"Rethinking the American Colonies" at Messiah College: Day One

This week I am teaching a “Teachers as Scholars” seminar at Messiah College.  The Teachers as Scholars program is one of the flagship programs of the Messiah College Center for Public Humanities, one of only a handful of National Endowment for Humanities funded public humanities centers in the country.  Teachers as Scholars bring dozens of area teachers to campus for content-based professional development seminars.  This year the Center is offering seminars on slave narratives, digital history, and technology for second-language learners in addition to my seminar on “Rethinking the American Colonies.”

Here is a the course description for the two-day seminar:

This seminar will focus on themes related to the founding, settlement and development of the 13 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. We will examine how the colonies developed from remote 17th century English outposts to well-connected 18th century provinces of the British Empire. In the process we will think together about how this particular period in the American past provides a laboratory for teaching historical-thinking skills in the school classroom.

I am basically trying to get the thirteen teachers in my class to question the so-called “Whig” interpretation of colonial America that has been recently challenged by a host of colonial American historians, most notably Alan Taylor in American Colonies.

Today we talked at length about the Whig interpretation of the colonies and focused most of our attention on the founding of the Chesapeake and New England colonies.  We traced the way both of these colonial regions became Anglicized by the end of the 17th-century.  

Of course we also took some interesting sidetracks that I hope were helpful to the teachers. We discussed the difference between what Butterfield described as “Whig history” and the neo-Whig interpretation of the American Revolution often associated with Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood. We also spent a lot of time talking about the best way to teach students historical thinking skills.  I am having fun with this group and I hope the teachers are getting something out of the seminar.  

Day two of the seminar is scheduled for Thursday.  

For me this seminar has been a nice warm-up for my Gilder-Lehrman summer seminar at Princeton at the end of July.

Teachers: Still Time to Sign Up for a Seminar on Religion and the American Founding at Messiah College

I am very excited to be offering this seminar as part of the “Teachers as Scholars” Program sponsored by the Messiah College Center for Public Humanities.  If you are a teacher in Pennsylvania who is interested in Act 48 Professional Development credits, a teacher from outside Pennsylvania who would like to join us for this event, or a teacher who wants to learn more about the role of religion in the founding of the United States, consider applying for this free seminar.  There are still openings.

The seminar will be based on my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  It will take place on the campus of Messiah College on June 17 and June 19.  Enrollment is limited to sixteen teachers.

Here is a description of the seminar:

Seminar II: Religion and the American Founding

Professor John Fea, Department of History
Monday, June 17 and Wednesday, June 19

There has been much debate in our society today over whether the American founders set out to form a uniquely “Christian” nation. Unfortunately, the debate has yielded more “heat” than “light” as pundits have used the history of our nation’s founding to score political points in current culture wars. This seminar will examine key questions in this debate from a historical point of view: What did the founders believe about God and government? Did these beliefs influence the republic that they helped to create? How might Americans use history responsibly in public life? As we consider the early American experience in light of American religious history, participants will have the opportunity to explore how they can encourage their students to engage well in conversations about religion and the founding fathers.

For more information and instructions on how to apply, check out the online “Teachers as Scholars” brochure here or contact Jean Corey, director of the Messiah College Center for Public Humanities, at jcorey[at]messiah[dot]edu

I look forward to spending a couple days with you in June.