Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Frequent Scenes of Misery"

One of the standout workshops from the History Connected  program this past year included a lecture from Professor Brooke Blower of Boston University.  She spoke about transnational migration, and explained that she purposely uses the word "migration" rather than "immigration" because it allows for the possibility that a person's move from one place to another is not permanent. Often, migrants leave their homeland to seek opportunity or change, but then return to their homeland or choose to move on to another place rather than stay permanently.

Our students are taught from a young age to be proud of being American.  They are taught that ours is the best nation on the planet.  There is nothing wrong with these lessons.  However, it is also important for them to realize that for other people, a different nation might feel like the best one.  This alternative perspective is just as important for children to learn so that they can interact from people from all over the world in a positive way.  Our students also experience America as a secure place full of promise.  Migrants who are entering America for the first time might not feel the same way.

As part of a 4 day lesson I created based on that workshop, called Transnational Migration in the Era of Big Business, students looked at photographs that help them see America as a migrant may have for the first time at Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Some of the photos are difficult.  In fact, Colonel John Weber, commissioner of Ellis Island at the time, described the migrants as "hapless pathetic creatures" who were part of "frequent scenes of misery."

This one shows the long crowded lines they had to wait in upon arrival.  Perhaps the large American flag on display was supposed to inspire them to be patient, but after a long journey across the Atlantic, I'm sure these slow lines were daunting.  I can't imagine what it might have been like to stand in these lines with young children after an endless cramped journey across the ocean.

This one shows some of the embarassing physical exams migrants had to endure.  While the health of those entering the country seemed like a legitimate concern for American immigration officials, the public examinations were invasive and dehumanizing.

After analyzing these and other photos, students read accounts of real migrants' experiences.  These are excerpts from a book by Vincent Cannato. 

Some ended happily and some were tragic.  One who had a happy ending was Bartolomeo Stallone from Italy.
Sixteen-year-old Bartolomeo Stallone also faced exclusion. Arriving from Italy in September 1911, Stallone was headed for his brother’s home in St. Louis, where he would work as a barber. At Ellis Island, Dr. E. H. Mullan certified the young man as “afflicted with flat deformed chest, lack of muscular development (poor physique), which affected ability to earn a living.” Stallone appealed his case, but August Sherman, acting in place of William Williams, reaffirmed the deportation order, noting that Stallone was “quite frail in appearance.”

When Stallone’s case landed on the desk of Secretary Nagel, he ordered that the immigrant be admitted on a $500 bond, most likely posted by his brother. After three weeks in detention at Ellis Island, Stallone was released. Two years later, Bartolomeo requested that the bond be cancelled. He had to report to officials in St. Louis, who found that the young man was making $12 a week as a barber. Though he had no savings, he told officials: “I live well, dress well, and send money home to my father and mother in Italy, so I haven’t anything saved up.” Impressed by the now-eighteen-year-old, officials canceled the bond and declared him: “Physically fit for admission and that there is little or no likelihood that he will become a public charge.” pg 209-210
A much sadder story came from the Mermer family of Russia:

February 1892

Russian Jewish immigrants …[experienced an] obvious lack of concern here at an American port. …steamship officials had forced these sickly passengers to cross the harbor to Ellis Island in an open barge in frigid weather.

Among those worn refugees… was the Mermer family: Fayer, her husband Isaac, and their five young children. The Mermers had managed to survive both the trip to Ellis Island and the inspection process and would soon begin their lives in America at a temporary lodging house at 5 Essex Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, provided for them by the United Hebrew Charities.

Twelve days after their arrival, the Mermers’ world was thrown into even greater turmoil. City health officials forcibly entered their Essex Street tenement, dragging Fayer, already sick with fever, out of the building kicking and screaming. Along with her son Pincus and daughter Clara, Fayer was forced into quarantine as city officials moved quickly and brusquely to deal with a highly contagious typhus fever outbreak. One week later, Fayer would be dead, though her children would recover. pg 70-71
At the end of the lesson, students demonstrated what they learned about the migrant experience by sketching. They had 3 options and could choose to draw:
  • the emotions and feelings of the migrant,
  • the scene a migrant had witnessed based on the information from one of the excerpts, or
  • a side-by-side representation of what the migrant expected America to be and the reality.
Now I wish I'd saved some of the drawings I received when I implemented this lesson last spring.  Many of the students took it quite seriously and their images were compelling.  Primary source images and accounts are always a more powerful way to tell the story of history than a lecture or text book reading.  Thanks to Professor Blower's lecture, I was inspired to do more digging into this topic and put together a lesson that was more meaningful for my students.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

