2018 Princeton Seminar: Day 6

2018 Princeton Sat 4And that’s a wrap.

Yesterday was the final day of the 2018 Gilder-Lehrman seminar on colonial America at Princeton University.  It was another great week with 34 teachers from around the country.

The last day of the seminar is my favorite.  We talked about Philip Vickers Fithian, the “rural Enlightenment,” the First Great Awakening, and the Britishness of the American colonies on the eve of the American Revolution.  In the afternoon, the teachers presented their lesson plans to their colleagues in the class.

It was a wonderful week.  I always learn so much from these teachers. Their passion for history and history education inspire me.  But this week was different.  As many of you know, I have spent the last year or so thinking and writing about evangelicals and Donald Trump.  My return to the 17th and 18th centuries this week was a refreshing refuge for me.  It renewed my commitment to continue my work in early America and gave me an intellectual jump start on a book I am writing on the American Revolution.

Thanks to everyone who made this week happen:  George Boudreau, the staff at Princeton University, the seminar staff at Gilder-Lehrman, the teachers willing to commit a week to an intensive study of colonial America, and especially my partner-in-crime and seminar coordinator Nate McAlister.

We will be back next year!

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2018 Princeton Sat 2

2018 Princeton Sat 1

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2018 Princeton Sat 5


Princeton Seminar: Day 5

Princeton 2018 Fri 5

Our fearless leader Nate McAlister with a Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence.  Only 25 exist and Princeton’s Firestone Library has one of them.

Read all of our Princeton Seminar 2018 posts here.

It was another busy day yesterday at the Gilder-Lehrman Summer Seminar for teachers on the “colonial era.”  The teachers heard lectures on women and dissent in Puritan New England, slave culture in 18th-century South Carolina, and the Enlightenment in America. (My voice is recovering after 4-hours of lecturing!)

The highlight of the day was our annual visit to the Firestone Library Rare Books Department.  Curator Eric White pulled some classic early American texts for us to examine and even broke out one of the original July 4 Dunlap broadsides of the Declaration of Independence.  In addition, we got a look at works by William Bradford Increase Mather, Cotton Mather, John Eliot, William Penn, John Locke, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, Addison and Steele, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Smith, Thomas Paine, and Phillis Wheatley.

I love watching the teachers get excited about encountering these documents.  Some of them were moved to tears.

One more day to go!

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Princeton Fri. 3

Princeton 2018 Fri 3

Princeton 2018 Fri 1

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 2


Today the teachers got a tour of early American Princeton

Monday was a long and busy day at the Princeton Seminar.

We began with a morning of lecture and discussion about how we should think about “colonial America.”  I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonies and try to rid themselves of a Whig-centered interpretation of the period.  In the process we spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a “civics” approach to the past and a “historical thinking” approach to the past.   I challenged the teachers to try to understand the colonial American past on its own terms and, at least for a week, pretend that the American Revolution never happened.

I also introduced the teachers to what has been called “The New Indian” history.  What might our understanding of colonial America look like if we examine it from the perspective of native Americans?  I focused this lecture around three concepts: “Facing East” (Dan Richter), the “Indians’ New World” (James Merrell), and the “Middle Ground” (Richard White).

Finally, we got started with a lecture on the colonial Chesapeake and tried to make sense of why so many people starved to death in the early years of Jamestown.  We will be finishing this discussion today by carrying the Virginia story through Bacon’s Rebellion.

In the afternoon, Nate McAlister introduced the teachers to their lesson-plan assignment. Every teacher needs to pick a primary source from the colonial era and write a lesson that they can use with their students.   It is always fun to see the documents that they choose and the lessons that they design.

After dinner we split into two groups and got a historical tour of Princeton.  My tour guide, Leslie, was excellent.  She took us through Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the home of Albert Einstein, the home of Richard Stockton (Morven), and the Princeton Battlefield Monuments.  We got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while visiting Einstein’s house, but Leslie pushed us through.  There we were–standing outside of Morven in the pouring ran listening to Leslie expound upon the life of Stockton.  These teachers are real troopers!

About half of us ended the night at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at Princeton’s Nassau Inn.  This is the place where the Princeton Seminar goes to solve all world problems. Tonight was no exception!

Looking forward to day 3!  Stay tuned.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 1


The Gilder-Lehrman 2017 Princeton Seminar on colonial America is underway!

