Monday, October 29, 2007

Your Opinion Counts

First, it was a candidate quiz. Then it was all about A.J. Jacobs. Now, your task for week #3 in the nine weeks is to pick a reformer--because your opinion counts.

Here's what you do: after all of the reformer class presentations are done (we'll finish up on Tuesday or Wednesday), identify the reformer and his/her cause you think you would have devoted yourself to had you lived in 19th-century America, and explain why in the comments section. Oh, and one caveat: you CANNOT pick the reformer about whom you presented. It must be somebody new.

[Photo credit here.]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Seeing is Believing?: Alexis de Tocqueville

Many foreign travelers visited the United States during the early 19th century, and apropos of class discussion, countless visitors attended the revivals of the Second Great Awakening and met some of the reformers we've been talking about. These visitors often published their observations and many of these make for interesting reading.

I've read a few of these books and essays over the years, and always learn something new. And I'm particularly interested in what the observers said about religion.

Achille Murat, for example, the son of one of Napoleon’s political appointees in Naples, Italy, traveled to the United States from Vienna in 1823, settling in Florida and acquiring a plantation. A lawyer by training, Murat kept a correspondence with European colleagues and published his observations about life in America in A Moral and Political Sketch of the United States of North America (1833). No doubt familiar with established churches in Europe, religious pluralism (this relates to disestablishment we talked about in class) in America made an impression on Murat: "From the pure doctrines of Unitarianism to the gross absurdities of Methodism all shades may be found here, and every opinion has its partisans, who live in perfect harmony together. Among the variety of religions, everybody may indulge his inclination, change it whenever he pleases, or remain neuter, and follow none. Yet, with all this liberty, there is no country in which people are so religious as in the United States" (from Milton B. Powell, The Voluntary Church: Religious Life, 1740-1860, Seen through the Eyes of European Visitors [New York: Macmillan, 1967], 50).

Murat was not the only visitor to note the religious vitality of the United States' spiritual marketplace. French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the most famous visitors during the early 1830s, offered interesting observations about religious life in nineteenth-century America and published his reflections in a must-read book: Democracy in America.

C-SPAN did a very interesting special on Tocqueville some years ago, and there is a ton of information available. Recently, French thinker Bernard-Henri Levy retraced Tocqueville's steps and wrote a kind of 21st-century version of Democracy in America. It is titled American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, and it is a fascinating read. Read a review of the book here and here. You can take a virtual tour of Tocqueville's trip here. Read about Tocqueville's life here, get the context of his visit by reading this, and view his itinerary. Now you are ready to complete the assignment (type your answers and turn in a hard copy in class; do not simply copy and paste Tocqueville's words; summarize in your own words, analyze, and discuss).

Question #1: Pick 2 cities on this map and discuss Tocqueville's observations about each place. What do we learn about 19th-century America from Tocqueville's observations? How does it compare and/or contrast with what we've discussed in class relative to early 19th-century America?

Question #2: What did Tocqueville see and witness about ordinary American life? Read about it here. (Pick 1 topic and discuss it in your answer. You have 5 choices: work, fashion, domestic life, housing, and recreation.)

Question #3: What did Tocqueville think about religion in America? Check it out here, then click "Tocqueville and Religion." Read the two interviews (Interview #1, Interview #2) from Tocqueville that discuss the separation of church and state; one is with a Protestant, the other a Roman Catholic priest. What is one important thing you learn about American religion from each interview? Why?

**Want extra credit on this assignment? Read Tocqueville's observations about the relationship between religion and democracy here and answer these two question in a 2-3 paragraph essay (300-500 words; include word count at the end of the document; 12-point font; Times New Roman; 1" margins). Remember to back up your argument with evidence (i.e., quotes). This essay is worth a quiz grade. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers here. You will be graded on meeting the assignment's specifications, argument, and use of evidence.

1. According to Tocqueville, is religion a necessary part of democratic society? Why or why not?

2. Do you think Tocqueville agreed or disagreed with the First Amendment? Why or why not?

The 3 questions are due WEDNESDAY 10/31, and the essay is due FRIDAY 11/2

[Photo credit here.]

All Ears

To follow up with some of this week's discussion, here's a link to Audacity if you wish to download it and start experimenting with podcasting. Be sure to download the LAME encoder (yes, that's really what it's called) so you can save and mix the audio files. This should actually prevent your podcasts from being lame, too.

Let me know if you download it and start podcasting. I am all ears.

[Photo credit here.]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Are You In Step With History?

