J. K. Rowling, History, and Revisionism

time-turner

Source: allnightavenue on Flickr

I feel like I’m writing more than a few pieces lately that start with “I love [X], BUT . . .” and apparently today is no different. I’ll just come out and say it: I love Harry Potter, but I have trouble with J. K. Rowling’s treatment of history. Harry Potter was immensely important to my young adulthood. I read the books as a teenager, went to more than one midnight movie release, bought and consumed Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean, and dressed as a character from the books for Halloween.[1] I tend to re-read the novels once a year, when I’m looking for ways to improve my ability to tell a story. I wasn’t a historian when I first started reading the books, so I didn’t look too critically at Rowling’s characterizations of history and historians. Now that I am a historian, I’ve come to the conclusion that although Rowling’s portrayal of our discipline is wrong, her depiction of the wizarding world’s past—and how people interpret and at times attempt to change and revise it—is much more in keeping with the task that muggle historians daily confront. Continue reading

Steamboats and Teaching Tech

steamboat-imageSteamboats are ready for a comeback. A pedagogical one, that is. While in all likelihood the steamboat’s time as a common form of transportation in the United States is finished, over the past several weeks I’ve noticed subtle mentions in a seminar paper, a museum display, comments during last month’s PEAES conference, and only once, I should add, did I bring them up! This may be in part due to my increasing interest in them as a pivotal subject in the history of Anglo-American intellectual property. Yet I don’t think this is entirely an instance of frequency illusion but rather indicates that while steamboats are no longer an effective mode of movement, they are very effective as an illustrative one, particularly when trying to flesh out broader themes in the political economy of the Early Republic. Continue reading

Guest Post: Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation (2016) in the Classroom

Today’s guest poster, Stephanie J. Richmond, is an Assistant Professor and coordinator of history programs at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, VA. She is a historian of gender and race in the Atlantic World. The following review contains spoilers and discussion of sexual assault.

the_birth_of_a_nation_2016_filmMany historians of race and slavery in early America were very excited when the wide release of Nate Parker’s new film on the Nat Turner rebellion was announced following its rave reviews at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. With the recent surge in Hollywood depictions of slavery (12 Years a Slave, WGN’s series Underground, and even Django Unchained), films have become an important part of teaching African American history. The best of these films and tv series give students an understanding of the psychological impact of slavery on both enslaved and free African Americans, illustrating many of the tactics of control and exploitation discussed in textbooks and classrooms. I had the opportunity to see the pre-release version of the film in April 2016 when Parker’s production company held screenings for HBCU faculty in several cities around the country. Several colleagues and I attended the screening and got our first glimpse at Parker’s version of a history that is both local and national. After the screening, production assistants recorded our reactions to the film, and took detailed notes on our critiques of the film both as a work of popular entertainment and its historical inaccuracies and misrepresentations, of which there were many. My own feelings on the film and its usefulness in the classroom are complicated and have changed significantly since my first viewing of the film in April. (In full disclosure, I have seen the film twice, both times at events put on by Parker’s production company).

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Making Students Lead Discussion: Three Methods

I wrote lots of recommendation letters for students this summer, probably because last year was the first year that I taught students in their final undergraduate year, and many of them are looking for or have recently found jobs. I always die a little inside when I read or hear the word “employability,” because I think it’s a jargony term that seems to reiterate the point that a university sells a degree to its customers, the students. I do not think that education should be viewed as such a service, but neither do I think that it’s responsible to entirely eschew discussions of marketable skills that students can mention in their pre- and post-graduate job searches. Not all of them will become professional historians, and given the state of the academic job market, that’s okay! I spend time at the start of each term, in class and in my syllabi, explaining why I think it’s important for students to participate in class discussion. One of my key points is that a student’s class contributions are something that I can and do mention in my recommendation letters. Having spent the summer writing letters for recent graduates I know that I’ve mentioned their contributions in every single letter I’ve written. Lately, my feelings have gone beyond believing that students should participate: I think students should lead discussion. Continue reading

13 Revolutions +1

Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, "Portrait of America," 1934

Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, “Portrait of America,” 1934

When John Adams looked back on the American Revolution (something he liked to do), he reflected that, “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.” The colonists’ drive to independence marked a new era of American history, Adams thought, when “Thirteen Clocks were made to Strike together; a perfection of Mechanism which no Artist had ever before effected.” Scholars have struggled to frame the experience of the Revolution in picture and on the page. How can we use digital tools to curate collections of revolutionary culture and #vastearlyamerica for use in the classroom?

Today, The Junto chats with Darren Milligan, Senior Digital Strategist at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, about the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which encourages us to make, use, and share new galleries of history.  Continue reading

Guest Post: How Do We Find Religion in the American Revolution?

Kate Carté Engel is an associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University.  She is the author of Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), and she is currently writing a history of international protestantism and the American Revolution.

Screenshot 2016-05-17 12.13.52.pngOn May 17, 1773, an advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette for a new book by English dissenting minister Micaiah Towgood (misidentified in the advertisement as Michael Twogood). The ad is interesting because it is one of only 67 items in that come up in a search of Readex’s American Historical Newspapers database for the period between 1764 and 1789 containing a particular trifecta of terms: “Jesus Christ,” “liberty”, and (to get both religion and cognates like religious and religiously) “religio*”.

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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