Last night we held our opening dinner with the teachers.  A few teachers had some difficulties with flights, but everyone is now here and settled into their rooms on the Princeton University campus.  This year we have 35 history teachers representing 20 states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhoda Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

My partner-in-crime Nate McAlister (did I mention he was National History of the Year in 2010?) got the teachers started on a gargoyle scavenger hunt on the Princeton campus. We also took a brief tour of the eighteenth-century campus.  All of the attendees read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and seem eager to see sites related to Philip VIckers Fithian.

The teachers will be busy this week. In addition to morning lectures on colonial America and afternoon sessions on interpreting primary sources, we will be spending the entire day on Wednesday touring colonial Philadelphia with LaSalle University public historian and tour guide extraordinaire George Boudreau.

On Monday afternoon we will be teaming-up with the Historical Society of Princeton for a tour of early American Princeton. On Thursday afternoon we will spend a couple of hours with a rare book librarian from Princeton University’s Firestone Library.  I have asked the librarian to pull first editions of every book Fithian read during his short life and most of the books I will discuss in morning lectures.  This is always one the highlights of the week.  Finally, we are hoping to spend some time at the Princeton cemetery where the teachers will get a chance to visit the grace of Aaron Burr Jr., Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and others.

It is going to be a great week!  Stay tuned for updates.  Check out pics at @princetonsemnr

Princeton Seminar Is About To Kick-Off Its Fourth Year

36167-nassau_hall_princetonNext week I will be at Princeton University to lead a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar of the “Colonial Era” for history teachers.  This is the fourth year that I have joined my partner in crime, 2010 National Teacher of the Year Nate McAlister, in leading this seminar. The Princeton Seminar (as we call it) has become one of the professional highlights of my year.

Stay tuned for updates as the week progresses.  In the meantime, here are some pics from previous Princeton seminars:

Welcome Park

The 2015 Princeton Seminar at Welcome Park in Philadelphia


George Boudreau of LaSalle University, the man who many believe to be the greatest tour guide of colonial Philadelphia that has ever lived, will be back in 2017!


Nate likes to take the teachers into Einstein’s old classroom


There is plenty of time for impromptu tours of the 18th-century Princeton campus


Teachers spend a lot of time working with primary sources

Fithian Wall

The teachers read The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  The ghost of Philip Vickers Fithian (Princeton class of 1772) hovers over the events of the week


Our visit to the Princeton Cemetery (Aaron Burr, Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, etc.) is always a highlight–rain or shine.


One my favorite moments of the week is when we take the teachers to Firestone Library to look at rare 18th-century books


And yes, there is the occasional lecture

New Summer Online Graduate Courses Through Gilder-Lehrman

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History has just announced their summer graduate course offerings.  These courses can be applied to an M.A. in Humanities (American History concentration) at Adams State University.

They are:

America in an Age of World Wars: World War I (Michael Neiberg, Army War College)

Historiography and Historical Methods (Multiple scholars)

Lincoln and Leadership (Michael Burlingame, University of Illinois-Springfield)

State Histories (Richard Loosbrock, Adams State University)

Learn more about these courses here.

The Princeton Seminar is Back!


On July 23-July 29, 2017 we will gather together with a group of K-8 teachers to study Colonial America.  I hope you will consider joining us.  Learn how to apply here.


Princeton University


John Fea, Professor of History, Messiah College


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, examining how the colonies developed from remote seventeenth-century English outposts to well-connected eighteenth-century provinces of the British Empire. In the process we will critique the so-called “Whig” interpretation of the colonies and think together about how this particular period in the American past provides a laboratory for teaching historical-thinking skills in the K–8 classroom.


Participants will be staying at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ. Princeton is equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia and is easily accessible by train. The nearest airport is Newark Liberty International Airport. For more information on travel to Princeton, please click here.

Workshop participants will stay in on-campus residence halls in their own room, but share bathrooms and common space on each floor. The university provides basic bedding and towels only. Please note that participants should plan to bring alarm clocks, shower shoes, hangers, irons, and hair dryers. Participants should plan to bring laptops as computer access on campus will be limited.


Meals will be served in a university cafeteria in space shared by other programs. All on-campus meals will be paid for by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.


