The Value of Storytelling: Recap

SABFAB9780615With just days left in the semester and students scrambling to finish papers and prepare for exams, I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on an idea I raised in my first post here at The Junto. Back in September, I declared my intentions to assign the Librivox.org recording of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno. The prospects of assigning audio content in a classroom situation seemed the ideal solution to unrealistic weekly reading word counts while doing to double duty of engaging students in early American history through storytelling. And then I got cold feet. Could I really make it mandatory for 37 students to sit back and listen to several hours worth of recordings simply for the pedagogical payoff of connecting them in a more real way to the nineteenth-century world inhabited by the slave ship Tryal and Captain Amasa Delano? As the semester wore on, and more and more students realized how long the recordings would take to listen to, my trepidation only increased. Continue reading

Guest Post: Teaching Toilets in an Age of American Ebola

K.A. Woytonik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of New Hampshire. In 2013-2014, she was a Research Associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her dissertation is a cultural history of the Pennsylvania Hospital in Early Republic Philadelphia.

PennsylvaniaHospitalWilliamStrickland-1A bevy of esteemed scholars across fields have established the devastating effects of early modern epidemics, from Europe’s plagues to the decimation of Native American populations in North America. Epidemics occupied the minds of colonists, who, depending on region and demographics, participated in prevention strategies including quarantine, the destruction of soiled linens belonging to sick individuals, days of fasting and prayer, and immunity-building efforts such as inoculation and changes in diet. In today’s academy, epidemics offer historians avenues of interdisciplinary discussion, as the impact of contagious disease can be read not only in the archive, but in literature, in artwork, and in archaeological findings.

Continue reading

Skype in the Classroom: Applications for the History Classroom

skype-logo-open-graphDepending on whom you ask, the introduction of technology into the classroom is either a blessing or a curse. The proliferation of technology has provoked some good discussions, in addition to expletives involving use (abuse?) of Powerpoint slides in lecture. For one senior (non-UNH) colleague, who shall remain nameless, the mere mention of the word “Powerpoint” is akin to a bell ring for Pavlov’s dog, though with incarnadine face and froth at the mouth the outcome rather than drooling. Continue reading

Object Lessons

Iron Yoke Slave Collar John A. Andrew Artifact Collection, MHS

Iron Yoke Slave Collar
John A. Andrew Artifact Collection, MHS

Questions first ignited in a comprehensive exam room have an electric way of rippling through your whole career, whether you’re teaching in a university classroom and/or in the realms of public history. Take, for example, a standard query about nineteenth-century material culture: How would you tell a history of the American Civil War in five objects?

Continue reading

Guest Post: Teaching and the Problem with Parties in the Early Republic

Mark Boonshoft is a PhD candidate at Ohio State University. His work focuses on colleges and academies, especially the networks forged in them, and their role in the formation of revolutionary political culture.

Boonshoft Flow ChartAs an undergraduate, I found the political history of the early republic to be fascinating. As a graduate student, I find teaching the subject to be utterly frustrating. This surprised me, though it shouldn’t have. I was already interested in early American history when I got to college. Most of my students don’t share that proclivity, to say the least.[1] Generally, they assume that the policy debates of the founding era and beyond—especially about banks, internal improvements, and federalism—are downright dry. That said, our students live in an era of rampant partisanship and government paralysis, punctuated by politicians’ ill-conceived attempts to claim the legacy of ‘the founders.’ The emergence of American party politics is pretty relevant to our students’ lives. So with many of us gearing up to get back into the classroom, I thought this would be a good time to start a discussion about teaching the history of early national party formation. Continue reading

The Problem with Big Books; Or, Alan Taylor’s Biggest Sin

[Headlines are supposed to draw readers, right?]

TaylorOne of the first things I did after finishing my dissertation a couple of months back (other than sleeping for an entire week, of course), was reading Alan Taylor’s latest tome, An Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1776-1832 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), which recently won the Pulitzer Prize. (One could argue that Taylor’s biggest sin, other than the one I’m about to discuss, is hogging all the major book awards.) As one would expect given Taylor’s track record, I was floored by the book’s exhaustive research and lyrical prose. I made a mental note that this would be a great book to assign to students. Now that I’m prepping for this fall, when I’ll be teaching a Jeffersonian America course, I gave the idea more serious consideration. However, I soon realized the biggest problem, which more seasoned teachers probably already know.

The book is just too big.

Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another exciting week in early American history, where all the women are strong, all the men are strong, all the children are strong, and all the historians are above average. This week, we can report: Continue reading