Two Princeton American Historians Discuss the Election of 2016

KruseCheck out Princeton historians Sean Wilentz and Kevin Kruse discuss the 2016 presidential at a Princeton alumni event from back in February 2017.  (Thanks to History News Network for bringing this video to my attention).

Here is a taste of the transcript:

Sean Wilentz: I take it our charge is to be historians. Whether you reacted to the events of Nov. 8 with elation or despair or something in between, I think it’s been difficult to get our heads around what happened. Our charge is to try and lend some historical perspective, to put our own loyalties aside for a moment. Thinking historically means trying to understand where this all fits in the recent past, and everything that led up to the recent past, to try and understand the larger historical dynamics that brought us to the place that we were on Nov. 8, and what that portends for the future. I think that’s what we’re here for.

Kevin Kruse: Look, I get asked to comment on the present, or, God forbid, to make predictions about the future, and I always have to remind people that as a historian my professional training is in hindsight. As historians we can look back on snap opinions made after other big elections and see just how wrong those were. After 1964, lots of accounts had said, “My God, this is it for conservatism. You’ll never see a conservative president in America again. Barry Goldwater has killed it. Liberalism is here to stay.” After 1980, “Well, the New Deal is dead. It’ll never come back. It’s going to be swept off the face of the Earth by the Reagan revolution. Social Security is on its last legs.” After Obama in 2008, “Well, we’re now in a post-racial America. Racism is gone. Congratulations, we did it.” 

So there’s this trend of overreacting to a presidential election, and we have to remember that a presidential election, for all of the very real ramifications it has on contemporary politics and policy, is but one data point in a much larger stream. And it’s a data point that I think we need to take in its proper context, because we had 123 million votes cast in this election. If you moved 50,000 of those in just three states, we’d be talking about President Hillary Clinton today, and drawing a whole bunch of other wrong, big conclusions about what that meant. 

SW: Well, let’s look at the proper data point in order to start to understand this. Certainly something happened 50 years ago, and you mentioned the Johnson–Goldwater election. A rupture did occur, I think, in American political life about the time of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Vietnam War, and then Watergate. And I think, in some ways, anything we’re talking about is still a product of that rupture. 

Conservatism didn’t fade away at all. It was just clearing its throat, if you will. Certainly something happened, and it had to do with civil rights, and it had to do with foreign policy, and how the two collided. And it had to do, I think, with — and this is very pertinent to what happened in November — the legitimacy of the political parties and of the political system, between the credibility gap of the late ’60s that was laid at Johnson’s door, and then Watergate. And I think what we’re seeing today, in part, can be seen as the final denouement of the delegitimization that occurred back then. Wilentz

KK: That makes a lot of sense. If we think back to that period from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s, you can see all sorts of … for lack of a better term, the establishment cracks up. First and foremost the political firmament, the kind of postwar consensus, for all of its flaws; people believed there was a certain center of gravity there, a certain trust in the political system that gets badly eroded first by Vietnam and then obliterated by Watergate. There had been a certain trust in the postwar economy, a sense that the industrial economy, in its kind of catering to a consumer culture, was constantly on the rise. That, too, peaks at about the same time for a different set of reasons: the rise of deindustrialization; the new competition from abroad, like West Germany and Japan; the shift of factories to places from China to Mexico. So the manufacturing economy starts to crumble, too. And then there are changes that I think we would regard as good: The crack of the old racial order and the old systems of segregation, the old systems of immigration restriction — those fall in ’64 and ’65, and set apace a brand new world, a world that is much more open but I think a lot more chaotic, too. And so the ground had shifted underneath people’s feet in a variety of ways, all at the same time. 

Read the entire transcript here.

 

“Political Jealousy is a Laudable Passion”

eacac-fithian2bbookI was watching the news last night and remembered this passage (p.142) from my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.

