25 August 2012

Teaching US History to 1877

I've started my latest semester and have a week under my belt. I'm taking an independent study course in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, which is the general time-frame of most of my research. I also have six hours of research credit this semester that is going to go toward my final scholarly project. The Doctor of Arts program that I am in does not have a traditional dissertation, but rather a project that involves primary research (like a dissertation) and a pedagogical component (somewhat like an EdD, I think). My research is going to focus on the local religious landscape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I've noted some of my work previously on this site.

In addition to my own work, I am again teaching a section of History 103, The US to 1877. I utilize Tindall and Shi's America: A Narrative History for the course. I like this book well enough as a political narrative, but think that it has the same weakness that many of the other textbooks I've reviewed have. They pretty much have a handful of pages on the pre-Columbian Americans and something similar for the background of Columbus's voyages to the New World. This gives enthusiastic college freshmen the idea that the history of the New World began with exploration in the late fifteenth century.

There were millions of people in the New World before Columbus, and I think it's important to note them. I give my first major lecture on the topic of the American Indians. I then move to the buildup to Europe in 1492. I try to answer questions about the economic system and the changes that were going on at this time and the major reasons for European exploration and expansion--religion was one of them. I think that this gives the students a better background for understanding what took place after the initial contact between Columbus and his Native American hosts in the Bahamas in 1492.

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