A recent conversation with Joe, Ken, and Michelle Moravec has me thinking about ways to use local history in a US survey course. Right now, Michelle and I have it easy; we’re both teaching in greater Philadelphia. It doesn’t take a lot of creativity to find ways to call out local attractions in class. (I can even display a map showing my campus smack in the middle of the Battle of Germantown.) But what about local history in general? How can we demonstrate that history is experienced in particular places, and that every place, at least potentially, has a history?
‘TWEAH, two nights before Christmas, when thr’out the blog roll
Not a creature was stirring, not even a troll;
The grades were all posted to Blackboard with care,
In hopes that strong evals soon would be there;
The grad students were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of fellowships danc’d in their heads,
And Ben Park in his ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains on an early Americanist recap.
Open up most any early American history book and flip to the list of tables and figures. Chances are you’ll find—if provided—maps devoid of almost any indigenous peoples. If the book is more recent, perhaps instead you’ll find that the author included two maps: one of European settlements, and one of Native American peoples. Or, just maybe, you happen to have on hand one of the few books to merge all of these together. But look closely and see if you can find the usual tension—an unbalance resulting from the projection of European empire on one hand, and the illustration of limited, isolated, scattered indigenous nations on the other.
How can so many maps of colonial North America display European power and political influence, but not do the same for American Indian polities and groups?
Maybe the better question is, how can we overcome our own historiographical strictures and the limitations of seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps to better portray the American landscape?