This year's Primary Source's Summer Institute, titled "The US and the World Expressions of Power, Past and Present, provided me with great opportunities to discuss themes that are essential to my courses, World History II and US History I and to learn new content, as I'm not familiar with US History II topics. I took advantage of expanding my knowledge of 21st century American foreign policy by choosing to read and write a book synopsis on Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow, America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. The book had been recommended to me by a graduate professor and I had never taken the time to read it. I'm really glad that I did, as a matter of fact, I wish I had read it before I took this summer's course. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in 21st century American foreign policy, especially if you'd like a quick introduction, but even people who are familiar with the topic might find Kinzer's presentation, argument, collection of quotes, speeches, and vignettes to add depth and uniqueness that add personality to one's repertoire.

The novelty of Kinzer's argument is that when studied together, the US initiated and involved regime changes reveal patterns and commonalities that are important for Americans to know. Most alarmingly, Kinzer emphasizes, is that many of these regime changes were meant to help protect the US and its interests; however, unfortunately, have only laid the foundations that created series of events that have provoked the growth of anti-American feelings, most notably culminating in the 9/11 attacks. Though these topics are undoubtedly deep and complex, Kinzer narrows his topic to focus on key Americans involved, a quick background of the political and economic conditions of the foreign country, and quick background of the political and economic threat these conditions had to the US and American interests, especially corporate.

One theme that emerged in looking at the political and economic conditions of the foreign countries was the emergence of nationalism, nations wanting to take back control of their countries' resources from foreign influence to build and strengthen their country for their people. In many cases, many of these revolutionary rumbles and their leaders were very democratic in nature and aim. Many of these leaders that the US helped to overthrow looked to the US as a model for their country, one of the most notable example is Ho Chi Minh's speech after Japanese occupation in Vietnam during World War II, by quoting the Declaration of Independence in Vietnam's declaration of independence.  However, and quite sadly, the US, especially during the Cold War, spun these events as dangerous, socialist stirrings that would give Moscow greater control and influence around the world, which became a fireproof reason to overthrow the leader. These democratic yearnings in emerging foreign nations was also, unfortunately, paired with shockingly undemocratic action by the US. Even more unfortunate is that regime changes resulted in a severely less democratic, and, in most cases, dictatorial leadership. The events in Iran illustrate these grave mistakes more than any other, especially since it transformed Iran from a strategic partner to the US in the Middle East to a rogue enemy, a transition that contributed to future problems for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Another pattern that revealed itself through the continuum that Kinzer presented was the merging of poltical and economic interests. It appears to be dangerous to impartial judgement to have someone so involved in or connected to a corporation also involved in the government, especially when the government becomes involved with that corporation. This mix becomes even more treacherous when amplified by family connections. In the case of Guatemala, not only did Secretary of State John Dulles legally represent all three companies that monopolized Guatemala, Electric Bond and Share, International Railways of Central America, and United Fruit, his brother, Allen Dulles, director of the CIA owned stock in United Fruit.

One final theme that I'll share is the influence of fear, whether short-sighted felt or intentionally utilized, as a major motivating factor in US foreign policy. Though hind-sight is 20/20, this string of fourteen regime changes must inform Americans, and those more directly involved in policy making, to act cautiously and sensibly. During the Cold War era, any hint of communism created overreactions and decisions made by fear as opposed to logic and reason. One must take into consideration the historical past without imposing judgement from the present, but lessons must be learned.

Once again, I highly recommend Overthrow to any teacher of US II, 21st Century history, or anyone just curious about this time period and topic. I'm assuming most books and arguments that cover such controversial topics have pronounced agendas and perspective, but I didn't find that to overwhelm or cloud Kinzer's work. I would only caution readers, as I mentioned above, to be mindful of the benefit of hindsight. In addition to informing and adding to one's knowledge of 21st century American foreign policy, Overthrow provides a platform for a variety of classroom uses. Teachers can use the lead individuals, both American and from the countries that were overthrown, as ways to study history through biographies. Library of Congress's Chronicling America also serves as a great resource to provide that historical perspective, as students can find primary sources that capture how these foreign affairs were communicated to the nation and the nation's reactions. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Would YOU Have Felt at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair?