Participants are responsible for making their own travel arrangements to and from the seminar. Each seminar participant will receive reimbursement of travel expenses up to $400. Please read our complete travel reimbursement policy before applying.


“Dr. John Fea did a remarkable job sharing his knowledge in the area of the 13 colonies. His passion for history is evident in his lectures and I am more motivated today to teach tomorrow. I have always been intimidated by the 13 colonies because each colony’s background is so diverse. I have a better grasp on the colonies and I will be able to share primary documents to support the classroom learning. I am looking forward to teaching this in the coming weeks.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed the week in NJ. Strengthened my content background & walked away with tons of resources (primary specifically) to take back to my classroom.”

“This seminar was the best thing I have experienced in 25 years of teaching. Dr. Fea was outstanding and his lectures were riveting. I appreciated the content, the setting, and the master teacher’s assistance. It was amazing and memorable. I will certainly be applying this content and these principles to my teaching this year.”


The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is proud to announce its agreement with Adams State University to offer three hours of graduate credit to participating seminar teachers. For more information, please click here.


Email the Teacher Seminars department or call 646-366-9666.

July 23rd, 2017 5:00 PM   through   July 29th, 2017 9:00 AM
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ
United States

The Reach of the Princeton Seminar Extends to Shelby County, Alabama!

Ann Jay

If you read The Way of Improvement Leads Home regularly you know that for the past three summers I have spent a week in Princeton, New Jersey leading a week-long seminar for teachers on the subject of colonial America.  The seminar is sponsored by The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of America History and it draws history teachers from around the country.

This year one of our more enthusiastic and engaged participants was Ann Jay Harrison, a veteran fifth-grade social studies teacher from Shelby County, Alabama.  It was a pleasure getting to know her.  I was inspired by her zeal for learning and her love of history.

My introduction to Ann Jay came through this tweet, written about a week before the seminar began:

And then there was this tweet from back in May:

I didn’t think too much about this tweet until the seminar began and I learned that Ann Jay has a side business AS A TRAVEL AGENT!!!!! 🙂

When Ann Jay returned home after the seminar she did an interview about her experience with The Shelby County Reporter.

Here is a taste:

When Thompson Intermediate School fifth-grade teacher Ann Jay Harrison began the 2016-2017 school year on August 11, she said she had a renewed passion for what she was doing.

“This is my 26th year teaching.  All of a sudden, I am so excited again about teaching in the classroom,” Harrison said.  “It definitely renewed my passion.”

From July 24-29, Harrison was one of only 35 teachers from across the nation who was chosen to attend a Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History at Princeton University.

The seminar focused on American history before the Revolutionary War, and sought to strengthen teachers’ use of promoting primary sources in their students’ work.

Read the rest here.

I should also add that most of the credit for Ann Jay’s experience with primary sources belongs to my partner-in-crime Nathan McAlister, the Princeton Seminar’s master teacher and coordinator.

The “Caffeinated Teacher” on the Princeton Seminar

Class Pic

For the past three summers I have had the privilege of spending a week on the campus of Princeton University with a group of history teachers.  We call ourselves “The Princeton Seminar,” but it would be more accurate to identify our group as the Gilder-Lehrman Institute Summer Seminar on the “13 Colonies.”

Last week thirty-five teachers from around the country converged on Princeton to study the British mainland colonies.  Our Gilder-Lehrman-appointed leader is the indispensable Nate McAlister, the 2010 National History Teacher of the Year.  I spend about four hours a day with the teachers. Nate does everything else, from getting them settled in their dorm rooms to helping them prepare their required lessons plans and teaching them historical thinking skills.

In addition to our lectures, discussions, and Gilder-Lehrman historical thinking sessions, we take a day-long tour of colonial Philadelphia and an evening tour of early American Princeton.  We read Alan Taylor’s American Colonies, George Boudreau’s Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia (to prepare them for their tour of Philadelphia), and my own The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.

The Fithian book is particularly relevant to the week at Princeton.  As many of you know, Fithian was a 1772 graduate of the College of New Jersey and my book situates his life in the history of the college.  It is fun watching teachers see Nassau Hall after reading about it in the book.  One teacher was so excited about Fithian that she spent some of her free time in the Firestone Library looking at some of his papers and letters.

