We the Teachers

September 17th, 2017: the Constitution’s 230th Anniversary

Constitution Day in 2017 marks 230 years since the Founders signed the Constitution and released it to the Congress, states, and people of America for consideration, and eventual ratification. TeachingAmericanHistory.org has assembled a collection of some of our best Constitution-related resources, from exhibits to lessons to archived programs, and has created a new interactive timeline to help you celebrate the day with your students.

Access the 230th Anniversary resources here.

Join TAH.org at NCSS in San Francisco!

Representatives from TAH.org will be at NCSS in San Francisco, November 17th and 18th, 2017. Jeremy Gypton, Michelle Hubenschmidt, and Chris Pascarella will be on the exhibitor floor with information about our teacher programs, Master’s programs, and online resources. Additionally, Michelle will be meeting with various national and state-level Social Studies leaders throughout the conference, so if you’re attending the Council of State Social Studies Specialists (CS4) meetings you might see her. Jeremy is taking part in a panel session with other members of the Civics Renewal Network (CRN), detailed below.

Session #761: Civics is Cool Again: Debating Our Constitution
Friday, November 17, 10:00 – 11:00 am
Room: 2020, Moscone Center West

Documents in Detail: Declaration of Independence

 

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The first Documents in Detail session for the 17-18 school year took place on 30 August 2017, with a discussion of the Declaration of Independence. Among the many topics and questions discussed were Jefferson’s idea of an “American Mind,” the issue of Jefferson’s authorship – which was no widely known for years after the document was written – and the many local declarations of independence, hundreds of which were written by towns, churches, and civic groups during the first half of 1776.

The panelists fielded questions about the choice of Jefferson as the primary author and the input and impact of other delegates to the Second Continental Congress, and pointed out that Jefferson’s use of Locke’s ideas and language acted as “18th Century hyperlinks,” which virtually any reader would recognize as important ideas, if not also as the works of John Locke. Also of interest was the discussion of the parts that were left out of the final, accepted draft and the first draft.

This program could work well with students as well as teachers and anyone interested in learning more about why the document was written, what it meant, and what it still means.

Books mentioned include Edmund Morgan’s American Freedom, American Slavery, Jay Fliegelman’s Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language, and the Culture of Performance, and Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf’s “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of Imagination.

Program archive page

iTunes Podcast

Podcast RSS

Philadelphia Travel Resource

Are you planning on visiting historic Philadelphia, either yourself or with students? Our Constitutional Convention exhibit has resources about the Convention itself, and also an interactive map of 1787 Philadelphia, with information about sites related to the Convention and those who attended it. You can also download a PDF copy of the map and the entries on it and carry it on a tablet or some other device while walking around the city.

Another great resource to consider as you put together lessons about the Founding is our American History Toolkits, specifically the section about the American Founding. Our Toolkits will help you transition from relying on textbooks to using original documents and documents-based resources only.

Saturday Webinar: The Intolerable Acts

 

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TAH.org’s first Saturday Webinar of the 2017-18 school year took place on 26 August, focusing on the Intolerable Acts. Over 120 teachers joined our panel of scholars for a live discussion of the directives from Parliament that made up the Acts, looking at what they said, how they were received, and how they shaped the colonial response to British rule. Dr. Todd Estes, one of the panelists, recommended Unbecoming British as a good book for additional background on how the American colonists transformed from a colonial to a post-colonial people.

Program archive page

iTunes Podcast

Podcast RSS

LBJ’s Birthday: 27 August

27 August of 2017 marks the 109th birthday of Lyndon Baynes Johnson, our 34th president. Below are some resources worth using to learn more about the president behind the Great Society, and saddled with much of the legacy of the Vietnam War.

Summer Podcast: Re-examining Hoover and FDR

 

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Hoover and FDR, presidents during the Great Depression, are often fit neatly into nearly-stereotypical categories: the do-nothing and the man of action; the old, ineffective approach and new, successful perspectives. Dr. John Moser of Ashland University discusses where and how these images of the two presidents are accurate, misleading, and in some places incorrect.

TAH.org’s new seasons of live Webinars will begin on 26 August, with the first Saturday Webinar, focused on the Intolerable Acts.

