US History Bellworks

Please see my previous post here on the importance of bellworks at the beginning of class.  It helps establish a routine and expectations as well as spark interesting discussions.  Some get the students forming their own opinions before we begin a unit or topic, and others review information letting us as teachers know where they are in their thinking.  Below are a few examples from my first grading period broken down by topic.

First Question at the Beginning of the Year or For a New Student

Write a paragraph about yourself, including anything you believe I should know about you.

Civil War

How can disagreements be settled so that they do not lead to arguments/war?

What do you believe to be the most significant technology invention that impacted the Civil War and why?  How did it impact the War?

If you were a freed black slave, would you run towards the North, stay in the south and try to get a house and a paying job, or join the Union army?  Why?

If you were a rich, white southern plantation owner, what would be your reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation?  How do you know?

How do you think the attacks on September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 (to bring the US into World War II) compare to each other?

Imagine you are President Lincoln and have just accepted the surrender of the Confederate army.  What would be your punishment for the southern states that seceded?

How does the Civil War still affect us today?  Please write 3 or more sentences.

Industrial Revolution

What does it mean for a country to industrialize?  What does it mean for a country to go through a revolution?

If you had the money and power to own your own factory, how would you treat your workers?  How would you determine their pay?  Would you rather be a railroad, oil, or steel owner? Why?

Which of the Robber Barons that we studied yesterday would you rather work for?  Why?

Progressivism and Social Change

How would you handle a work situation where you felt that you were being paid unfairly and working too many hours?  What if the conditions you were working in were dangerous?  Who could you contact?

Imagine you are moving to a new country.  What feelings would you have?  What would you expect the process to be like?  Do you think it would be easy or difficult to find a place to live and work?

What might be the benefits and drawbacks of having a political machine?  Who do these types of systems hurt?  Who do they help?  Do you think a political machine and/or “pay to play” systems always lead to corruption?  Why or why not?

Describe the working conditions of the average worker during the early 1900s.  Was this treatment fair?  How do you think they could correct this treatment?

Do you know of any organizations today that help people find housing and jobs?  What are some of those organizations?  How do you go about finding a place to live and work today?

Come up with a list of how you can determine the importance of a person or industry (such as railroads or steel).  How would you determine the impact that person or industry had on Florida?

Imperialism

What would be the benefit for the United States in owning property all around the world?  What would be a disadvantage?

What makes you read a story or a news article?  Which type of article or story grabs your attention? (studying yellow journalism)

Why would countries welcome the United States’ influence into their lands?  What would be their motivation? What could be their motivation to not want the US involved?

Book Review: Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740

foul-means-formation-slave-society-in-virginia-1660-anthony-s-parent-paperback-cover-artAnthony S. Parent, Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003). Pp. 291.

            In Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740, Anthony Parent weaves a masterful account of the reasons behind the rise of slavery in Virginia between 1660 and 1740.  He counters popular claims of the institution of slavery developing in early Virginia due to the tobacco production and lack of cheap labor.  Instead, Parent argues that “during a brief period in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, a small but powerful planter class, acting in their short-term interest, gave American its racial dilemma.”[1]  He claims that this emerging elite planter class conspired together to maintain and grow their power through “their decision to enslave blacks” and “establish a coercive state.”[2]  As a historian of African America and Colonial America, Parent artfully responds to a collection of historians, most notably Winthrop Jordan in his work White Over Black, across time that have contended that slavery in Virginia was an “unthinking decision” creating a well defended and supported alternate viewpoint.[3]

Foul Means is outlined in three chronological and slightly overlapping sections: Origins, Conflicts, and Reactions.  In the Origins section, Parent creates a character profile of what he deems the elite planter class through a social science and economic perspectives.  This profile is developed through an examination of how these immigrants came to own such a large amount of land stealing and ‘buying’ it from the Native Americans, and an almost scheister group of newcomers that married into land or wealth with an eye for mercantilism.  His research and graphs provide a quantitative view of his argument, allowing for a deeper understanding and a pictorial demonstration of the abuses of the colonial administration and the headright system that allowed the officials to claim slaves to gain more land.

Though Parent’s economic argument surrounding the labor shortage of indentured servants in conjunction with the rise and fall of the price of tobacco is fascinating, claiming that African enslavement quickly replaced them as a cheaper source it is merely a different perspective on an old story.  The economic points Parent makes seem to wander around his main argument before coming back to center, detracting from his thesis.  Shrouded in his character profile of the elite planter class, Parent discusses the initial stages of racism in America. The white indentured servants were protesting against being made ‘slaves’ which suggests that they considered slavery to be morally wrong but only when applied to themselves.[4]  Thus, King Charles II “promoted the [African] slave trade” … “by protecting one labor group from exploitation”, the white English.[5]  William Fitzhugh, a member of this elite planter class, discussed his notions of breeding his slaves, creating a Virginia stock, “not unlike cattle,” that could sustain their supply to meet their demand to prevent the previous labor shortage because of issues with the trading companies.[6]  However, in the 1680s, the primary labor source became African slaves through various means of transport, including the black market.

