruegl to speak to us about the important contributions made by Native American women. Heather Bruegl is an educator and an activist and has spoken to numerous organizations on Native American history. Make sure to check out the video below: Video Link : 2501
... View more
Listen to our podcast from the new co-authors of The American Promise, Sarah Igo and François Furstenberg. In this episode, Sarah and François address questions from the history teaching community on becoming textbook authors, teaching American history, and the complications of education today.
To learn more about The American Promise or to request an exam copy, please visit our catalog.
... View more
This past weekend I had the opportunity to look through my high school report cards. It would probably shock my former history teachers that I pursued a career in a subject area where I squeaked out B-minuses semester after semester. As someone who teaches at a community college I find myself fascinated by the trajectory of student academic paths. So often I see students trying to choose a direction at a young age -- selecting a major or area of study as soon as possible so that course selection will be more seamless. Looking back at those high school grades reminds me that had I made a choice at 18 and stuck with it, I never would have ended up in my current career. For so many of my current students the cost of a four-year college is daunting. They arrive at community college hoping to get through the first two years of higher education without incurring debt so that they can borrow for years three and four. I imagine for those students the thought of spending thousands of dollars with no guarantee of a high-paying job is beyond frightening. My college path could not have been more different from that of my students. Arriving at Wheaton College (MA) as a freshman in the fall of 1990 -- with the financial and emotional support of my amazing parents -- I was certain that I would be an English major (probably because it was the subject I disliked least in high school). Second semester, however, I took a class in Modern US History -- a subject area we had never come close to in secondary-level history classes. My professor, Alexander Bloom, truly captivated me with his teaching style and obvious mastery of the subject matter. He invited students to stop by his office with questions and he showed episodes of the (then recent) documentary series “Eyes on the Prize” outside of class for extra-credit. I was hooked. I can remember searching my notebook for questions to ask just so I could chat with him for a few minutes at office hours. Professor Bloom is preparing to retire this year. So many former Wheaton students owe a debt of gratitude to Alex for the way in which he encouraged us to love studying history. He was a truly gifted story-teller in the era before PowerPoint presentations and classrooms with digital projection. For students like myself who were searching for an academic interest to which we could connect personally and passionately, his intelligence and quick wit were a true gift in the classroom. No doubt countless students of every academic major took US history classes at Wheaton over the years because they wanted to experience the unique ways Alex connected students to the past. Perhaps it’s cliche to be “thankful” in the month of November. I feel compelled to use this week’s blog, nonetheless, to acknowledge the teachers over the years who encouraged me. Every once in a while a student will write a note or send an email to me acknowledging some small act that I see as part of my job but that he/she felt particularly inspired by. I remind myself in those moments that I was not always a strong student -- I had many days that I was disinterested or uninspired. I had my share of lousy test grades. What kept me going was the hard work of men and women -- like Alex Bloom and many others-- who were committed to their students’ forward progress and who believed that any student could flourish when she found the right path. For those, and many, many other lessons, I’m grateful.
... View more
Students in my US History I and II classes have recently started a short research project, which means we are spending class time in the library getting everyone acquainted with identifying and citing research materials. As I assist students in locating relevant library-based materials for their projects I am simultaneously conducting web searches to identify new materials not yet available at my college library. While helping a student locate sources on Indian boarding schools this past week I came across an amazing resource that is deserving of some special attention by those of us who teach US history: the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center created and maintained by Dickinson College. If you are not familiar with the history of Indian boarding schools in the United States a great place to start is the (some-what difficult to locate) documentary film “In the White Man’s Image” (PBS, 1992). There are numerous narrative studies of the schools and biographies of their most famous attendees, including Kill the Indian, Save the Man : the Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools by Ward Churchill (City Lights Publishers 2004). In recent years, writing by students at the schools have been published. See, for example, Recovering Native American writings in the Boarding School Press edited by Jacqueline Emery (University of Nebraska, 2017) and Boarding School Seasons: American Indian families, 1900-1940 by Brenda J. Child (University of Nebraska, 1998). If, like myself, you only have a short period of time to introduce students to Indian boarding schools, there is no better resource on the web than the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center . In addition to hundreds of searchable images of children and young adults who attended the school, there are Student Records searchable by name, date of entry, and nation or tribe, as well as log books and student registers. Modern day history students are introduced through these digitized records to names (native and Americanized), birth dates, and some family history of the Carlisle students. We are able to get a sense of how long students stayed at the school and the types of pressures that led to their dismissals and/or personal decisions to return home. Finally, a section of the resource devoted to Teaching provides lesson plans for younger students that can easily be enhanced for work with first and second year college students. Have you stumbled upon any new or new-to-you web-based history resources that you think may benefit your history colleagues? If so, please share in the comments below!