Summer Podcast: Religion and Science – The Case of Eugenics

 

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This podcast discusses the eugenics movement in the United States in the first decades of the 20th century. Eugenics gained authority from science, earned the support of prominent Americans, and led to the passage of sterilization laws designed supposedly to enhance the human gene pool. The podcast explains why religious leaders joined the eugenics movement and why others opposed it. Understanding the eugenics movement helps us understand the complex relationship between science, religion and politics in American history.

Summer Podcast: Jefferson and Hamilton – Opposed in Death as in Life, pt2

 

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Originally recorded in March, 2005, Dr. Stephen Knott addressed a group of teachers in a two-session program, discussing the often-clashing views and personalities of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Both programs address the following points, and together lay a solid foundation on the two men, their ideas, and their legacies.

How do you explain the cult of Thomas Jefferson that emerged in the 20th century? Why did New Deal advocates of a strong central government embrace Jefferson over Hamilton? 20th Century progressives were fond of advocating “Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends” — what did they mean by that statement? Jefferson, it is alleged, conducted his Presidency in a Hamiltonian fashion — what evidence is there to support this contention, and what impact did that have on Jefferson’s successors? Throughout much of the nation’s history, American politicians turned to Jefferson or Hamilton and embraced their principles and practices to bolster their cause — why was this done and is this still the case? What role has race played in influencing both men’s reputations among scholars and the public? Abraham Lincoln often invoked Jefferson’s name and Jeffersonian rhetoric throughout his political career and seldom invoked Hamilton’s name or principles. Yet, one could argue that his policies were decidedly Hamiltonian. How does one explain this apparent discrepancy? It is said that Americans “honor Jefferson but live in Hamilton’s country” — is this true? Is it accurate to claim, as many Hamiltonians argue, that Thomas Jefferson’s world is a thing of the past, and that Hamilton is the “man who made modern America”? If Jefferson’s world is a lost world, then what have we lost?

Summer Podcast: Causes of the Civil War pt.2

 

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ew other questions in American history have generated more controversy than “What Caused the Civil War?” That conflict preserved the United States as one nation, indivisible and abolished the institution of slavery that for more than four score years had made a mockery of American claims to stand as a republic of liberty, a beacon of freedom for oppressed peoples in the Old Word. But these achievements came at the great cost of more than 629,000 lives and vast destruction of property that left large parts of the South a wasteland. Could this terrible war have been avoided? Who was responsible for the events that led to war? Could the positive results of the war (Union and Freedom) have been achieved without war? How have participants in the war and historians answered these questions over the five generations since the war ended?

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of History at Princeton University and 2003 president of the American Historical Association. Widely acclaimed as the leading historian of the Civil War, he is the author of Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (a New York Times bestseller), For Cause and Comrades (winner of the Lincoln Prize), and many other books on Lincoln and the Civil War era.

McPherson, a pre-eminent Civil War scholar, is widely known for his ability to take American history out of the confines of the academy and make it accessible to the general reading public. His best-selling book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1989. He also has written and edited many other books about abolition, the war and Lincoln, and he has written essays and reviews for several national publications.

McPherson is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of History at Princeton University. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Gustavus Adolphus College and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Session Two

Focus: Nearly four months elapsed from the secession of South Carolina to the firing on Fort Sumter that started the war. During this period there were many efforts to fashion a compromise to forestall the secession of Southern states, or to bring them back into the Union, or in the last resort to avoid an incident that would spark a shooting war. All failed, and the war came. Why? Why didn’t the Lincoln refuse to surrender the fort? Why did Jefferson Davis decide to fire on the fort? Why did both sides prefer war to compromise?

Readings:

  • McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 202-275
  • Charles B. Dew, “Apostles of Secession,” North and South, IV (April 2001), 24-38
  • Hans L. Trefousse, ed., The Causes of the Civil War, 91-125 (excerpts from Ramsdell, Potter, and Current)
  • Perman, ed., Coming of the American Civil War, 300-314 (excerpt from Paludan)
  • “Official Explanations of the Causes of the Civil War,” from the Causes of the Civil War, 28-47 (Messages of Davis and Lincoln)

Summer Podcast: Jefferson and Hamilton – Opposed in Death as in Life, pt1

 

| Open Player in New Window

Originally recorded in March, 2005, Dr. Stephen Knott addressed a group of teachers in a two-session program, discussing the often-clashing views and personalities of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Both programs address the following points, and together lay a solid foundation on the two men, their ideas, and their legacies. Part 2 will be published on 24 July 2017.

