The 2017 Princeton Seminar on the “Colonial Era” wrapped-up yesterday.
The day began with lectures on the “Enlightenment in America” and the “First Great Awakening.” The Enlightenment lecture focused largely on the lives of Philip Vickers Fithian and Benjamin Franklin. The teachers read my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America and spent a lot of time on Wednesday touring Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia with historian George Boudreau.
The First Great Awakening lecture focused on George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Chauncy, Gilbert Tennent, James Davenport, and the legacy of evangelicalism as it relates to American oratory, American religion, the transatlantic world, and colonial education.
After lunch we wrapped things up with a lecture titled “From Colonials to Provincials: The American Colonies on the Eve of the American Revolution.” This lecture is adapted from Ned Landsman’s From Colonial to Provinicals: American Thought and Culture, 1680-1760, but I also take it in a few different directions. In this lecture I try to get the teachers to understand the Anglicization of the British colonies and the sense of British nationalism pervading the colonies at the end of the French and Indian War.
During the rest of the afternoon the teachers met together to discuss the lessons plans they designed during the seminar:
Throughout the week I wanted the teachers to think about British colonial America on its own terms, rather than through the grid of the American Revolution. We tried to imagine what the story of the colonies might look like if the Revolution had never happened. Those who took this exercise seriously began to move from a Whiggish, civics-based view of the era, to an approach defined by the “unnatural” act of historical thinking. This is not easy for most teachers and I appreciated their efforts to reorient their thinking and their lesson plans in this way.
Another Princeton Seminar is in the books. It was a great week of teaching, learning, and collaboration with 35 K-8 teachers from around the country. Special thanks to Nate McAlister, my partner-in-crime, master teacher, heart and soul of the Princeton Seminar, and an all-around great guy. I couldn’t do it without him. Nate is a history machine! Next week he will be in Mount Vernon doing research on George Washington and Native Americans. I also want to thank the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for giving me the honor to lead this seminar.
And I am also happy to announce that the Gilder Lehrman has informed me that we will be back again next year! Stay tuned for more details.