I was fortunate enough to be among a group of teacher scholars this summer who are interested in studying American imperialism and the social beliefs that go along with it.  They included Caroline Allison, Amy Fedele, and Chris Selvaggio.  Although we are taught to think of the late 19th century as an era of booming business, life-changing inventions, and great social change as students... it was also a time when Americans bought wholly into Social Darwinism.  In fact, many believed that a person's value was linked to his race and ethnicity.  Studying how America chose to represent itself and other peoples from around the world at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair is a great way to help students understand this mindset.

Our group came up with 1893 Chicago World's Fair: Who Holds the Power?.

Students start by watching the video below.  While the narrator's voice is a little high pitched, the information presented captures the main ideas behind imperialism and gives students a brief explanation of what occurred at the fair.

For a more thorough look at the fair, students can tour maps and images of the exposition, including the video tour below.  It was created by an Harvard University Graduate School of Design student.

Then students choose to take on an identity.  They will try to see the fair from the perspective of their chosen role.  Each role has its own page on the website describing the identity in more detail .  There are also recommeded exhibits for the student to visit.  Roles include:
  • German Immigrant
  • Native American
  • African American
  • Japanese Diplomat
  • Female Mill Worker
  • Captain of Industry
  • Inventor
The culminating project is a scrapbook or photo book in which student annotates a few photographs explaining how the sights and exhibits pictured made them feel, from the perspective of their chosen role.  Our hope was for students to try to experience the dominating racist ideologies of Americans in the late 19th century from the perspective of one the minorities who had to struggle through this time.

Soft Power: Then and Now

After attending this summer's Primary Source institute in July, I was in a bit of a conundrum.  I wanted to introduce the idea of soft power to ALL of my students, but my freshmen do not study the era that we focused on in the institute, which was after 1898.  So, after much thought, some research, and one proposal submission, I managed to come up with a way to integrate soft power into the discussion of the United States government's first attempts at foreign relations in the late 18th century.

The entire lesson can be found at Soft Power in the Early Republic: The U.S. and France.

First of all, what is soft power?  Since most adults have not heard of the term, it is even less likely that the average teenager in my classroom is familiar with it.  It was coined by Joseph Nye in his 2004 book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.  Rather than ask the students to read  the book, I plan to show them a clip of the beginning of this interview in which Nye explains the theory.

Then, I will challenge students to come up with a definition of the term in their own words.  To further prove that they understand the concept, I plan to ask them to find current event examples of the attempted use of soft power within the past 6 months.

Now for the historical application.  When I think of soft power in the early United States, I think of a few situations: 

First, I think the the intense efforts to form an alliance with France out of fear that the British would out-muscle the inexperienced and new American military.  So, I chose to have students read and analyze the Treaty of Alliance with France, February 6, 1778.

Next, when I think of soft power I think about President Washington's strong desire to stay out of the European conflict and allow his new nation to get up on its own two feet.  So, the obvious choice was the Proclamation of Neutrality, April 22, 1793.

Of course, when discussing soft power around this time period of revolutions, one cannot ignore the great debate among Americans about whether the U.S. government should officially support the French Revolution.  One either side of this debate were Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.  Therefore, I chose to have students analyze the Letter to William Short, Thomas Jefferson on the French Revolution, January 3, 1793 and the Memorandum on the French Revolution, Alexander Hamilton, 1794.

Finally, as he retired after two four year terms as President of the United States, Washington warned Americans against forming strong alliances with other nations that could force the young country into war.  In his Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 Washington was trying to convince Americans to avoid using hard power and to use soft power whenever possible.

The culminating activity is for students to stage their own interview, much like the one they watched of Joseph Nye at the beginning of the lesson.  The interview subject will instead be the author of their document.  They will ask about the author's intent and how he used soft power to accomplish his goals.

My hope is that students will gain an understanding of how goals can be reached on the international stage without threats and bribes.  I also hope they learn that these soft power tactics may have recently been renamed, but they have been used my leaders for a long long time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Teaching Public History

When we visited the Massachusetts Historical Society in July, we learned about all the resources available to teachers, both digitally and through a trip to Boylston St in Boston.  I am planning on using the online features offered by the MHS and encouraging my students to visit there to do some primary source research if they pick an applicable topic for their sophomore research papers.  This is great example of local public history at its finest!

Last year as a result of my professional development with the Teaching American History grant, I incorporated a lot of public history into my teaching.  I’d like to share one lesson I did that I though was particularly effective.  This lesson included an instructional method I picked up from History Connected—“Silent Conversation.”