How do you explain the cult of Thomas Jefferson that emerged in the 20th century? Why did New Deal advocates of a strong central government embrace Jefferson over Hamilton? 20th Century progressives were fond of advocating “Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends” — what did they mean by that statement? Jefferson, it is alleged, conducted his Presidency in a Hamiltonian fashion — what evidence is there to support this contention, and what impact did that have on Jefferson’s successors? Throughout much of the nation’s history, American politicians turned to Jefferson or Hamilton and embraced their principles and practices to bolster their cause — why was this done and is this still the case? What role has race played in influencing both men’s reputations among scholars and the public? Abraham Lincoln often invoked Jefferson’s name and Jeffersonian rhetoric throughout his political career and seldom invoked Hamilton’s name or principles. Yet, one could argue that his policies were decidedly Hamiltonian. How does one explain this apparent discrepancy? It is said that Americans “honor Jefferson but live in Hamilton’s country” — is this true? Is it accurate to claim, as many Hamiltonians argue, that Thomas Jefferson’s world is a thing of the past, and that Hamilton is the “man who made modern America”? If Jefferson’s world is a lost world, then what have we lost?

Summer Podcast: Causes of the Civil War, pt.1

 

| Open Player in New Window

Few other questions in American history have generated more controversy than “What Caused the Civil War?” That conflict preserved the United States as one nation, indivisible and abolished the institution of slavery that for more than four score years had made a mockery of American claims to stand as a republic of liberty, a beacon of freedom for oppressed peoples in the Old Word. But these achievements came at the great cost of more than 629,000 lives and vast destruction of property that left large parts of the South a wasteland. Could this terrible war have been avoided? Who was responsible for the events that led to war? Could the positive results of the war (Union and Freedom) have been achieved without war? How have participants in the war and historians answered these questions over the five generations since the war ended?

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of History at Princeton University and 2003 president of the American Historical Association. Widely acclaimed as the leading historian of the Civil War, he is the author of Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (a New York Times bestseller), For Cause and Comrades (winner of the Lincoln Prize), and many other books on Lincoln and the Civil War era.

McPherson, a pre-eminent Civil War scholar, is widely known for his ability to take American history out of the confines of the academy and make it accessible to the general reading public. His best-selling book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1989. He also has written and edited many other books about abolition, the war and Lincoln, and he has written essays and reviews for several national publications.

McPherson is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of History at Princeton University. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Gustavus Adolphus College and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. This program was originally recorded at Princeton University on 12 February 2005.

Part 2 of this two-part series will be published on 5 August 2017.

Session One

Focus: The question of what caused the Civil War is really two questions. The first is “Why did the South secede?” The second is “Why did secession lead to war?” This seminar will analyze the roots of secession. At the beginning of the American Revolution all thirteen of the states that formed the United States had slavery. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, however, states north of the Mason-Dixon line and Ohio River had abolished the institution while slavery flourished more than ever south of those lines. A definite “North” and “South” with increasingly disparate socioeconomic institutions and distinctive ideologies had begun to develop. Yet for a half century these contrasting sections coexisted politically in the same nation. Why and how did that national structure fall apart in the 1850s? Was this breakdown inevitable, or could wiser political leadership have prevented it? Why did the election of Abraham Lincoln as president precipitate the secession of seven lower-South states?

Readings:

  • James M. McPherson, “What Caused the Civil War?” North and South, IV (Nov. 2000), 12-22, and responses to this article in subsequent issues of North and South
  • Michael Perman, ed., The Coming of the American Civil War, 23-53, 90-113, 169-88, (excerpts from writing by Beard, Owsley, Craven, Randall, Holt, and Foner)
  • James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 78-116, (or any other chapter of your choice among chaps. 2, 4, 5, or 6)
  • “Premonitory Explanations of the Sectional Crisis,” from The Causes of the American Civil War, 1-27 (excerpts from Calhoun, Seward, Douglas, and Lincoln)

Summer Podcast: Frederick Douglass on Lincoln

 

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Dr. Peter Myers, of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, gave this 74-minute presentation about Frederick Douglass, and his views on Abraham Lincoln. Introduced by Dr. Peter Schramm, Myers discusses Douglass’ views on slavery, early Civil Rights, Reconstruction, and what he thought of Lincoln’s handling of the same.

