Teaching American Holidays


Tara Strauch, a history professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, is teaching a January-term course on the history of American holidays.  What a great idea for a course! In her most recent post at the Teaching United States History blog she shares her approach to such a course and encourages others to “integrate holiday history” in their teaching.

A taste:

So, here are a few reasons I hope you will consider integrating holiday history into your syllabus:

  1. They are incredibly visible events and make change over time concrete to students who struggle with the concept. For example, the aluminum Christmas tree fad can be shown quickly and its relationship to the Cold War and space race are easily explained.  Another example here is the rise of the public 4th of July firework display and its connections to the professionalization of the medical field and concerns about class and urban poverty.  The images, proclamations, etc. associated with holidays are great primary source tools that can be digested quickly in class as ways of demonstrating historical change.   
  2. Class, racial, and ethnic tensions are highlighted on such days. Indeed they are often the driving force behind the creation of or transformation of holidays. Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day, just to name a few, all have important origin stories that speak to the way that these tensions are managed, challenged, and protested.  These stories demonstrate the agency of the disenfranchised and the ways that people in power attempt to mitigate issues of class and race.  

Read the entire post here.