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

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!

Princeton Seminar: Day Four

Nate McAlister leads a pedagogy session

It was a great day in Princeton with the teachers from the Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History “13 Colonies” seminar.  It has been a very hot and humid week and we have done a lot of walking (and sweating), but the teachers have yet to hit the proverbial “wall.”  These K-8 educators are like a bunch of Energizer Bunnies!  Each day they seem to be more engaged than the day before.  Nate McAlister, their fearless leader, keeps them busy with all sorts of teaching resources, websites, and other tools. 

Tonight the teachers are working hard on their lesson plans and Nate is hanging out in a dorm lounge offering suggestions and help.  Needless to say, it has been a great week.  Here are a couple of highlights:

  • A teacher from Utah found her father’s 1957 Princeton doctoral dissertation on the history of the New Jersey Constitution.  She had never seen the dissertation before because her father passed away shortly after he finished it.  I know it has been a very meaningful week for this teacher.
  • A teacher from Florida has been thinking deeply about how to lead her students into the past (the past is a “foreign country) and still make it relevant for the present.  It is so rewarding to watch her come to grips with the inherent tensions that come when one pursues historical thinking at a high level.  As I conversed with her today I was reminded that historical work is very tiring.  We historians and history teachers are constantly “on the road,” traveling back and forth (with our students) between the past and the present.

I gave two lectures this morning.  I began with a lecture on the “provincial Enlightenment.”  This is always my favorite lecture of the week.  I tried to explain the Enlightenment through the biography of two men: Philip Vickers Fithian and Benjamin Franklin.  My Fithian book works very well here in Princeton. As many of you know, Philip was a member of the class of 1772. 

My other lecture this morning was on slavery and rice culture in colonial South Carolina.  We talked about the connection between South Carolina and Barbados, the arrival of West African slaves, task and gang labor, the Stono Rebellion, and the emergence of a distinct African-American culture.

After Nate led the teachers through another great pedagogy session, we headed over to the Rare Book Library in Princeton’s Firestone Library.  I asked Gabriel Swift, a member of the library staff, to pull about thirty books and documents from the collection.  I narrowed my choices to books mentioned in Alan Taylor’s American Colonies, books we discussed in lectures, and books that Philip Vickers Fithian read at various points of his short life.  The teachers got to peruse these books, hold some of them, and take pictures.  Gabriel also showed the students the Fithian’s diaries. 

Gabriel Swift, a Princeton Rare Books librarian, answers questions from teachers

Teachers reading the diary of Philip Vickers Fithian

After our visit to the Firestone Library we crossed Nassau Street (in the rain) and got some ice-cream at The Bent Spoon, a very popular Princeton establishment.  I highly recommend the bananas and cream!

Tonight, while the teachers worked on their lessons, I wandered around the Princeton campus.  I really hope that Princeton faculty appreciate the fact that they get to come to work every day on this campus.  As someone who has spent a lot of time studying the history of this institution, I am always finding something new and interesting about the college and the town in which it resides.

But tonight my self-guided walking tour focused on another one of my loves–sports.  I walked out onto the field of the new Princeton football stadium, tried (with Nate) to get into the Hobey Baker Ice Arena, and then headed over to Jadwin Gym.  I went to Princeton basketball camp as a kid and became enamored with Pete Carril, the architect of the so-called “Princeton Offense.”  I walked into Jadwin, stood on “Pete Carrill Court,” and took some pictures. 

Pete Carril is a basketball genius
The Princeton Tiger in Jadwin Gym
Jadwin Gym

Pete Carril and Bill Bradley banners in background

One more day left.  Stay tuned.

Princeton Seminar: Day Three

Seminar participants in Welcome Park

Day Three of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History Summer Seminar on the “13 Colonies” at Princeton University is in the books 

It was another long day with some great K-8 teachers from around the country.  We have teachers here from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Texas, California, Washington, Kansas, Florida, New York, among others.

We spent the day in Philadelphia.  I turned the seminar over to George Boudreau, the Director of the Public History Program at LaSalle University and a fixture in the Philadelphia early American community.  This was a real privilege for the teachers.  George knows more about colonial Philadelphia and the world of Benjamin Franklin than anyone else on the planet.  He is also a very entertaining tour guide.  Every time I take a tour with George I learn something new.  I highly recommend his Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia.  All of the teachers received a free copy of the book and George signed their copies.  Thanks to Nate McAlister for keeping us all on schedule.

We also learned today that George’s National Endowment for Humanities teacher’s seminar on Benjamin Franklin will be back in Summer 2016.  Three teachers in our seminar participated in George’s Franklin seminar and recommended it to the other teachers.  You can learn more about it here.

George led us on a tour of the colonial city that included stops at Welcome Park, Benjamin Franklin’s house and print shop, Carpenter’s Hall, the site of Anthony Benezet’s school for African children, the William White House, and the Powel House (George is the former director).  Along the way we learned about Penn’s plan for the city, the cobblestone streets, Flemish bond brickwork, African-Americans, the Enlightenment, material culture, and Philadelphia’s Catholics.  The tour was the highlight of the week.  I think the teachers would agree.