Team-Teaching Social Studies and Language Arts in a Rigorous Project-Based Curriculum

Teachers who aim to impart critical thinking skills must be willing to trust their students. Trust is essential to a range of teaching strategies, but one very interesting example appears in the work of Cathy Alderman and Steve Main, who partner in a combined Social Studies and Language Arts program at Anderson New Tech High School in Anderson, California. They allow trust—and accountability—to regulate the pace and direction of the curriculum.

Alderman, a graduate of Ashland University’s Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program, teaches Political Studies, a required course for seniors that combines English, American Government, and Economics in an integrated curriculum at Anderson New Tech. Students at New Tech are given responsibility for the management of their own education from the first day of their freshman year, due to the school’s use of a rigorous version of “project-based learning” modeled after the team-based work environment of corporate America. With English instructor Steve Main, Alderman team-teaches both the freshman and the senior classes at Anderson New Tech, introducing new students to the project-based model and later pushing them, as seniors, to complete a months-long research project in which students work in teams to investigate local civic challenges.

Anderson and Main jointly plan and lead class sessions and work together to coach students through projects, assessing their work at regular intervals. Partnering with an English instructor has given Alderman the confidence to put the exposition of primary documents into the hands of students themselves. Main uses a combination of Socratic questioning and “scaffolding”—quickly filling conceptual gaps by, for example, explaining archaic vocabulary—to help freshman students closely read the primary documents covered at the beginning of the course: excerpts of 17th and 18th century English and American political theory, usually characterized by long periodic sentences. A few weeks into the fall semester, however, students are working through primary documents on their own. Class sessions become student-led discussions, sometimes conducted in a “fishbowl” style: a circle of eight students debate questions posed by both teachers. For example, after reading “Common Sense,” students are first asked to consider, “How does Paine ask you to prepare yourself for his ‘common sense’ arguments?”

Participants in the discussion must cite passages of the primary document to support their views. Meanwhile, the rest of the class takes notes on the debate, so that later they too can comment, challenging or supporting the interpretations they have heard. Alderman and Main trust the students to keep the discussion on track. “Students become very good at calling each other out for making claims that are not supported by the text,” Alderman says. “They’ll demand, ‘Where did you find that in the document?’”

These discussions early in the freshman year give students the confidence to undertake a later project when they divide into teams and research the earliest constitutions adopted by the newly independent states during the Revolution. Each team of three or four students assumes the identity of one of the thirteen states. They review early constitutions and other primary sources which shed light on the distinctive political perspective of their state. As each team digests and discusses the documents they have found, they come to understand their shared political principles and interests. Then all the teams meet in a mock convention, attempting to hammer out a single federal constitution. “When teams have so thoroughly and enthusiastically adopted the point of view of their states that they are unable to resolve their differences, it opens a discussion on the remarkable achievement of the Founders in 1787,” Alderman says. Students grasp an essential tenet of historical thinking, a tenet often obscured by the march of dates and facts that textbooks present: that political outcomes are not inevitable. Human beings, acting cooperatively or confrontationally in history, determine their own future. Moreover, students observe that in a free society, the ability of citizens to shape their own future is in the largest measure limited only by their ability to compromise.

In the second half of the freshman year, students to undertake a research project combining literature and geography, reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley while working in teams to research one of the towns Steinbeck describes in his memoir. Eventually they work up video presentations, pitching the town’s amenities and quality of life to the rest of the class, as if they were speaking for the local Chamber of Commerce.

“When you teach as we do,” Alderman says, “you are trusting students to reach their own conclusions. When you show this level of confidence in your students, and they see you are there to cheer them on rather than to dictate what they should think, they astonish you with their willingness to think, investigate, and even originate policy ideas.”

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

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