We also spend a couple of hours in the Firestone rare book room.  I have the curators pull out some seventeenth and eighteenth-century classics by Penn, Locke, Mather, Wheatley, Richardson, Sterne, Whitefield, Edwards, and Franklin along with many of the more obscure books Fithian read while he was a student at the college in the 1770s and a tutor on the Virginia plantation of Robert Carter III.

We also spend a couple of hours in the cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church.  I usually give the teachers a short lecture at the gravestones of Aaron Burr Sr., Aaron Burr Jr,, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, and John Witherspoon.  The teachers also love seeing the burial place of Grover Cleveland and his daughter “Baby Ruth.”

And then there are the informal times of conversations–perhaps the highlight of the week.  These take place in the dining hall (on some nights we tend to linger over mugs of  of coffee until they kick us out), on walks through campus, and at the famous Yankee Doodle Tap Room in downtown Princeton.  I learn a lot from these informal conversations and always gain a greater appreciation for the front-line work  that these teachers do.  It is heroic work.  It is good work.  It is dignified work.  And, unfortunately, it is sometimes thankless work.  Let’s not forget that these teachers, and history teachers like them, are in the business of preparing the next generation of democratic citizens.

Nassau Inn 2

One of the participants in this summer’s Princeton Seminar is known online as the “Caffeinated Teacher.”  She has written a nice blog post on her experience.  Here is a taste:

The Gilder Lehrman sessions were run by the fabulous Nate, a master teacher with GLI. His task was to run the teachers in the group through how to set up the type of lessons we would be creating by the end of the week. They were really fun and informative and I’m glad to say I learned a couple of new teaching strategies as well. I loved seeing lessons that Nate had created for his own students and then learning how we could adapt even difficult primary sources down for the youngest of learners. I think sometimes our inclination is to say it will be too hard for kindergarten through second or third graders and these sessions really challenged that notion which I vastly appreciated (I am well known for pushing kids farther than they think they can go). 

Meal Times 
Seriously…despite all of the walking around I did, I’m sure I gained at least a few pounds (I didn’t check when I got home because I didn’t want to know!) from all of the yummy deliciousness offered in the cafeteria. All of our meals were provided and there were tons of choices every day. A lot of summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students were also ongoing so it wasn’t uncommon to see kiddos sneaking ice cream at the end of breakfast too 🙂 In all seriousness, however, the vast availability of choices was much appreciated. The best part of the meals was the opportunity to sit with different members of our group, including Dr. Fea and Nate, and learn about them and their teaching situations. We really became like a family during the six days we were together. 
Read the entire post here.

Colonial History in DNC-Infested Philadelphia

Yesterday I spent the day in Philadelphia with thirty-six history teachers from around the country.  These teachers were chosen by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History to join me and Nate McAlister, the 2010 National History Teacher of the Year, to participate in a six day summer seminar at Princeton University.  This is the third year we have conducted this seminar.  We call it The Princeton Seminar.  You can see what we are up to by following us @princetonsemnr

This year our day-trip to Philadelphia coincided with the Democratic National Convention. We took a lot of pictures.  Here are some of them:

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While waiting for our bus I read the teachers some interesting material on George Whitefield from an article by historian Jessica Parr


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We sat in DNC-related traffic on Route 95 and got into the city late.  As you can tell, I was not happy about it.

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We made it to Philadelphia. Our tour guide John Ingram was ready to go!


This pic was taken about two minutes after I tried, unsuccessfully, to chase down former Vermont Governor Howard Dean to thank him for his very funny ending to his DNC speech on Tuesday night

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I met a very enthusiastic DNC delegate from Texas  Could not resist the pic


Our teachers loved touring Independence Hall

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Not everyone was happy that the DNC was in Philadelphia.  This flag flew in Elfreth’s Alley

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Standing on Market Street.  Notice what is behind me


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Standing on Market Street.  Independence Hall was behind me (see pic above).  THIS is what was in front of me. (I will let you draw conclusions)

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End of the day: Some very tired history teachers

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Our fearless leader, Nate McAlister, makes sure all the teachers made it back to our rendezvous point

Gilder-Lehrman Institute Announces Spring 2016 On-Line Graduate Courses

Last night we wrapped up my Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History online graduate course on Colonial North America.  The students and the producers of the course are telling me that it went well, but without regular face-to-face interaction with students it is hard for me to evaluate the success (or lack thereof) of the whole experience.  Having said that, I really enjoyed teaching the course.