Philip reached maturity in this patriotic culture.  He was taught at Princeton that it was appropriate to exercise the passions in the defense of liberty.  In his 1772 commencement disputation he echoed the words of the eighteenth-century political tract of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato’s Letters, by defending the notion that “political jealousy is a laudable passion.” His speech distinguished between “domestic and ecclesiastical jealousies,” which were harmful, and “political jealousy,” which was “rational & uniform & necessary.”  As Philip had learned all too well through his courtship with Elizabeth Beatty, “jealousy” was normally a dangerous “disease” that could blight friendships and lead to “suspicions” among acquaintances.  However, when channeled in the right direction, it was also a useful passion.  The truly “jealous” citizen kept a careful and virtuous watch on his government leaders to guard against vice and corruption.  Political jealousy served as a unifying force–a common political ideology of resistance grounded in a common morality–that held a community togehter in times of strife and preserved societal order.  Philip said that it had a “natural tendency” to “unite people” around interests that were closely associated with the preservation of the nation.”

The Princeton Seminar is Back!

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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.

LOCATION

Princeton University

DIRECTORS

John Fea, Professor of History, Messiah College

OVERVIEW

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.

TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATIONS

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

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.

TRAVEL REIMBURSEMENT

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.

COURSE REVIEWS FROM PAST PARTICIPANTS

“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.”

GRADUATE CREDIT

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.

QUESTIONS?

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

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

Historians, Woodrow Wilson, and Racism at Princeton

As many of you already know, students at Princeton University have convinced President Peter Eisgruber to consider removing Woodrow Wilson’s name and image from university buildings and programs because of Wilson’s views on race relations.

There is a certain logic to the students’ request.  It is the logic of progressivism.  It makes perfect sense that progressives on the Princeton campus at the turn of the 21st century would turn their backs on the progressives who came before them at Princeton.  That is how progressivism works.

Historians–even liberal historians–who think that Princeton should keep Wilson’s name and face on campus remind us that even progressivism has some limits.

I agree with historians and pundits who admit that this is a complicated issue.  Pundits ranging from Corey Robin to Jonah Goldberg are unsure about the best response to this controversy.  Wilson was a racist, even by the standards of his time.  We must empathize with African-American students who are required to live in Wilson College or see his picture on campus.  

But Wilson is also part of Princeton’s history and thus his legacy should not be erased. Yes, we must do a better job of bringing nuance and context to Wilson’s role at Princeton.  But I am on the side of those historians who believe that we must always learn from the past, no matter how ugly it might be. Corey Robin is right when he says that Wilson’s presence on campus, and the protest against his presence on campus, has opened up what will certainly be an ongoing debate and conversation about race–the kind of debate that should happen on college campuses.

This controversy also reminds us that we are all flawed human beings.  Everyone who we encounter in the past is flawed (Christians might say that they are sinful).  Until we come to grips with the reality of our flawed condition and the flawed state of the people we encounter in history we will continue to have these debates–whether it be the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the legacy of John C. Calhoun at Yale, or Woodrow Wilson at Princeton.  

I don’t have much more to say on this front.   Here is a taste of Rutgers historian James Livingston’s essay recently published at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

As for Wilson: If we can acknowledge and teach the centrality of slavery and racism in 19th-century American history by keeping Calhoun on our minds, we can acknowledge and teach the centrality of imperialism and racism in 20th-century American history by keeping Wilson on our minds. As the historian William Leuchtenburg demonstrated many years ago, the social reforms we associate with progressivism, from the FDA to the Federal Reserve, were enabled by imperialism — every one of them. But then again the imperialism that Wilson sponsored was a vast improvement on the colonial precedent. It advocated national sovereignty and economic development rather than conquest and exploitation.

And here are historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg in a piece published at Salon titled “Woodrow Wilson is Not a Confederate Flag“:

But we do a great disservice to the discipline of history when we take deeply flawed historical actors and reduce to single-minded caricatures of racism, sexism, or any other –ism. The current commotion at Princeton University, where students are pressuring the administration to remove all references to Wilson, borders on the absurd. Wilson attended Princeton, where he also served as a professor of political science, then president, before graduating to the governorship of New Jersey and president of the United States. By erasing a racist’s name from a pair of buildings––the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson residential college; or renaming a distinguished institute (the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, you are merely pretending that the problem goes away. To erase a name does not acknowledge history; it erases history. You’re learning nothing about history in its demanding complexity.

