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. 
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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

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

Image of the Day: At the Corner of Bayard Lane and Boudinot Street

I can’t escape the history of the American Bible Society!

I am in Princeton this week doing a Gilder-Lehrman Seminar on the 13 colonies.  The place where I am staying is on Bayard Lane, one block from its intersection with Boudinot Street.

I don’t know which members of the Bayard or Boudinot families these streets are named after, but I do know that Elias Boudinot and Samuel Bayard were both part of the group that founded the ABS.  Both families also had Princeton connections.

What are the chances of someone like me landing in a hotel at the intersection of these two streets?  Strange.

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.