The most powerful section, Conflicts, spawns from the racism laid out in Origins. The Slave Codes and laws began emerging as early as 1640, when very few Africans and free blacks lived in Virginia.[7]  These Codes intended to emphasize the racism, purposely digging a valley between the whites and blacks of society, putting into law that the blacks needed to be controlled and the potential consequences if they broke these laws.  Here, Parent could have demonstrated the elite planters’ knowledge of their treatment of these enslaved Africans as morally wrong, but instead he imprints the idea that the planters saw them as separate and intentionally wrote these laws to continue this separation.  It is possible that these planters used this view of separateness as an excuse for their inhumane acts.  The elite planters feared that the poorer whites would band together with the Africans, forming an alliance for freedom and insurgency.  Interracial uprisings confirmed their fears, leading to more desperate attempts to emphasize the class difference between the two groups, such as making the slaves wear the color blue.[8]  Parent details numerous revolts and attempted revolts and the quelling of their insurgency by the white elite class as a means for degradation and to prove to the rest of those planning such attempts that they would be, in effect, brought to justice.  Yet these class differences were not only made apparent between lower class whites and Africans but also between the elite planters, middling and lesser planters, who some eventually were able to procure slaves for themselves.  Arguments arose between the upper and lower planters and merchants over taxes imposed on the enslaved that the owners must pay.  This tax would regulate the slave trade and only make elite planters financially eligible to maintain enough slaves to work the fields, thus keeping the class structure in tact with no upward movement available.  However, the crown rejected the slave duty acts, much to the chagrin of the elites.

With the growing insurgency among the slaves, the poor, and other who they saw as their dependents, their loss of power with the crown in England, and their growing dependence on merchants for trade, the elite planter class devised an ideology of patriarchy to make themselves distinctive from the other classes while quelling the uprisings, as Parent explores in his final section, Reactions.  Thus, as the patriarchs, these elite planters saw themselves as the top of society who provided “order, the pastoral, provincialism, and providence.”[9]  As devote Anglicans, these planters founded their ideology on their faith and saw it as “divine providence” that they were the masters of the land and all the others were dutiful servants.[10]  Christianity itself became an issue among the enslaved, as they saw it as a ticket for freedom; however the English saw their conversion as a means “to reduce them to greater docility.”[11]  Parent discusses the corruption of the clergy and their unwillingness to usurp these patriarchal planters.  An entire book could be written on the use of Christianity in slave culture by both the slaves and the white owners so the information presented is minimal but impactful.

Overall, Parent’s work is an interesting perspective on slavery and class development in early Virginia.  He supports and proves his arguments both that an elite planter class emerged through coercion and illegal landing dealings via political standings and connections and also that this elite planter class conspired to switch labor sources from indentured servants to African slaves.  Parent’s research into statistics of the landholdings and headright patents as well as his use of journals and letters only strengthen this argument. His differing perspectives surrounding this ethnohistory are a welcome change from the standard cultural and social perspectives surrounding the investigation into slavery.  In spite of sporadic moments where Parent digresses slightly the organization of the book allows for an easy reading flow, from reviewing and understanding base information, such as the slave code, and then analyzing interaction and reaction to this information, such as the uprisings and conflicts.

However, the information that Parent presents is hardly new to the field.  The contribution Foul Means makes to the historiographic conversation is the viewpoint of the argument.  Even if other historians do not agree with his conclusions, Parent expands the conversation to include this elite planter class that cannot be denied based upon his research and presentation.


[1] Anthony S. Parent, Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), pp. 2.

[2] Parent, pp. 105.

[3] Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), pp. 44-98; Parent, pp. 2.

[4] Parent, pp. 56.

[5] Parent, pp. 60.

[6] Parent, pp. 72.

[7] Parent, pp. 109.

[8] Parent, 147.

[9] Parent, 200.

[10] Parent, 236, 201.

[11] Parent, 237-8.

History Harvest: Community Collectives

New York TimesThe January 2013 issue of the Perspectives on History highlighted a project of the students and faculty of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln called History Harvest.  The article called to me about a way to collect the information that is most often lost- that of the community in which we all live.  Everyone has those personal historical documents tucked away in a closet, attic, or basement that we think about rarely (or sometimes often).  These documents have a personal value, but also a historical value regarding culture and social of our given communities.  It’s a shame to let those documents sit, forgotten, tucked away when they could be digitized for use by historians and students.

The co-directors William G. Thomas and Patrick D. Jones started this project “to create a popular movement to democratize and open American history by utilizing digital technologies to share the experiences and artifacts of everyday people and local historical institutions.”  People from the community are invited to these harvest gatherings with their personal items and histories to have them digitized with photographs and digital stories.  Local organizations, museums, and others are also welcome to bring items to be digitized.

Students are heavily involved, creating, planning, and advertising for their harvest.  Its an excellent hands on experience for the students to learn what history means to people in their community and how everyone can contribute in some way.  It’s a fascinating project that begs for duplication in communities across the United States and the world.

