Putting the “Pop” into Popular History: Pop Culture Videos in the Classroom

Kanye West may not be ready to enter our historical surveys, but there are other pop culture references that deserve more attention.

President Kanye West may never become a reality, but I’d like to think he’d choose a Secretary of Education who’d endorsed creative pedagogy.

Kanye West’s presidential ambitions remind us that American history is full of fun surprises—even if most of them are short-lived and forgettable. Although it’s probably too much of a stretch to make the entertainment of #Kanye2020 relevant to American history—though Donald Trump’s candidacy perhaps proves that nothing is outside the realm of possibility—I do love to find pop culture references and videos and bring relevance to what students might see as staid topics.

I’m declaring this post a judgment-free zone so that I can be frank: I have a tough time keeping the attention of the freshmen students in my undergraduate survey class. But I have found that one thing that works well is video clips, and so I find myself drawing from youtube nearly as much as I do from powerpoint. Luckily, I’m a TV-show junkie, and so I have have a lot of background at my disposal. (Finally a way to justify my Netflix binges!) Indeed, my use of videos in class is one of the constant positives in my students’ evaluations, so I know it’s not just me who enjoys this approach. Continue reading

The Origins of the American Revolution: Empire

Guest poster Jacqueline Reynoso is a PhD candidate at Cornell University. This is the sixth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” On Tuesday Jessica Parr raised questions about the convergence of religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism. On Thursday, Michael Hattem called for sharper attention to the periodization when discussing the origins and/or causes of the Revolution. In yesterday’s post, Ken Owen argued for using politics as the lens with which to sharpen our focus on the disjunctures of the 1760s and 1770s. Today, the roundtable concludes with Reynoso commenting on alternative vantage points of empire during the American Revolution.

7080030In October of 1780, the governor of Quebec, Frederick Haldimand, warned against changing the laws and regulations of the British colony. It required “but Little Penetration,” he claimed, to reach the sobering conclusion that “had the System of Government Sollicited by the Old Subjects been adopted in Canada, this Colony would in 1775 have become one of the United States of America.” He continued, “Whoever Considers the Number of Old Subjects who in that Year corresponded with and Joined the Rebels, of those who abandoned the defense of Quebec… & of the many others who are now the avowed well wishers of the Revolted Colonies, must feel this Truth.”[1]

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The Origins of the American Revolution: Politics and Politicized Societies

This is the fifth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” On Tuesday Jessica Parr raised questions about the convergence of religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism, and yesterday Michael Hattem called for sharper attention to the periodization of the Revolution. In today’s post, Ken Owen argues for using politics as the lens with which to sharpen our focus on the disjunctures of the 1760s and 1770s. Tomorrow, the roundtable will conclude with a guest post from Jackie Reynoso.

7080030Revolutionary America was a politicized society. All of the most important conflicts of the American Revolution, from the Stamp Act through Independence to the ratification of the Constitution, were sharply divisive events which demanded citizens take sides. Even neutrals were compelled to give outward displays of support to either patriots or loyalists (often both!). There were very little chances to avoid conflict over such weighty issues—they would reshape and redefine friendships, families, and communities. Continue reading

The Origins of the American Revolution: Definition, Periodization, and Complexity

This is the fourth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” His post was followed on Tuesday by Jessica Parr’s post, which raised questions about the convergence between religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Yesterday, Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism in thinking about the origins of the Revolution. The roundtable will continue tomorrow with a post by Ken Owen and on Saturday with a final guest post by Jackie Reynoso.

7080030In thinking over my contribution to this roundtable, I realized that, in the last two years, I have written at least five posts and done an episode of The JuntoCast on this very topic. In “The Return of the Revolution,” I called for a recommitment to the questions of origins and causes, something that had been hampered by synthetic studies of the late colonial period based on a consensus model. In “#RevReborn, Periodization, and the American Revolution,” I discussed the problematic uncertainty regarding periodization of the Revolution, particularly the recent trend to extend the endpoint of the Revolution and the reluctance to do the same in terms of the beginning of the Revolution. In “Have Cultural Historians Lost the American Revolution?” I tried to understand the recent relative ennui regarding study of the Revolution’s “origins and causes” in the broader context of developments in the field as a whole. And, in “The ‘Suddenness’ of the ‘Alteration’: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2,” I noted the disappointing lack of papers directly engaging the questions of origins and causes at a recent conference devoted to the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act.[1] Continue reading

The Origins of the American Revolution: Social Experience and Revolutionary Politics

This is the third post in our roundtable on the origins of the American Revolution. Tom Cutterham kicked things off on Monday with a post about Nick Bunker’s recent book and on Tuesday Jessica Parr wrote about religion and the American Revolution.

BCC Votes and ProceedingsThis roundtable grew out of a sense that the study of the Revolution’s origins or causes has been neglected of late. Which seems true enough. At the very least, historians have proven more comfortable talking in more amorphous ways about the “the coming of the Revolution” or “the making of revolutionary America.” I am certainly guilty of that. Yet there are, I think, compelling reasons for approaching the Revolution this way. Continue reading

The Origins of the American Revolution: Religion

Yesterday, Tom Cutterham kicked off our week-long roundtable on the Origins of the American Revolution with a discussion of Nick Bunker’s recent book, An Empire on the Edge. Today, we continue with a discussion of religion and the American Revolution.

George Whitefield Preaching in Philadelphia

George Whitefield Preaching in Philadelphia

In 1781, as the American Revolution raged, a Connecticut magazine reported that a spectral George Whitefield (1714-1770) had appeared over a regiment of British troops, including Benedict Arnold. So frightened were these British regulars, the magazine claimed, that they burned their British finery. Those familiar with the consumer politics of the Revolutionary period will recognize the political statement implicit in the burning of British goods. With refinement, British clothing, textiles, and other goods had become attractive to well-heeled colonists, who emulated the latest London fashions. As T.H. Breen and others have noted, the wearing of British fashions became problematic during the Revolution. Textiles and other factories began to crop up in the northeast, the start of an American industry.[1]

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The Origins of the American Revolution: A Roundtable

“The origins and causes of the Revolution remain the two least studied parts of the Revolution in the last thirty years.” So we suggested in these pages back in spring. Was that assessment correct? Where have historians got to in understanding the origins of the revolution; and where do we still need to go? All this week, members of The Junto will weigh in on the question of causes, in an effort to take stock. This is not intended as a definitive overview of current scholarship. Rather, we’ll be exploring our own idiosyncratic approaches to revolutionary origins, and to the recent scholarship that interests us. We invite you to join in the conversation!

Empire on the EdgeBeyond any new discoveries of evidence and perhaps new technological capacities, every new generation of historians has something unique to contribute to the study of the past—a consciousness of its own time and place. History is written on a tightrope between then and now. Even telling the same story again will always come out differently. Each time you walk the tightrope, there’s a slightly different view. In Nick Bunker’s recent trade book, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (Knopf, 2014), that slight shift of view comes from the economic crisis that took hold in 2008. At his most interesting, Bunker presents the revolution as a story of concatenating crises, how states try to deal with them, and how they are transformed in the attempt. The dominant context for Bunker’s account is not ideological or cultural. It’s what Sven Beckert would call “war capitalism”—the entwined processes of empire and commerce. Continue reading