... View more
My son, a high school 10th-grader, has been using an iPad in school regularly since 5th grade. He’s grown up in a generation of students for whom digital textbooks and computer-based learning are commonplace. And yet, he’s not sold on the idea. As we sat in a doctor’s office waiting room last week he commented to me that he prefers his teachers to assign readings from a printed text. In his view, the only pitfall of the printed text is the excess weight of his heavy backpack. His digital textbooks, on the other hand, are loaded onto devices that contain many, many distractions (text messages, games, etc). At the start of each semester I present my students with the option of purchasing a digital or printed textbook. Inevitably before heading to the campus bookstore a student will ask which format is “better.” My typical answer is that textbook format is a personal choice based on a variety of factors. For community college students, cost is always tops the pros and cons list. It is difficult for me to counter the argument that their need to afford textbooks for five classes necessitates choosing the least expensive options. Nonetheless, when I am asked by a student for advice about digital v. print textbooks, here are some of the questions -- in addition to cost -- that I suggest they consider: Do you have regular access to a reliable laptop/computer/tablet and WiFi? If the answer is no, I suggest that they think realistically about when/how they will access an eBook. If the campus library is several bus stops away and only open when they are working their own part-time job, for example, the print text might make more sense. What will you be using the textbook for? In my classes, for example, students are allowed to use the textbook to complete open-book online quizzes and assignments. I suggest that they consider how they will manage such tasks with an eBook. Some students are able to use their own device with a desktop system in the college computing, which works very well. For others, moving back and forth on one device between an eBook and an online assignment can be more difficult depending on their comfort level with the learning management system. Have you talked to other students? Every semester I have students in my classes who willingly provide feedback to their classmates as to any challenges they had with either print or the eBooks in the past. I find that students generally value their classmates’ perspectives. I have even had students planning to use the eBook decide, in addition, to share one purchased copy of the printed text with a classmate. Have you utilized the college library’s resources? I place a copy of each of course textbook on 2-hour reserve in the college library so that it is always accessible. I make sure the students are aware of this option as a safe alternative if they are struggling for any reason with computer access and/or the eBook, have misplaced their print copy, or simply want to try both options before making an economic commitment to one or the other. I emphasize to students that textbook purchasing is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Helping our students understand which format will work best with their homework schedules and learning styles in an important component of our teaching. As we prepare this month to order textbooks for the spring semester I’m working with our campus bookstore to make sure students have choices and flexibility in the process.
... View more
Last week’s announcement that there will be an impeachment inquiry into the actions of President Trump has created an opportunity to talk with students about the historical precedents of this action. The nearest my courses this semester get chronologically to any discussion of impeachment is the Watergate scandal and that’s only if I get through the civil rights movement at record pace. As a result, I find myself recommending sources for students to consult outside of class. Here are some (very) general online sources that I have found particularly helpful for first and second year college students. Feel free to share these with your students and add your own suggestions in the comments section below. Smithsonian Magazine, “The History of American Impeachment: There’s a precedent that it’s not just for presidents” House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, “List of Individuals Impeached by the House of Representatives” Khan Academy, “Impeachment” (8 minute introduction in video form) For those students who may have already studied the impeachment process in a political science course, I’ve found it meaningful to suggest that they undertake their own study of media biases. Have the students search the web for editorials and political cartoons that argue for/against impeachment. Remind them that today’s current events will be tomorrow’s subjects for history courses. Political cartoons and editorials from today’s papers will be used years from now to discern how Americans were reacting to events in Washington during this impeachment inquiry. Finally, suggest that they spend some time listening to the nightly cable news shows or talk radio -- most important here would be to compare what different news outlets are saying about the same topic. Ask them to consider how historians decades from now will view the arguments made in these forums. The impeachment inquiry will no doubt be a complex period of highly charged debate among politicians in Washington. As a current event in 2019 it offers a valuable opportunity for history students to consider the complexity of the times in which the primary sources we are studying in our textbooks originated.