By the way, the Princeton University supplemental application for the class of 2020 gives students the option to respond to this question:

In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no less than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application:

“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” –Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910. 

How long will this question last?

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.”






Robert George: The Princeton Professor and Intellectual Advising the GOP Presidential Candidates

Melinda Henneberger has written an excellent feature for Bloomberg Politics on Robert George, one of the great Christian and conservative intellectuals in the United States today.  What I especially appreciate about this article is its fairness. 


George has provided advice on moral issues to Ted Cruz (his former student), Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and others.  Unfortunately, apart from abortion and gay marriage, I don’t hear much of George’s nuanced views when I listen to these candidates.  George is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and one of our foremost advocates for the application of natural law to moral and political issues.  He also hangs out with Cornell West, sees no difference between his views and the views of Pope Francis, thinks poverty is one of the most pressing moral issues of our day, and wishes he could go back to voting as a Democrat.

(He also went to Swarthmore with Way of Improvement Leads Home reader and friend Fred Jordan.  I think they may have even been roommates).

Intrigued?  Then check out Henneberger’s piece.  Here is a small taste:
Among the candidates, his closest relationship may be with Cruz, who was one of his students at Princeton. But starting early next month, George is planning to do a series of hour-long interviews with presidential candidates on moral and constitutional questions on the Catholic cable channel EWTN, which is one reason why he won’t be endorsing any candidate. “My object is to drill down, and find out how their minds work,” even when he’s helped some of those minds think through various issues.
Planned Parenthood, at the center of America’s politics since the release of videos purporting to show employees negotiating over fetal organs, is one matter candidates call him about. “I’ve argued that you cannot try to fund good and honorable activities or services for Planned Parenthood while blocking the bad stuff it does, like abortions, because of the fungibility of money, and that what we need is a complete de-funding of Planned Parenthood, together with mechanisms for providing desirable services to women. So that might be the kind of issue I’d talk to Rick Santorum or anyone else about.”
He doesn’t supply them with rhetorical ammunition, he says, or the exact answer. “What I try to help these guys think through is: What’s the truth of the matter? What should our response be?”
And on Planned Parenthood or any other issue, George doesn’t always say what conservatives want to hear. For example, he feels the makers of the Planned Parenthood sting videos were wrong in one respect: “I defend the videos, and I think the videos tell us the truth about Planned Parenthood, but it’s wrong to lie about who you are to gain access to get to people.”

Anthony Grafton: "I never felt I could claim to be a writer…"

Anthony Grafton at Messiah College, Feb 28, 2012

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education Rachel Toor has published a piece on Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton.  The article focuses on Grafton’s approach to teaching writing.  The Princeton professor has written scholarly books and articles for popular publications such as the American Scholar and The New York Times, but he insists that he is not a “writer.”  

Here is a taste of Toor’s piece.

