Teaching Hipster History: Ending the Semester on an Ironic Note

Hipster GWConclusions are hard, I find, and no less so in teaching than in writing. Both at the end of a book and at the end of a course, really great endings add a bit of spice—something just new or unexpected enough to cast what’s come before in a different light, something that makes it exciting to reflect back across the material you’ve just learned.

I aim for student-driven discussions, and at semester’s end in previous seminars and discussion sections, I’ve struggled to coax students into producing the final chord that resonates in all registers of a course’s architecture. I’ve had students free-write (and then discuss) to summarize, as succinctly as possible, the change over time they’ve learned about in the course, and I’ve asked students to identify what one idea from the class they hope they’ll remember forty years from now. Both exercises have produced good-enough results. But since they didn’t ask students to see the courses’ material anew in any way, I’ve found myself wanting more.

But my students’ final discussion this semester was so invigorating that I just had to write a blog post about it. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWe begin this Week in Early American History with James Oakes’ powerful and timely reflection on white abolitionism. “The Real Problem with White Abolitionists,” Oakes argues, is that “even the most radical abolitionists betrayed a blind faith in the magical healing powers of a free market in labor. Scarcely a single theme of the broader antislavery argument strayed far from the premise.”
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The Week in Early American History

TWEAH

Let’s kick another weekly roundup of early American history links off with this fascinating and fun look at Revolutionary-era pronunciations of the word “Huzza(h)!” over at Journal of the American Revolution (hint: it rhymes with “fray”). Continuing with the general theme of historical language and pronunciation, Sam Sack’s New Yorker review of Ben Tarnoff’s newly-released, The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers who Reinvented American Literature, includes some reflections on Twain’s use of “unrefined idiomatic English” and “how America learned to hear itself talk.”  Continue reading

Historians Who Love Just a Bit

I’ve never met anybody, living or dead, who fits their name quite as well as Peregrine Foster did. I encountered Peregrine in the papers of his brother, Dwight Foster, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I was looking for compilations of meaty correspondence that depicted land speculators at work. Peregrine was the youngest of three; his older brothers were Congressmen from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Peregrine, though, wasn’t destined for such prominence.

In 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he more or less flunked out of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University), complaining that his homework was eating him. “Though it is but only 23 Days since he began the 1st Vol of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” his oldest brother wrote, “he lost Flesh surprizingly and . . . is persuaded that it is not for his Interest to pursue his Books.”[1] Peregrine wanted to go to sea, but his brothers disapproved. So instead, after a few years of twenty-something idleness, he resolved to venture west in pursuit of a fortune through land speculation. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHA DC-based company with the email address coolhistory13@gmail.com has posted an open casting call for a “history based reality TV show.” What could go wrong?

Do you work on disability studies? Early American Literature is running a special issue, and calling for contributions from “historians, literary critics, art historians, musicologists, and other early American scholars.” Continue reading

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