... View more
We just finished the second week of the fall semester and I’m already feeling anxious about the notes my students are not taking during class. History classes are notorious for being heavy with note taking. My on-campus classes meet twice a week for 75 minutes each. I plan for students to be taking notes from my lecture for at least some part of each meeting. To guide their note-taking I distribute a handout at the start of each class meeting containing key terms for the lecture and any images that we will be discussing. I intend for the students to use the handout to follow along with lecture and I instruct them to do so during the first week of classes. They know that the handout is theirs to keep and that if they miss a lecture they should get a copy of the handout to begin catching up. All that being said … some of my students are not writing down anything I say. Nothing. I look around the room a lot as I’m lecturing to gauge whether students are following the lesson. Many are writing in notebooks or on the handout, a couple are typing notes on a laptop or iPad. Others are doing nothing. No moving pencil or pen, no laptop: just a desk empty but for the handout I’ve distributed. It’s these students about which I’m truly worried. I know how much of the exam will come directly from the very lecture I am delivering at that moment and yet I cannot seem to convey to those students the importance of taking notes. I recently spoke with a counselor in student support services at my college about this problem. Our school, I learned, now employs “academic coaches” to help students learn to better utilize both classroom and independent study time. I can definitely see the need for such a professional -- not a content specialist but someone who can help students figure out what they need to know and how best to learn it. Academic coaches are available to meet with our students one-on-one or to address them as a class during our meeting time. Thinking about the topic for this blog led me to do some research of my own and I found that there is, of course, an abundance of note-taking advice available online for students. Many student support web sites have note-taking tips to share with students. More interesting to me, however, are suggestions to faculty about how to make our lectures more friendly to note-taking. A particularly helpful site is the University of Nebraska’s Teaching Students to Take Better Notes , which is intended as a guide for new-to-teaching graduate students but is a great reminder to any of us who lecture about keeping our thoughts succinct and organized. I’ve decided to address the issue of note taking at the start of each class this week. My hope is that my reminder about the importance of class notes for exam preparation will have some impact. Are your students taking notes? Is there anything in particular you do to ensure that their note taking is productive? Thoughts welcome.
... View more
In August the New York Times released The 1619 Project , an ambitious publication of the paper’s weekly magazine that seeks to address our nation’s troubled history with slavery at its 400th anniversary. Written and produced by black authors and historians The 1619 Project , according to the Times , “is first and foremost an invitation to reframe how the country discusses the role and history of its black citizens.” (“How the 1619 Project Came Together”) The result is a resource rich with thought-provoking work on nearly every aspect of slavery from capitalism to segregation to myths about black bodies, among many others. Everyone who teaches the history of the United States should set aside some time to grapple with the works presented by The 1619 Project . These are twenty-first century- scholars and writers seeking to place the history of slavery at the forefront of our modern-day discussions of race. They recognize that the history of this “peculiar institution” remains inextricably linked to our daily lives 400 years after its origin. College students of all races and political perspectives can benefit from consideration of this critical historical topic in a contemporary setting. As I write this blog I’m working my way through the articles and thinking about how best to add the work to what I already teach about slavery. I’m hoping to integrate the project -- as well as published responses to it -- into my Black History course this fall. My plan is to have students read an article of their choice from The 1619 Project and then react to the published criticism in an informal journal entry. A quick Google search provides numerous examples of criticisms of the project by politicians and social commentators who view it is as a form of propaganda, as well as those who have supported the Times’ decision to tackle this important topic. Discussion of The 1619 Project offers an opportunity to broaden the classroom study of slavery while also enabling students to consider how contemporary scholars and politicians continue to respond to our national history. The start of a new school year is the perfect time to help students grapple with these complex issues. Are you using The 1619 Project in your classroom this fall? If so, please share your thoughts and ideas with the Macmillan History Community.
... View more