George Boudreau in his natural habitat: The Powel House

I took a “ride” in Ben Franklin’s cart
George talks to us about the first home of the Philadelphia Library Company: Carpenter’s Hall

George left us around 3:30 as we all headed off to the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) for a tour from the National Park Service.  Following the tour some of us made a quick run up Arch Street so we could see Franklin’s grave, the Free Quaker Meetinghouse, the Arch Street Meetinghouse, the Betsy Ross House, Elfreth’s Alley, and Christ Church.  At 5:00 we jumped on our bus and headed back to Princeton University.  We even made it home in time for dinner!

We squeezed into George Washington’s pew at Christ Church for a group photo.

The teachers headed back to Scully Hall after dinner to rest and continue work on their lesson plans.

My feet, legs, and back are sore, but my mind is still in good shape and I am really looking forward to the last two days of the seminar.  Rare books tomorrow!

Princeton Seminar: Day Two

We have made it through Day Two of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History Summer Seminar on the “13 Colonies” at Princeton University.  It was a long day, but the twenty-seven K-8 teachers here this week are still going strong.  This group has a lot of energy and they seem to be really engaged.

Today I gave a lecture on the founding of Massachusetts Bay colony, the role of women in colonial New England, and the founding of Pennsylvania.  In the afternoon Nate McAlister worked with the teachers as they developed their lesson plans.

Pennsylvania as a Quaker and liberal colony

After dinner we took a tour of colonial Princeton led by guides from the Historical Society of PrincetonRichard Moody led some of us on a wonderful tour of Princeton University.  Richard took us to Nassau Hall, Nassau Presbyterian Church, the university chapel, the president’s house, and a host of other places on campus.  Richard knows how to end a tour.  The last stop was the Tap Room at the Nassau Inn.

Richard Moody telling us about the history of Princeton

Tomorrow we are heading to Philadelphia where we will be getting a tour from George Boudreau, author of Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia.

Princeton Seminar: Day One

In the Nassau Presbyterian Church Cemetery

Day One of the Gilder-Lehrman Summer Seminar on the “13 Colonies” at Princeton University is in the books. 

Actually, we began on Sunday night with a great buffet dinner.  After the feast we wandered around the Princeton campus and got ourselves oriented. We paused for a moment at the John Witherspoon statue and then I spent a little time talking about the colonial and revolutionary history of Nassau Hall.  (The students are very familiar with 18th-century Princeton from reading my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America). 

I was with the students for three sessions.  In my opening lecture I tried to challenge the students to think about colonial America on its own terms rather than as a precursor to the American Revolution.  We talked about some of the problems with “Whig” history. 
We also spent a lot of time in this session discussing historical thinking.

The second and third sessions focused on the colonial Chesapeake.  We discussed mercantilism, the “Jamestown deathtrap,” tobacco, indentured servanthood, Bacon’s Rebellion, and slavery.

My partner in crime this week is Nate McAlister, a middle school teacher in Kansas and the 2010 Gilder-Lehrman National Teacher of the Year.  Nate spent the afternoon with the teachers and helped them with their lessons plans.  (Each participant must produce a lesson plan based on a primary source and it is due at the end of the week).  I can’t imagine doing this seminar without Nate.  He is an outstanding coordinator.

After dinner in a Princeton dining hall we headed to the Nassau Presbyterian Church Cemetery.  It was such a pleasure and honor to talk about Jonathan Edwards, Aaron Burr Sr., Aaron Burr Jr., Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, and John Witherspoon as we all stood over their gravestones.  After a very short lecture at these gravestones the teachers all went their separate ways in the cemetery.  I wandered around a bit and found the gravestones of Grover Cleveland, B.B. Warfield, and Varnum Lansing Collins.

It was a long day that ended in the Tap Room at the Nassau Inn and a great conversation with Nate and a couple of teachers that covered everything from the Gettysburg Address to environmental history and the First Amendment to Good News for Modern Man.

It should be a fun week. Follow along on Twitter at @princetonseminr

Princeton Bound for Gilder-Lehrman Summer Seminar on the "13 Colonies"

Later today I am heading to Princeton University to once again lead a week-long Gilder-Lehrman Institute summer seminar on “The 13 Colonies.”  This weekend K-8 teachers will be arriving at Princeton from across the country to experience colonial American history–mid-Atlantic style!  I also get the privilege to work again with Nate McAlister, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year!

I will lecture in the mornings and Nate will work with the teachers on lesson plans in the afternoon. We also have a few special things planned, including a tour of historic Princeton and Princeton University,  a day in colonial Philadelphia with George Boudreau, the director of the Public History M.A. Program at LaSalle University and the author of Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia, and an afternoon in the rare book room exploring some of the books that Philip Vickers Fithian read between 1765 and 1776,   We will be reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home (as might be expected) and Alan Taylor’s American Colonies.

I hope to blog my way through the week. Nate and the rest of the participants will be tweeting: @princetonsemnr 

Click here for last year’s posts.

Here are some picks from last year:

Teachers chosen to participate in Gilder-Lehrman summer seminars do their assigned reading!

George Boudreau signs a copy of his book Independence

In the rare book room with Nate McAlister (red shirt) and Stephen Johnson of the Princeton Library