…he insists that he is not a writer: “I’ve never felt I could claim to be a writer in that full sense. It just seems arrogant.”
Grafton’s upbringing surely had something to do with his view on that. I had assumed, when I was classics editor at Oxford University Press and heard Grafton’s name tossed around with admiration, that he was one of those tweedy guys who talk as if their mouth is filled with marbles. And then I learned that his name, like my own, was a crypto-ethnic mask.
His story: “I am as Eastern European Jewish as you can be — my father’s family came from Vilna, my mother’s from Odessa. But when my father was working on a Philadelphia newspaper, his boss came to him and the other young Jewish man with whom he shared an office, and said, ‘Boys, you’re smart. I have just bought the New York Post and I want to bring you there. But you can’t have names like yours in New York.’ So they went and changed their names the same day. Isidore Feinstein became I.F. Stone, and my dad, Samuel Lipshutz — who, unlike Izzy, was pissed off — became not Samuel Lipton but Samuel Grafton, since Grafton was the most WASP name he could think of (he was born on Grafton Street in Brooklyn).”
When I read Tony Grafton’s writing in places like The New York Times, The American Scholar, or The Chronicle, I am reminded of a favorite quote from Pascal: “When we encounter a natural style we are always surprised and delighted, for we thought to see an author and found a man.” Grafton’s prose twinkles with generosity and compassion. Even when he’s focused on the Big Problems — the “crises” in history, the humanities, education — he can describe the landscape and, while never ignoring dark clouds, refrain from Chicken Little-ing and instead suggest practical solutions.
From his father, who he says was a “real” writer, Grafton learned the importance of knowing not only how to begin but when — to learn to be patient enough to wait until you have an idea of where you want a piece to go. “It’s a matter of establishing your voice on the page, in the first sentence, while hoping to win the reader’s attention and not put her off,” he says. “I like to do it with stories and metaphors, something I learned how to do while learning to lecture about history to undergraduates.
Grafton concludes:
As Grafton confesses, “I worry every time that I send something in that the editor in question will tell me it’s total crap and wash his/her hands of me. I think it’s necessary: Like the nervousness I feel before every lecture in a course I have given 20 times.”
And did I mention he likes what we are doing in the Messiah College Department of History?

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 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 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

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Six Recap

Friday was the final day of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar for K-8 teachers on “The 13 Colonies.”  We had a discussion of The Way of Improvement Leads Home followed by a lecture on the First Great Awakening and a lecture on the anglicization of colonial America.  In the afternoon the teachers presented their lesson plans to Nate McAlister and each other.

I am always amazed at the way people respond to Philip Vickers Fithian’s story in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  One teacher from West Palm Beach, Florida said that she finished the book at Starbucks and was so moved by the ending that she started to cry.  She told me that she immediately called her daughter to tell her about the book. 

After dinner on Friday night I went out for a drink with Nate and we reflected on ways that we could improve on the seminar if Gilder-Lehrman asks me to do it again next summer.  

It was a great week in Princeton and I am honored to have been able to work with such a gifted group of K-8 teachers.

If you want to know what happens at one of these seminars head over to our Twitter feed.

Here are a few of those tweets:



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2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Five Recap

Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar for K-8 teachers on “The 13 Colonies” is winding down.  The teachers are hard at work on their lesson plans under the direction of Nate McAlister.   Before they leave they are required to post the plans to the seminar blog.  

I am pleased to see the way the teachers have bonded with each other over the course of the week.  Princeton is a great place to hold a seminar like this.  The teachers can spend their evenings shopping, eating, drinking, and walking on Princeton’s Nassau Street.  Popular stops include drinks at Nassau Hall, Labyrinth Books, the Bent Spoon ice cream shop, and the Princeton University Wawa.

On Thursday we spent the morning discussing Pennsylvania.  We tried to look at Penn’s colony from all angles.  I gave them a lecture on Quakers, religious and ethnic pluralism, and the idea of Pennsylvania as a “liberal” colony.  In the afternoon we got started on the American Enlightenment using my four point definition of the Enlightenment in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

After the session we headed over to the Firestone Library where rare books curator Stephen Johnson showed the teachers a few dozen eighteenth-century volumes that I selected from the Firestone’s collection.  I focused my choices on books that I would be referencing in my lectures and books that were read by Philip Vickers Fithian.  They were also introduced to the Princeton children’s library and shown effective ways of teaching colonial America through objects.

This was one of the highlights of the week.  Dana Sheriden of the Cotsen Children’s Library mesmerized the teachers with her presentation.  Stephen Johnson answered questions about early American books and printing.  And the students got to hold and read books by Phillis Wheatley, John Locke, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Matther, Addison and Steete (The Spectator), Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne.  The room was buzzing with activity as these teachers read, discussed, and wondered over these rare books.  It was fun to watch and experience.

