Category Archives: Teaching

John Green’s Crash Course on the Civil War

A couple of colleagues in my history department utilize a few of John Green’s history video series. I never heard of him before this year, but apparently they are very popular with students. His most recent course is on the Civil War. It’s not a complete disaster. In fact, there are aspects of it that I really like. Green read a little David Goldfield and James McPherson and I really like the way he reinforces the causal importance of slavery.

History of the Slave South With Stephanie McCurry

I certainly understand the concerns expressed by many regarding the impact of MOOCs on higher education. At the same time, for those people who are interested in furthering their understanding of American history, it is impossible for me not to see the value of spending some time online with a scholar of Stephanie McCurry’s caliber. The course begins in January 2014.

The issue seems to be how MOOCs are utilized and assessed within a college curriculum rather than the educational value of the course itself.

This Thing Called History

I apologize for the lack of substantive posts of late. The school year is now in full swing and I have very little time to think about anything other than my classes. I did find time to read a bit in Erskine Clarke’s new book, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey. Thanks to Basic Books for sending along a review copy. It’s a fascinating story, but rather than try to explain it, I recommend reading the website’s description. Clarke has a really nice description that beautifully sums up what it is that we do as historians and what many of us try to impress upon our students.

To be sure, any persuasive reconstruction of the past must demonstrate careful research and faithful attention to details.  But the historian’s task is not primarily to present a catalog of discovered “facts.” Rather, the historian attempts to enter as deeply as possible into the lives and into the social and cultural contexts of those lives in order to interpret and re-create for the present a past world. The study of history is, finally, an exploration of mysteries, the continuing exploration of–and arguments about–the lives of particular people, and about the dynamics and forces that influence the course of human life. The writing of history is plunging into other times and other places and into the story and stories of other people and then emerging with the historian’s account of what has been seen and heard even in the empty places and silences of the past.

I may have my students think about this description as they begin to synthesize a selection of primary and secondary sources related to the establishment and development of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Comparative and Synoptical System Applied to the Civil War

Civil War InfographicYou might simply describe it as an elaborate chart. This infographic of the American Civil War is making the rounds today on various social media channels. It dates to 1897, though the directions on how to properly interpret the chart have not survived. Apparently, a wave of these infographics was produced at the end of the nineteenth century and I am sure that it fits into an interesting cultural history of visual representations of large periods of time. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about it, though I do see a loose connection with a Rankean optimism about the knowability of history.

You can click on the pic above for a high resolution image or you can play around with the zoom button at the Library of Congress. Enjoy and let me know if you figure out how to interpret it.