I always tell my students that to best understand history, it is imperative to attempt to walk in the shoes of those who preceded us; to better understand an unfamiliar place or culture, attempt to walk in the shoes of others. And history is not a science insofar as historians can recreate a context like a scientist can recreate conditions for an experiment. In many ways, history is highly educated guessing based on documentary evidence and the historian's imagination.

So, what does it look like if one walk's in the shoes of a historical figure--literally?

Meet A.J. Jacobs. (Check out his blog here.) He's a journalist, an author, and an innovator--I call him a journalistic sociologist. He applies himself to his craft in inventive, interesting ways.

His latest project involved him taking the moral imperatives and prescriptions for living from Bible literally. The result is a book titled The Year of Living Biblically. Read and listen to an excerpt here. Read a review of the book here.

As you listen and you read--and perhaps read the book itself--think about this experiment in terms of what you can learn about history from it.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: To what extent did Jacobs live in the shoes of those in the Bible who preceded him? What did he learn? What was most transformative, interesting, and/or challenging? Could you ever see yourself conducting this kind of experiment?

And so an application question for my students: If you could walk in the shoes of a historical figure in American history, whose shoes would you try on and why? What do you suppose you might learn? Why?

Use your imagination and answer in the comments section.

[Photo credit here.]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Staying on the Right Track in U.S. History

Here is tonight's homework (10/15). You may want to print a hard copy of this post in order to answer the questions.

Part I: Mapping the Track
1. Go to the Transcontinental Railroad documentary website by clicking here.
2. On the left menu click “Special Features.”
3. Click “Scouting the Route.”
4. From Scouting the Route map, visit all of the locations and read about them. From p. 531 in your textbook, identify each time zone.

Part II: Tracking the Route (Click “People & Events” to answer these questions.)

Central Pacific Railroad
1. From where did executives of the Central Pacific Railroad hire workers, so that by 1868, _______ % of its workers came from this country.
2. Discuss the role diet played in productivity of work crews.
3. The Central Pacific Railroad began its work in this state: __________________.
4. In 1862, ___________ ___________ became governor of California.

Grenville Dodge (1831-1916)
5. What did Grenville Dodge do before becoming involved in the transcontinental railroad?
6. What was Dodge’s job with Union Pacific? What sorts of jobs did he do?

Native Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad
7. List all the Native American tribes on whose lands the transcontinental railroad was built.
8. Discuss the events along the Bozeman Trail.

Chinese Workers’ Strike
9. Why did the Chinese workers strike?
10. How did the Chinese workers carry out their strike? non-violent tactics

The Impact of the Transcontinental Railroad
11. The last spike entered the ground at Promontory Point, Utah, on _________, 1869.
12. The transcontinental railroad replaced coast to coast travel via ship through the __________ __________.
13. What major water route opened in November 1869?
14. What product first shipped along the transcontinental railroad?
15. “The railroad was America’s first ____________ corridor.”
16. Discuss this observation: “The rails carried more than goods; they provided a conduit for ideas, a pathway for discourse.” (Hint: read the July 27 entry from Harper’s Weekly)
17. In what ways did the transcontinental railroad affect Native American land and culture? (Hint: read the June 22 and Nov. 16 entry from Harper’s Weekly)
18. In addition to Union Pacific and Central Pacific, what other major rail companies opened for business in the late nineteenth century?
19. Who created Northern Pacific? (click on Northern Pacific)
20. With what major business tycoon did the person enter into a business relationship?
[Photo credit here.]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Presidents & Politics

A wise philosopher once said that politicians make political decisions. That same sage stated that voters make political decisions, too.

Since we've been discussing presidents, politics, and political parties in class, why not continue the conversation here?

Here's a link to a USA Today presidential candidate quiz that is designed, apparently, to help match you to a candidate that most corresponds to your political views--regarding the issues about which the quiz queries.

What questions, in your opinion, are missing from the quiz? What questions do you think the quiz should have asked? What questions are most important to you in terms of your choice of a Presidential candidate? Why?

Post your results in the comments section as you answer the above questions. We'll discuss all of this on Monday, in addition to your reading about the Industrial Revolution.

[Photo credit here.]

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Presidential Personalities: Who is Andrew Jackson?

Visit this page, and this page to increase your knowledge of Andrew Jackson's biography. Read Andrew Jackson's farewell speech here, housed (electronically) at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the university started by Thomas Jefferson. (You will want to PRINT OUT a copy of Jackson's final address and bring it to class tomorrow.) Finally, read about The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's famous home here.

[Photo credit story here.]