The lesson is on the Inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt and makes use of the National Park Service’s website:  The website gives resources for teachers and has information for tourists that wish to visit The Wilcox Family Home, the site of the inauguration.  
In my lesson, I use images from the website and instruct my students to have a “Silent Conversation.”  I post the images around the room and have a large blank piece of paper below.  Students are asked to write one thing on the paper and initial it.  It can be a question, an idea about the content, a detail they think is interesting or important or they can comment on a point from a peer. 
At first, students usually don’t see the connection between the images, but after they  have viewed them all, most have a vague understanding that the images are about President McKinley’s or Teddy Roosevelt’s Inauguration.  When we reconvene as a class, we examine each image, this time with further explanation from me.  I also answer their questions, as best I can.  The NPS site does a great job of proving questions for each image as well as the historical context to guide teachers.     

The skill that students work on is analysis of primary sources as outlined in Historical Thinking Standard 4:
§  Obtain historical data from a variety of sources, including: library and museum collections, historic sites, historical photos, journals, diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, and the like; documentary films, oral testimony from living witnesses, censuses, tax records, city directories, statistical compilations, and economic indicators.  (Source:
§  Interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.  (Source:
This is really evident when students examine an artist’s sketch of Teddy Roosevelt being sworn in  and then look an actual photograph of the room in the drawing.    We discuss the intent of the artist and the difference between a photograph and drawing as a primary source.  We also examine a newspaper heading and compare photographs from past and present of the site. 

Lastly, we end with a conversation about the use of The Wilcox Family Home as a historical site.  I ask my students what types of historical tours they have taken or would like to take in the future.  In the end, I make sure we connect this back to the function of public history.

If you have time and are teaching some lessons on Teddy Roosevelt, check out the NPS website.  If this doesn’t apply, I also highly recommend using the “Silent Conversation” instructional method with your students.  It gets them moving around the room and encourages historical inquiry and helps you hit your teaching standards!

Image Credits from National Park Service "Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site:  Birthplace of the Modern Presidency." 15 September 2012 <>

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reflections on Summer Institute

Now that a couple of weeks have passed from this year’s summer institute, I finally have some time to reflect upon the course and sift through materials to see what will be useful my courses.  Most of my colleagues have mentioned in their blogs things I found particularly useful. Thus, I want to share some methods that can be used to help students analyze primary sources.  These methods were adopted by the Social Studies Department at Wilmington High School.  Most of our department uses these techniques as described below, and others alter them to suit their individual needs.  I hope you can make use of them as well.

I plan to use APPARTS to analyze the letters we looked at during our field trip to the Massachusetts Historical Society.  I plan to use the letters exchanged between Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt.
  • AP PARTS-When analyzing a primary source document
o       Author:  who created the source, what do you know about him/her, Point of view is key … position in life, background
o       Place & time:  when was this written?  Where?
o       Prior knowledge:  what else do you know about this?
o       Audience:  who is this intended for?  Clerics? Crown? Merchants? Workers?
o       Reason:  why was it created?
o       The main idea:  what point is this source trying to convey?
o       Significance:  why is it important?  So what?  Inferring importance from data.

I plan to use OPTIC to analyze the Pears’ Soap “The White Man’s Burden” advertisement from Ron Woolley’s workshop.
  • OPTIC – When analyzing a visual
  • Overview – look it over for all of its aspects
  • Parts – what are the pieces that make up this picture, photo
  • Title – does the title reveal anything
  • Interrelationships – how do the items/people/subjects of the visual interrelate?
  • Conclusion – what can you draw from this visual?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Olympics as a Historical Tool

Most Americans are tuned to their televisions watching American's take on the world in London. The 2012 Summer Olympiad is an exciting tool that can be used to engage students in the relationship that the US has with the world.

As an opening I would discuss major happenings from the current Olympics. Examples of big medal victories, any acts of un-sportsmanship/ sportsmanship, and international politics. You could mention how First Lady Michelle Obama was America's representative to the games:

I would then open up a discussion on other famous Olympiads and America's connection to them. I would primarily focus on the 1936 German summer games. With the 1936 games I would make sure to draw the student's attention to the actions of Adolf Hitler and his dreams for an attempt to show Berlin off to the world.

In an almost "slap in the face" of Nazi Germany students would then learn about the great accomplishments of Jesse Owens, someone who the Nazis refused to treat as a desired human being.

Using current events is a great way to draw students into history. By connecting such a popular event like the Olympics to America's previous role in the world students will be able to understand the that America's connection to the world is not something new or something that will end any time soon.