"Rethinking the American Colonies" at Messiah College: Day One

This week I am teaching a “Teachers as Scholars” seminar at Messiah College.  The Teachers as Scholars program is one of the flagship programs of the Messiah College Center for Public Humanities, one of only a handful of National Endowment for Humanities funded public humanities centers in the country.  Teachers as Scholars bring dozens of area teachers to campus for content-based professional development seminars.  This year the Center is offering seminars on slave narratives, digital history, and technology for second-language learners in addition to my seminar on “Rethinking the American Colonies.”

Here is a the course description for the two-day seminar:

This seminar will focus on themes related to the founding, settlement and development of the 13 British colonies from 1607 to 1763. Rather than thinking about colonial America as a necessary forerunner to the American Revolution or the birth of the United States, we will make an effort to understand British colonial life on its own terms. We will examine how the colonies developed from remote 17th century English outposts to well-connected 18th century provinces of the British Empire. In the process we will think together about how this particular period in the American past provides a laboratory for teaching historical-thinking skills in the school classroom.

I am basically trying to get the thirteen teachers in my class to question the so-called “Whig” interpretation of colonial America that has been recently challenged by a host of colonial American historians, most notably Alan Taylor in American Colonies.

Today we talked at length about the Whig interpretation of the colonies and focused most of our attention on the founding of the Chesapeake and New England colonies.  We traced the way both of these colonial regions became Anglicized by the end of the 17th-century.  

Of course we also took some interesting sidetracks that I hope were helpful to the teachers. We discussed the difference between what Butterfield described as “Whig history” and the neo-Whig interpretation of the American Revolution often associated with Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood. We also spent a lot of time talking about the best way to teach students historical thinking skills.  I am having fun with this group and I hope the teachers are getting something out of the seminar.  

Day two of the seminar is scheduled for Thursday.  

For me this seminar has been a nice warm-up for my Gilder-Lehrman summer seminar at Princeton at the end of July.