Needless to say, I would be highly interested in starting my own “History Harvest” in my community with students.  If you would be too, you can contact the co-directors via the links on their names above or contacting them through their website at: http://historyharvest.unl.edu/

Posthumous Freedom

A petition of freedom from 20 slaves who were fighting in the Revolutionary War to the New Hampshire General Assembly was unearthed 30 years ago in the state archives of New Hampshire by Valerie Cunningham, a historian and preservationist from Portsmouth.  The argument and irony of the petition has become well known to historians of the era and up to the Civil War that the colonists were fighting so hard for their own freedom from Great Britian yet were unable to see the plight of their slaves who wanted their own.  Their petition was ignored as it was deemed not the right time to free them.  Later, only 6 slaves were granted their freedom.

Now, 233 years later, it appears that the 14 slaves who were never granted freedom may receive it from the New Hampshire government.  It is a symbolic decision, obviously.  State Senator Martha Fuller Clarke is sponsoring the Senate bill, which has already passed through the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and is now headed for the full Senate vote.  Governor Maggie Hassan has already agreed to sign the bill upon approval by the full Legislature.

It calls attention to efforts of community organizations to protect and preserve the African burial grounds, culture, and contributions of the people.  The African Burying Ground Committee in Portsmouth has been working for the past ten years to build a memorial park in an African-American burial ground in downtown.  The funds are just not available, however, their hope is to break ground this summer with their design, including granite engravings with passages from the petition.

What do you think?  Is it too little, too late?  Or a needed gesture?

If you’d like to see more about the African Burying Ground Committee, the cause, and possibly make a donation, you can visit their website at http://www.africanburyinggroundnh.org/ .

You can read more about this petition here at the Boston Globe and see more about the memorial here at the City of Portsmouth.

Book Review: On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America

On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America by Lisa Winkler

ImageMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America by Lisa Winkler is a fabulous biography of a cross-country horseback ride of Miles Dean.  The biography gives a short background to introduce the reader to the purpose of Dean’s journey and the deep emotion behind it.  His inspiration grew from watching cowboys on tv and realizing that none of them looked like him.  There were no positive and influential African American role models that he could look up to in his world until he saw Sidney Poitier portray a cowboy in Buck and the Preacher, a 1972 film.  As a teacher, he noticed the intense lacking of the history of African Americans in school.  Thus, the film and his desire to bring attention to of the contributions African Americans made to the United States during the 1500-1800s spurred inspiration to follow in the steps of the early pioneers exactly as they would have done it- on horseback.  Slowly, Dean was able to procure time on a ranch, riding lessons and eventually a horse.

Winkler’s story weaves Dean’s ride from New York to California with very small tidbits on the history of why Dean stopped in the various locations important in African American history along the way.  Each small history, sometimes only a paragraph in length, begs for elaboration for a deeper tale.  Along the way, Dean meets many small town people who are in their way heroes to him: a sheriff who clears the way for him to ride his horse, people who open their open to him, and others.  At other times, he stops and talks with students, many taking an interest in his horses, animals which many of them have never seen in person.  Trials and turbulations greet him at every turn but valiantly he fights through and finishes his journey six months later at a celebration at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.

The book is a quick and easy read and would be very effective for a middle school classroom that could evoke a deep discussion about African American contributions throughout the centuries.  Too often school curriculums only focus on slavery and the Civil Rights movement, both important in their own right, but then neglect the other aspects of a vital group in history.  The book could be paired with a bulletin board map and student assignments on the history of the importance of each of Dean’s stops along his journey.

To buy this book, visit Amazon here.

For more information on the author, Lisa Winkler, visit her website.

Book Review: Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War

Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black VeteransBloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral Histoy by Wallace Terry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History by Wallace Terry is one of the most powerful and moving books from the point of view of the soldiers who fought the battles day in and day out. Terry is the renowned authority on the African American soldier and experience in Vietnam. He was on the ground with the troops, interviewing them, creating the only documentary from the battlefield entitled Guess Who’s Coming Home: Black Fighting Men Recorded Live in Vietnam, released in 1972.

The African American men in Bloods tell their story in their own words, the way they experienced it. Their dialects show through the written speech. Each chapter is more moving and emotional than the next, dragging the reader down into the depths of war, creating an emotional investment in each person mentioned. But the stories are not only about the battle on the front lines but the battle inside themselves, behind the lines, and back at home. Each soldier discusses their views on the Civil Rights movement that is happening while they were away and its impact on them while they are at war. The emotions are still heavy as they tell stories of black, white, Hispanic, Asian, an American soldier is a brother. Others run into different scenarios of racism behind the line and sometimes their abilities to overcome it.

Even though Bloods was originally published in 1984, many words of the men who told their stories can still ring true today. Armchair historians, military fans, young adults, and anyone interested in a true horror story should read this oral history, but a minor amount of previous knowledge of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement is recommended for true comprehension. These men should be honored for being willing to share with the world their experiences in such a sensitive and life-changing time period. No doubt the rapport and trust built between the men and Terry while they were in the battlefield contributed greatly to their willingness to be interviewed after their return stateside. It is through that bond of trust that the public is graced with a rich primary resource such as Bloods.

For more information, please visit Wallace Terry’s website

To purchase Bloods, please click here.

View all my reviews