Here are a few pics:

The teachers loved the book of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry


Elissa, Carmen, and Meghan discussing The Spectator
Shawn is really digging in to Jonathan Edwards’s The Nature of True Virtue


2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Three Recap

Day three of the Gilder Lehrman “13 Colonies” Summer Seminar was packed with activity.  The first morning lecture was on race and labor in colonial Virginia.  We then moved north to the New England colonies. Before lunch I gave a lecture on the way Puritan theology informed everyday life in Massachusetts Bay. After lunch we focused on New England social history with a particular focus on women and marriage, Puritan towns, and the Puritan relationship to the market.   Nate spent the afternoon working with the teachers on some lesson plans on George Whitefield’s relationship to Benjamin Franklin. 
After dinner we all headed over to the Historical Society of Princeton on Nassau Street for a tour of early American Princeton.  Our tour guide, Dick, a retired advertising executive and publisher, took us to the Princeton Battlefield monument, Morven (the 18th century mansion of Richard Stockton), Nassau Hall, and several other sites.
Following the tour some of us headed down Witherspoon Street to the Nassau Presbyterian Church Cemetery  (Princeton Cemetery) where we visited the graves of Aaron Burr, Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon, and Grover Cleveland.  If I get to do this seminar next year I am going to have a full session in the cemetery.
It has been fun watching the students make connections between the eighteenth-century sites in Princeton and the stuff they have read in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  
Here are some pictures from the day:
Dick, our Princeton tour guide
Morven: The Home of Richard Stockton.  This is the original 18th century part of the mansion
Our Princeton tour guide Dick explaining the Battle of Princeton

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Two Recap

Firestone Library–Princeton University

It was a full day in Princeton.  The Gilder-Lehrman “13 Colonies” seminar is off to a great start (or at least it is from my perspective as the instructor).  We started the day problemetizing the “Whig” interpretation of history and trying to imagine what the history of the American colonies might look like if we did not view the colonies solely as a precursor to the American Revolution.  Alan Taylor’s American Colonies was very helpful on this front.

We spent the rest of the morning on native American history.  Most of what we discussed was informed by Taylor’s American Colonies, James Merrell’s The Indians’ New World, and Dan Richter’s Facing East from the Indian Country.  My goal was to get these K-8 history teachers to see the world through the eyes of the native Americans, to get them to think culturally (rather than geographically) about the concept of the “New World,” and to see moments of native American agency on the “middle ground.”

After lunch we began our exploration of the early Chesapeake by exploring death and mercantilism in Jamestown.  This morning we will finish that story.

Nate McAlister is my partner in crime this week.  Yesterday afternoon we met with Stephen Ferguson, the rare book librarian at Princeton’s Firestone Library.   On Thursday afternoon we are taking the teachers into the Firestone so that they can touch, hold, read, and discuss some seventeenth and eighteenth-century books.  I get the privilege of creating the book list.  Nate and Stephen suggested that the list should include everything read by Philip Vickers Fithian.  We may also get to look at the original diaries that I worked with for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  This should be exciting.

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day One Recap

As many of my readers know, I am at Princeton University this week leading a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar for K-8 teachers on “The 13 Colonies.” Last night we had a nice reception/dinner with the teachers and it looks like it is going to be a fun week.  They seem eager to explore Princeton (and later in the week Philadelphia) and think about colonial history. Nate McAlister, my co-laborer this week and the real leader/organizer of this seminar, started the night off with some trivia questions from the books I assigned the teachers to read in preparation for the week.  One of the questions was “Who was the man who opened an academy in southern New Jersey and got Philip Vickers Fithian started in his pursuit of education?” I was amazed how quickly one of the teachers answered this question.  It looks like they have read the material. (Did I mention that I assigned The Way of Improvement Leads Home?). By the way, can you answer this question?  Write your answer in the comment section below or on Facebook.

