TeachingAmericanHistory.org - We the Teachers Blog
TeachingAmericanHistory.org is history and civics resource website designed for use by K-12 teachers, college faculty, students, and the public at large. It features a searchable library containing thousands of original documents spanning American history from the Colonial Era through the present, primary source document-based lesson plans designed for use in education.
Over the course of 100 days in 1787, American history would be made in a boisterous and sweltering Independence Hall. While the 55 delegates who showed up thought they were “just” going to revise the Articles of the Confederation, they ended up delving into so much more, eventually arguing for, and writing a final draft of, the U.S. Constitution.
These are the basics, of course, but they can seem so far removed from your students’ daily lives. In order to help them understand the intellectual and political depths of that historic summer, you need to help them see, hear, and feel the lively drama of the Founding of the United States. By exploring the core documents of that time, you can bring the Convention to life.
The American Founding, which took place from 1776-1791, is book-ended by the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
The first volume of the American History and Government Core Documents Collection – the American Founding – is now available on PDF. Hard copies are also available for $10 each - email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy. You can also buy it on Core American Documents volume will contain the following:
Key documents on the period, theme, or institution, selected by an expert and reviewed by an editorial board
An introduction highlighting key documents and themes
A thematic table of contents, showing the connections between various documents
Study questions for each document, as well as questions that refer to other documents in the collection
Notes on each document to identify people, events, movements, or ideas to improve understanding of the document’s historical context.
When complete, the series will be comprehensive and authoritative, and will present America’s story in the words of those who wrote it – America’s presidents, labor leaders, farmers, philosophers, industrialists, politicians, workers, explorers, religious leaders, judges, soldiers; its slaveholders and abolitionists; its expansionists and isolationists; its reformers and stand-patters; its strict and broad constructionists; its hard-eyed realists and visionary utopians – all united in their commitment to equality and liberty, yet so often divided by their different understandings of these most fundamental American ideas.
The documents are all about this – the still unfinished American experiment with self-government. There is no better place to begin to understand that experiment than with these documents from the American founding.
The Great Depression and New Deal can be more easily understood by thinking of it as a story in six parts.
Today's interview is with Dr. John Moser, Professor of History at Ashland University and editor of the Core Documents volume on the Great Depression and New Deal. A complex and multi-faceted event that played out over a more than a decade, it can be understood by thinking of it as having taken place in six parts, chronologically:
Hoover and the Great Depression
Hoover vs. Roosevelt: The Election of 1932
Roosevelt First New Deal, 1932-1934
Criticism of the New Deal
Roosevelt's Second New Deal, 1934-1936
The New Deal in Decline, 1936-1938
John talks about how he went about selecting documents to fit this model, how the documents fit together, and how using these documents can greatly improve the quality and interest level in a unit on the Great Depression and New Deal.
It’s impossible to separate a culture’s literature from its history, yet every day, in classrooms across the country, the two subjects function in isolation. It’s easy to understand why: with an ever-increasing list of requirements and standards, teachers often find themselves scrambling to deliver basic instruction of their subject, let alone combine with another class. However, with the right planning, American history and literature teachers can team up to cohesively teach units. In the end, combining curriculum can give your students more educational bang for their buck. Making connections between two disciplines drives home the “how” and “why” questions of both.
For today’s teens, popularly referred to as Generation Z, it’s all about story. They post their stories on social media. They shop brands that invest in marketing their own digital narratives. Their common literature is viral videos. And although today’s teens consume most of these stories on screen–whether through YouTube, Snapchat, or Twitter–they’re still spending the better part of their days immersed in story.
For students who love story, history can come alive through literature. According to a 2017 article in Forbes, “Gen Z students tend to thrive when they are given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience and they even enjoy the challenges of being a part of it. For instance, 51% of surveyed students said they learn best by doing while only 12% said they learn through listening.” Learning history through story–for example, the Salem Witch Trials as portrayed in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, is a much more immersive experience than taking notes. By reading and visualizing characters and situations (or even better, acting out scenes), students participate in making meaning. The facts, and more importantly, how those facts influenced the evolution of American society, become embedded in a story many students will remember for life.
What about those students who prefer history to English class, the ones who do like memorizing dates and names but can’t seem to concentrate on a novel? For those who love the nuts and bolts of American history, the right literature can be a doorway to appreciating good storytelling. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, for example, is both a memoir and a treatise on the abolition of slavery, drawing readers into this dark portion of American history through detailed personal experience. This engaging autobiography can lead more reluctant readers to sample other historical narratives, such as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, or Tim O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical The Things They Carried, which explores the personal horrors of fighting in the Vietnam War.
Bringing the Two Together
Team teaching American history and literature can be a powerful experience for both teachers and their students. Even when two classes aren’t able to team up throughout the year, just one or two special cross-curricular units can electrify key themes with unique literary voices. If you’re a history teacher working alone, you can still deliver content through the vehicles of narratives, poetry, plays, and essays as a way to enrich your students’ learning.