As I told the students last night, I want to thank Gilder-Lehrman producers Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers for guiding me through the entire process.  It has been a pleasure getting to know them over the course of this semester and I really appreciate the invitation to teach this course.  Although we never had a chance to connect during the semester, I want to thank Kathy White for conducting the pedagogy sessions that went along with the course.  Aaron Bell and Wayne Kantz did the yeoman’s work of grading the weekly papers that we assigned.  I appreciate their willingness to take on what I imagine was a tedious (but hopefully rewarding) job.

With the Fall 2015 courses coming to an end, Gilder-Lehrman has now opened registration for its Spring courses.  It looks like a great lineup:

Click here to learn more about the Gilder-Lehrman/Adams State University M.A. program and how to register for Spring courses.

Tuesday with Colonial America

Bayonne High School

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day teaching teachers about colonial America.  It was a long day, but it was fun.

In the morning I led a Gilder-Lehrman Institute workshop on colonial America for 5th grade and high school teachers at Bayonne High School in Bayonne, NJ.  In the three hour session we covered three main topics.  First, I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonial period by asking them what the narrative might look like if they were not guided by a Whig interpretation of history. Second, we discussed mercantilism, servanthood, slavery, and race in seventeenth-century Virginia. Third, we explored the meaning of John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” in seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay.

The Bayonne teachers were very engaged throughout.  I also got to meet and work with Ron Adkisson, the 2012 Teacher of the Year for the state of Kentucky.  And it was a real privilege to teach in a high school that was built as part of the Works Progress Administration.

After the session in Bayonne I followed Interstate 78 back to Mechanicsburg where I met up (again) with Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers for week 5 of my Gilder-Lehrman online graduate course: “Colonial North America.”  We spent the first hour of the course discussing slave culture in colonial South Carolina and the second hour on the Enlightenment in America.  One more week to go in this course.  I must admit that I am feeling a lot more comfortable with the online format.

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute Princeton Seminar on "The 13 Colonies" is Back!

If you are a K-8 teacher and are looking for a professional development opportunity this summer mark your calendars for July 24-30, 2016.  Consider applying for our Gilder-Lehrman Institute summer seminar on “The 13 Colonies” at Princeton University.

Some blog posts from previous years.

Learn more about how to apply for the seminar here.  

Here are few endorsements from K-8 teachers:

  • “Dr. John Fea did a remarkable job sharing his knowledge in the area of the 13 colonies. His passion for history is evident in his lectures and I am more motivated today to teach tomorrow. I have always been intimidated by the 13 colonies because each colony’s background is so diverse. I have a better grasp on the colonies and I will be able to share primary documents to support the classroom learning. I am looking forward to teaching this in the coming weeks.”
  • “Thoroughly enjoyed the week in NJ. Strengthened my content background & walked away with tons of resources (primary specifically) to take back to my classroom.”
  • “This seminar was the best thing I have experienced in 25 years of teaching. Dr. Fea was outstanding and his lectures were riveting. I appreciated the content, the setting, and the master teacher’s assistance. It was amazing and memorable. I will certainly be applying this content and these principles to my teaching this year.”

Congratulations Dave McIntire!

Dave McIntire teaches history at the Independent School in Wichita, Kansas.  I just learned that he was awarded the Judy Cromwell Excellence in Teaching Award from the Kansas Council for Social Studies.  Read all about it here.

Why am I bringing Dave’s accomplishment to the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home? Because Dave was in our Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History summer seminar on the 13 Colonies in 2015.

Congrats, Dave!

Lin Manuel-Miranda Wins a "Special" George Washington Book Prize

Lin-Manuel Miranda.Washington College, the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, and Mount Vernon has announced that Lin Manuel-Miranda, the creator and star of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” will be awarded a special achievement award by the George Washington Book Prize.  