As some of you may also know, there is a seminar over at Princeton Theological Seminary this week on the history of church and state in America.  As I walking down Nassau Street last night on my way to the reception I ran into Baylor University’s own Thomas Kidd and his family. It was good to see him and meet his family.  Tommy is co-leading this seminar along with Gerald McDermott.  It is a very small world.

Next Week: The "13 Colonies" at Princeton University

The seminar will be held in Princeton’s Lewis Library

On Sunday I am heading to Princeton University to lead a week-long Gilder-Lehrman Institute summer seminar on “The 13 Colonies.”  This weekend K-8 teachers will be arriving at Princeton from schools in Illinois, California, New Jersey, Utah, Washington D.C., Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Ohio, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.  I also get the privilege to work 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 and a day in colonial Philadelphia with George Boudreau, the newly appointed director of the Public History M.A. Program at LaSalle University and the author of Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia.  We will also be reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home 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 

K-8 Teachers Who Teach Colonial America: Join Me at Princeton This Summer

Nassau Hall, Princeton University, 1760

You may recall a few weeks ago I announced that I will be teaching a Gilder-Lehrman Teacher’s Seminar this summer on “The Thirteen Colonies.”  The seminar will run from July 27 to August 2, 2013 on the campus of Princeton of University.  My seminar is open to K-8 teachers only.  

We are currently in the planning stages, but I am getting excited about leading this seminar.  We are working on a full-day field trip to Philadelphia, an early evening walking tour of historic Princeton and Princeton University, and, of course morning lectures and discussions, and afternoon work with one of Gilder-Lehrman’s “master” secondary teachers who will be joining us for the week. All these details will be finalized soon.  I hope you will apply and consider joining us for what promises to be a very educational and historical week in the heart of the colonial mid-Atlantic.

Here is a description of the seminar:

This seminar will examine the founding, settlement, and development of the thirteen 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. Through lectures, readings, discussions, and other activities will we examine 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.

Learn more about the seminar here.  Applications are now open.  I hope to see some of you at Princeton University this summer! 

Attention K-8 Teachers: Join Me at Princeton University for a Gilder-Lehrman Institute Summer Seminar

Princeton’s Historic Nassau Hall

I am really excited to be doing a Gilder-Lehrman Summer Seminar this summer on the topic of “The Thirteen Colonies.”  The seminar will run from July 27 to August 2, 2013 and will be open to K-8 teachers only.  Each summer the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History offers forty intensive seminars for school teachers taught by the likes of Collin Calloway, Richard White, Thomas Sugrue, Matt Pinsker, Patricia Limerick, Joseph Ellis, Eric Foner, Kenneth Jackson, Allen Guelzo, John Demos, Gordon Wood, Ed Linenthal, Carol Berkin, Peter Onuf, Frank Cogliano, David Blight, Gary Gallagher, David Kennedy, and Jeremi Suri.  They pay for the costs of travel, housing, food, and course materials.  It is a wonderful professional development experience.

Here is a description of my seminar:

This seminar will examine the founding, settlement, and development of the thirteen 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. Through lectures, readings, discussions, and other activities will we examine 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.

Learn more about the seminar here.  Applications are now open.  I hope to see some of you at Princeton University this summer! 

Anglicization Reconsidered: Conference in Honor of John Murrin

On April 19-20, 2013 the McNeil Center for Early American Studies will be sponsoring an academic conference to honor the work of early American historian John Murrin.  As many of you know, Murrin coined the term “Anglicization,” so it is fitting that the title of the conference is “Anglicization Reconsidered: Celebrating the Career of John M. Murrin.”  Papers will be delivered by a star-studded cast made up of Murrin’s former students.  Presenters include Daniel Vickers, Gary Kornblith, Evan Haefeli, Simon Newman, Nancy Rhoden, David Silverman, Beth Lewis-Pardoe, and Andrew Shankman.

I was hoping to attend the conference, but I have already committed to a 9th-grade volleyball tournament in Bethlehem, PA.