Guest Post: Introducing “The American Yawp”

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Wright, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, who focuses on religious conversion and early American antislavery. He is the co-editor of Apocalypse and the Millennium in the Era of the American Civil War (LSU, 2013), the editor of the Teaching United States History blog, and co-editor of The American Yawp.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 8.09.18 AMLike many of you, I find myself teaching the first half of the U.S. history survey this fall. The first few times through the course, I used a textbook and appreciated the clear organizational structure and built-in pacing. Teaching with a textbook felt like teaching with training wheels, and I certainly needed them for my first few laps. But as my confidence grew, so did my desire to assign primary sources, articles, monographs, museum catalogs, and other readings. While I am impressed with the quality of many texts – Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty, and Kevin Schultz’s HIST are among my favorites – I cannot justify assigning an (often outrageously) expensive textbook if it is not going to be the cornerstone of my course. But my course evaluations often include requests for textbooks, particularly among athletes or other students with serial absences. I have tried placing a textbook on reserve, but in the three semesters of doing so, no one has ever checked out the book. It seems like our discipline could use an affordable, synthetic safety net for students who would like one. Continue reading

The JuntoCast, Episode 3: Teaching the U.S. History Survey

The JuntoCastThe Junto is happy to present the third episode of “The JuntoCast.” In case you missed our first two episodes, “The JuntoCast” is a monthly podcast in which members of The Junto discuss issues of both academic and general interest related to early American history, pedagogy, and public history. Continue reading

Guest Post: Teaching with Legal Sources: The Case of Ann Hibbens

Today’s guest poster is Sara Damiano, a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation is entitled, “Gender, Law, and the Culture of Credit in New England, 1730-1790.”

As we plunge into syllabus-writing season, I would like to contribute to The Junto’s ongoing conversation on teaching with primary sources. (Joseph Adelman and Glenda Goodman have previously written on favorite sources in the survey and on music in the classroom, respectively.)  I’m a historian of gender and law, so I would like to make the argument for including legal sources in our syllabi, even for courses that aren’t explicitly focused on legal history. By way of illustration, I would also like to recommend one of my favorite legal history sources for teaching: the 1640 trial of Ann Hibbens before the First Church of Boston.

Continue reading

The 10,000 B.C. Question: How to Start the Survey

Today’s post is in the vein of ProfHacker, which is to say that it’s part descriptive of my practices in the classroom, and part a request for others to help work through a common problem.

Having just completed two consecutive semesters teaching the first half of the U.S. survey, I’m hoping to spend a little time this summer mulling how to improve the design of the course. At Framingham State, it runs “from the Age of Discovery to Reconstruction,” according to the course catalog. For our Europeanist readers and colleagues, that may seem like a mere drop in the bucket, but it’s quite a lot of ground to cover in just fifteen weeks. As a survey, everything feels like it gets short shrift. This much I knew going in, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reflect. Continue reading

Favorite Sources in the Survey

Teaching the survey, I have found, can be a blur. Events, people, and places zip by—on Monday, you’re at Jamestown in 1607, on Wednesday, Plymouth in 1620, and by Friday Cotton and Increase Mather are angling for a new charter for Massachusetts. (Okay, I don’t move quite that fast, but it’s still quick.) And in the meantime students deal mostly with brief snippets of texts in a document reader. Someday I may ditch it, but for now, it does the job.

One of my favorite parts of the course, therefore, is working with students a little more deeply on select texts, and getting to practice the craft of the historian more fully. So today I’ll share one or two of my favorites with you, offering no claims to originality.

I’ll start with my absolute favorite, which will come as no surprise to my friends: Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. Continue reading

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