Here is some more information:

NEW YORK—Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright, lyricist, composer, and star of the groundbreaking hit musical Hamilton will be honored with a Special Achievement Award from the Board of one of the nation’s most prestigious literary honors, the George Washington Book Prize. The special award and accompanying prize of $50,000 will be presented to Miranda at a ceremony in New York City on December 14, 2015.
Created in 2005, the Washington Book Prize recognizes new works that offer fresh perspectives on George Washington and our nation’s Founding Era. One of the largest literary honors presented each year, the $50,000 prize is awarded jointly by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and Washington College.  
Miranda’s special recognition marks the first time the George Washington Prize has been presented to a play. In announcing Miranda’s selection, a spokesperson for the Washington Book Prize Committee stated, “In capturing the hearts of all who have seen it, Hamilton has clearly made the lessons of our Founding accessible and engaging while hewing to historical fact. We honor Lin-Manuel Miranda with a Special Achievement Award for this extraordinary accomplishment.” 
Miranda’s recognition circles back to the first George Washington Book Prize, which was awarded to Ron Chernow for his biography Alexander Hamilton in 2005. According to Miranda, Chernow’s book was an inspiration for his blockbuster musical. 
Of course it is hard for me to pass up news about the George Washington Book Prize.  Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? was chosen as one of the three finalists in 2012.

Upcoming Gilder Lehrman Online Graduate Courses

Peniel Joseph will teach African American History

As many of you know, I am in the midst of teaching an online graduate course on Colonial North America for the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  See my reflections from the first week of course here).

Recently, Gilder Lehrman announced its Spring 2016 online courses.  They are:

African American History Since Emancipation with Peniel Joseph

The Supreme Court and the Constitution in the 20th Century with Risa Goluboff

Women and Gender in 19th-Century America with Stephanie McCurry

Looks like a great lineup.  Registration begins on November 16, 2015.  Learn more here.

Gilder-Lehrman Online Course on Colonial North America: Week One

The first day of class is in the books.  As some of you know, I agreed to teach an online graduate course this semester for the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History.  The course, “Colonial North America,” began last night.  Those who follow the Virtual Office Hours (which will be coming back soon) know that I have been on camera before, but I have never taught an online course before. Fortunately, Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers were there to coach me through it!

The course got off to a bit of an inauspicious start when the Internet in my office cut out unexpectedly about five minutes into the class.  This prompted at least one member of the class to turn to Twitter:


Lance and Hannah quickly moved us from Ethernet to WiFi and we were back in business.  It turns out that I was responsible for the glitch.  Unaware that the Ethernet was running through the phone on my desk, I unplugged the phone cable.  My intentions were good.  I wanted to make sure that the phone wouldn’t ring during the session.  In doing so, I brought the course to an embarrassing, albeit momentary, halt.   For those students who are reading this, I am truly sorry.  I don’t think it will happen again.

We spent most of our time “together” last night discussing the format of the papers that the students will be writing each week, talking about the limitations of a “Whig” approach to studying the colonies, and examining some of the economic and religious motivations for settlement.  In addition to my lectures, the students (most of them are K-12 teachers) are reading Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a host of primary sources.  In preparation for last night’s course they read documents by Columbus, Cartier, Hakluyt, and others.

It took some time for me to adjust to the online format.  For example, it is hard for me to sit still when I am teaching.  I need to move around the room and wave my arms.  As I looked back at the video of the session I am constantly bobbing and weaving in my seat.  I need to get used to being “stuck” in the camera frame.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for me was the lack of immediate feedback from the class.  I am used to asking a lot questions–sometimes in rapid-fire style–when I teach.  This is not easy when you need to wait thirty seconds or more for answers.  Lance did a great job feeding me the questions as they came onto his computer screen, but it was still a bit strange for me.

Finally, online teaching makes it impossible to take the temperature (so to speak) of the class.  I can’t see their faces.  I can’t tell if they are connecting with what I am saying.  I don’t see the head nods or looks of concern when they don’t understand something.  I will have to get used to it.

As I come to the end of this post I realize that I sound rather negative about the experience.  Actually, I had fun doing this.  It is not the same as teaching in a face-to-face classroom, but I don’t think anyone taking the course is expecting that kind of experience.  I am sure I will feel more comfortable in my virtual classroom as the semester goes on.  I think we got off to a good start last night.

Gilder-Lehrman Online Course on Colonial North America Begins Tonight

Tonight I will see how well my teaching style translates into an online course.  It is the first night of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute’s “Colonial North America” graduate course.”  We have about 120 people registered (I don’t think this is includes auditors) who will be getting graduate credit at Adams State University in Colorado.

I am happy to be working with Kathy White of Gilder-Lehrman who will serve as the course’s “master teacher.”  Wayne Kantz of Manheim Central High School in PA and Aaron Bell of American University will be my teaching assistants.  Lance Warren and his team at Gilder-Lehrman will be the brains and technological support behind the operation.
I will do my best to post my thoughts about teaching online here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home
The registration for the course is currently closed.

Gilder Lehrman Institute Names Its 2015 Teacher of the Year

Her name is Mary Huffman and she teaches fifth grade at Charles Pickney Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  Huffman joins the ranks of the other fine teachers who have won this award, including Nathan McAlister, my partner in crime in the GLI “13 Colonies” seminar at Princeton University.


 Here is the Gilder-Lehrman press release:

New York, NY (August 18, 2015): The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is pleased to announce that Mary Huffman from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, has been named the 2015 National History Teacher of the Year. Started in 2004, the award highlights the crucial importance of history education by honoring exceptional American history teachers from elementary school through high school.

Ms. Huffman will receive a $10,000 award and attend a ceremony in her honor at the Yale Club in New York City on October 19, 2015. The award will be presented by Robin Roberts, co-anchor on ABC’s morning show Good Morning America.

Mary Huffman teaches fifth grade at Charles Pinckney Elementary, a public school in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She uses hands-on lessons to help her students “become active American citizens who make positive changes in the future.” Her students create care packages, write letters to US troops, and participate in veteran’s week celebrations by inviting soldiers into the classroom. Ms. Huffman has also designed an interactive unit that includes a WWII draft simulation.

“It is essential that the past is not forgotten, and teachers hold the tools to pry open old hope chests to uncover dusty photo albums from the past,” Ms. Huffman explains. Each week, she dresses up in clothing from the era being studied, allowing her students to get up close and personal with historic artifacts, such as twenties flapper dresses, nineteenth-century Native American fringed pants, and military uniforms from the Vietnam era.

“One of the most exciting things the Institute does is to award this prize that honors great teaching,” says Lesley S. Herrmann, Executive Director of the Gilder Lehrman Institute. “I am in awe of Mary Huffman’s creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm. Her students are lucky indeed.”

In addition to the national award, Gilder Lehrman annually recognizes a first-rate history teacher in every state and US territory. Winners of the state awards receive $1,000 and an archive of Gilder Lehrman books and resources for their school library, and become finalists for the national award.
To learn more about the award and to find a list of previous national and state winners, visit gilderlehrman.org/nhtoy

Princeton Seminar: Day 5

The Gilder-Lehrman “13 Colonies” Crew

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History Summer Seminar on the “13 Colonies” has come to a close.  It was a great week at Princeton University.

The morning began with a lecture on Native Americans.  I introduced the teachers to some of the metaphors used by historians to explain Indian life in the North America at the time of English colonization.  We discussed the “Middle Ground” (Richard White), “Facing East” (Dan Richter), and the “Indian’s New World” (James Merrell).

The second lecture of the morning focused on the First Great Awakening in British America.  We spent some time discussing George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, the difference between Old Sides and New Sides, some basic interpretations of the Awakening, and the revival’s impact on colonial education.

After lunch, and before I turned the class over to Nate McAlister, we talked about the Britishness of the colonies.  My goal was to try to get the teachers to see that the colonists were becoming more and more British (as opposed to “American”) as the colonial period unfolded, culminating in the British nationalism that pervaded the colonies in the wake of the French and Indian War.  In the process we discussed the dangers of the “Whig” interpretation of history and the importance of teaching students–even K-8 students–how to think like historians.

Later in the afternoon the teachers presented the lesson plans that they had been working on all week.

I always leave these seminars energized.  Sometimes I prefer to hang around with teachers than with my fellow colleagues in the historical profession.  When academic historians gather together informally the meetings can sometimes devolve into posturing, gossip, and complaining about teaching loads, college administrators and colleagues.  When K-8 teachers get together they talk about the past, history, and teaching history.  It is refreshing.

This year we had a great group of teachers and it was fun getting to know them.  I hope that Jami, Dave, Teresa, Brittany, Courtney, Susan, Carol, Carol, Elisa, Jim, Mallory, Christine, Susan, and the fifteen other teachers who came to Princeton this week were able to take something home with them that will make them better educators.

And to Nate McAlister:  Let’s do it again next year!