Teaching American History is offering two Summer History & Literature Seminars designed to help teachers of American history and American literature to examine historical documents and literary texts through the lenses of both disciplines. Each seminar will be taught by a historian or political scientist teamed with a literary scholar. Get inspired by history and story this summer, and learn how to inspire your students as well.
In today’s national conversation, which lately seems more like a countrywide schoolyard brawl with citizens hurling insults and memes, it can be challenging to explore complex ideas. Politics and religion, especially, can raise hackles of anger where there should be openness and understanding. Many teachers try to steer clear of these “touchy” topics in the interest of keeping the peace. But ignoring and avoiding events that have formed--and continue to shape--our country's history only postpones the inevitable debate. We need a way to discuss our history without rancor.
The American History classroom, rather, should be an engaging and robust place to explore these ideas. And when teachers introduce primary sources into the conversation, the dynamic changes dramatically.
When structuring conversations around primary documents, teachers allow students to use their critical thinking skills to draw their own conclusions. While contemporary opinion pieces, satire, and viral social media phenomena can teach us a lot about our culture, foundational historical documents lead us to the roots of our national identity and should be at the core of any student’s education about religion and politics in the United States.
Imagine the impact these primary sources, unfiltered by social media and news outlets, can have on today’s students:
Sermons, poetry, and artwork that chronicle the diverse religious experiences of immigrants and religious liberty.
Excerpts of colonial law that grapple with the relationship between religious establishment and toleration.
Excerpts of founding documents that set the stage for the American political experience with religion.
Court cases that document the revolutionary, and often tenuous, separation of church and state.
Documents, addresses, and sermons that address the political-religious relationship with morals, evolution, communism, fundamentalism, liberalism, philosophy, education, and the Bible.
By studying primary documents, students will learn that while the United States was founded on the separation of church and state, politics and religion have been closely intertwined. They will also learn that it is not just acceptable to discuss religion and politics in the classroom but appropriate and timely, given our history.
As an instructor, you may feel somewhat ill at ease with addressing these documents, but TeachingAmericanHistory.org offers plenty of support so that you can feel empowered to provide your students with the resources they need to develop informed opinions and grow into thoughtful, engaged citizens.
[caption id="attachment_4021" width="371"] Click for a full video of the 1964 speech[/caption]
The last episode in TAH.org's 2017-18 Documents in Detail webinar series, focused on Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech. Often referred to as "The Speech," is was a persuasive, articulate, and powerful endorsement of then-Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater, and despite Goldwater's loss that November, helped to propel Reagan to the forefront of national politics, keeping him in the public eye as he sought and won the governorship of California, went on to unsuccessfully challenge sitting Republican President Gerald Ford for his party's nomination in 1976, and eventually win the presidency in 1980.
The latest volumes of our Core American Documents Collections – Documents and Debates – are now available!
TAH.org and professors Rob McDonald and LTC Seanegan Sculley from the History Department at the United States Military Academy at West Point worked together to create a two-volume set of documents readers, which starting in Fall 2018, will be used by all West Point cadets in their two-semester American History survey course. These volumes are structured around a series of topics, each based on a debatable question. For each topic there is a collection of documents that, together, form the basis of argument over that topic - from those who debated it at a given point in American history. For example, students will have the opportunity to understand why and how FDR and his administration made a case for Social Security, and will also read reasoned arguments against the program. The goal is to explore a series of critical moments in American history by asking questions for which there are not simple yes/no answers, but instead call for informed discussion and rational debate - where answers can be said to be valid, but not necessarily wrong or right.
These readers also include appendices of additional documents, and together are a perfect fit for any American History survey course, including AP United States History.
On 20 July 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to land on the Moon, while their fellow Apollo 11 crew member, Michael Collins, orbited above. People around the world watched and listened to updates on the trip from the Earth to the Moon, and the landing itself made history as drawing the largest single audience, ever. Starting with the Mercury program, and then Gemini, NASA had worked for almost a decade to develop the science and engineering knowledge and skill, select and train crews, and demonstrate mastery of essential mission elements for a shot at the Moon. Apollo, with its three-astronaut crews, would be the final step in the process to land people on the Moon, and bring them home safely.
The Symbolic Value of Space Exploration in the Cold War
In a speech at Rice University in 1962, President John F. Kennedy urged Americans to consider the nation's investment in the space race as an investment in the future good of humanity at large and in the broader moral context of the Cold War. While the "conquest" of space had significant implications for military purposes, Kennedy seems to say that it is its symbolic value that we ought to consider above all, writing:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
Kennedy's aspirational imagery, of course, did little to assuage the very realistic fears that such endeavours would have tremendous human costs. Although America did of course, eventually watch Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon, the outcome of the Apollo 11 mission was far from taken for granted. Richard Nixon's staff drafted a never-delivered speech in case of a failure. Intended to assuage the anticipated public grief that would have accompanied the tragedy of such a loss, the brief message appeals to the timeless imagery of sailors lost at sea, locating their final resting place not beneath the waves but among the stars. In doing so, it asserts even in failure a certain kind of moral victory, asserting with a certain melancholy beauty: "Every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind. "
For more about Apollo 11, we recommend the following: