What Happened to the “Democratic” in the “Age of Democratic Revolutions”?

PalmerThis past semester I taught a course on “18th Century Atlantic Revolutions: America, France, and Haiti,” which included both undergraduate and graduate students. (I wrote about the assigned readings at my personal blog.) I’d like to highlight a central theme that I emphasized throughout the course as a way to discuss historiographical and pedagogical questions.

To give my grad students a sense of the field’s starting point, I had them read R. R. Palmer’s classic 2-volume The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959, 1964; 2014), recently combined and re-published by Princeton University Press. Advancing through the semester and reading much more recent books, the dated nature of Palmer’s book is readily apparent. Most obvious is its avoidance of Haiti. (At an AHA panel on the Age of Revolutions last January, Nathaniel Perl-Rosenthal mention that it’s basically an academic ritual to mention this whenever discussing Age of Democratic Revolution.) Palmer also focuses on high-end (and male-centric) intellectual history, ignores economic interests and intersections, and only engages the nations whose revolutions “succeeded.” This last point is obviously problematic, of course, given what happens in France after their Revolution. But as Janet Polasky’s recent book shows, a more comprehensive view can be gleaned through looking at revolutionary moments that did not have successful outcomes. Like any book published over a half-century ago, even a classic book like Palmer’s, there are plenty of holes to acknowledge. Continue reading

Guest Post: Michelle Orihel, “A Pamphlet War In Song: Teaching Revolutionary Print Culture with the Musical, Hamilton

We are pleased to share this guest post from Michelle Orihel, an Assistant Professor of History at Southern Utah University. Dr. Orihel received her doctorate from Syracuse University and is currently working on a book manuscript about Democratic-Republican Societies in the post-revolutionary period.

HamiltonWhen I first listened to the Hamilton soundtrack last fall, the song “Farmer Refuted” caught my attention. The song stages a pamphlet war that began in November 1774 between Samuel Seabury, an Anglican minister in Westchester County, New York, and Alexander Hamilton, then an upstart New York college student. Their war of words over the First Continental Congress carried on for nearly four months and encompassed several tracts.[1] Continue reading

Teaching with Databases: An Early American Atlanticist’s Conundrum

SourcesDuring my three years of teaching in England, it’s become apparent that students in my American history classes spend a lot of time worrying about access to primary sources. As an undergraduate myself, I knew that upper-level assessment turns on the ability to find and analyze primary sources—that stipulation is no different in this country. What’s clear, however, is that whereas as an undergraduate I could go to the stacks and wander around until I had a pile of travel narratives, diaries, and monograph reproductions related to early American Atlantic history, that’s not necessarily the case here for students taking classes on early American history, Native American history, the Atlantic world, slavery, trade, and colonization. The costs of a Readex subscription, just for example, are too expensive for the library to justify when most students aren’t going to research early American newspapers. As a result, I’ve had to think hard about how to ease students’ worries about locating sources. Continue reading

“Early America” in The Open Syllabus Project

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.39.43 AMThe Open Syllabus Project (@opensyllabus) has collected “over 1 million syllabi” in the hopes of determining “how often texts are taught” and “what’s taught with what.” They hope their project will provide “a promising means of exploring the history of fields, curricular change, and differences in teaching across institutions, states, and countries.” The OSP has released a beta version of their “Syllabus Explorer,” which “makes curricula visible and navigable in ways that we think can become valuable to authors, teachers, researchers, administrators, publishers, and students.” Intrigued that the project claims to have catalogued the assigned readings from 460,760 History syllabi, I went through the list to find the most assigned works of early American history. Continue reading

Can Class Participation Be Taught?

participation

Class participation has bothered me since I graded a set of midterm exams from my first solo-taught course. As I sat down to read through those signature blue books, I felt anxious about how my students would perform. Had they learned anything? Did the lectures thus far sink in at all? To gauge the potential quality of the exams, I scanned through some of the responses of my “better” students and felt fairly confident grading the rest.

At the end of the stack, however, I came across an exam that has stuck with me. The student in question had me worried all semester. Not only did this student refuse to participate in class discussions but she frequently looked irritated whenever I asked the class a question that wasn’t rhetorical. Continue reading

Teaching History Without Chronology

Most history courses follow a relatively simple formula: take a geographic space X, select a time span from A to B, add topics, and you’ve got yourself a course. It varies, of course, but works for both introductory courses, where you might survey the political, social, and cultural development of the people living in a geographic area, to upper-level courses with topical focuses. As a field whose primary concern is change over time, that formula makes sense. That consistency also means that students expect it from their high school and college history courses. And how else would you organize a history course?

I found out last semester.

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The Revolution Will Be Live-Tweeted

KillingStampAs many of our readers already know, this fall has marked the 250th anniversary since the protests against the Stamp Act, one of the earliest major actions of the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution. Over the course of a year—from the first arrival of the Act in May 1765 until news of its repeal arrived in May 1766—colonists in the “thirteen original” colonies (as well as the “other thirteen”) passed resolutions, argued in essays, marched in the streets, forced resignations, and otherwise made clear their displeasure with paying a tax on their printed goods.

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