29 May 2017

The Twentieth Century

It's time for our last blog, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you guys for some great work this year. I've enjoyed learning together, please stay in touch after school ends.

This blog entry covers all of the fourth-quarter content, so from the 1920s to the 1980s. As per usual, the following links are only suggestions; you are highly encouraged to select a topic which corresponds to your theme.


Back-to-back laws in 1921 and 1924 greatly restricted immigration. Explorations of their effect has largely focused on the Holocaust. In 1939, the United States turned back 907 Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis; some 254 died during the Holocaust. This episode is covered by our first link. The second link describes the adoption of our current immigration system in 1965.




It's during this period that the term exceptionalism was first applied to the United States, by Joseph Stalin. Our first link discusses this preliminary, critical, context. But Americans came to wear the label proudly, none more so than President Ronald Reagan. His exceptionalist vision is discussed in our second link.




In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed four freedoms. While some (speech and religion) were familiar, others (from want and fear) were not. Our first link tells you the story. The second discusses Freedom Rides, which protested segregation in bus terminals. Finally, a third link introduces you to the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley.





The Civil Rights Movement successfully established legal equality for African Americans, but did that translate economically? Our first link finds out. The next two article probe changes in America's racial makeup,





The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally ensured democracy for southern African Americans. Our first link describes its passage, as well as subsequent revisions. In 1971, the voting age was reduced to 18. Our second article tells the story.



The American Dream

This term was coined in 1931 by writer James Truslow Adams. Our first link describes the background. By the 1950s, the American dream had become suburban. The second article explains how, using a famous example.



29 March 2017

The Turn of the Century

It's already time for our next blog, which is due Friday March 31st. This time, we're covering the last two units: the Gilded Age/Progressivism, and Imperialism/World War I. That means you should blog about how the content from 1877 to 1919 relates to your topic. Below are some suggested links, but don't feel compelled to use them. Indeed, you'll get two extra points for finding a link of your own!


This period witnessed backsliding from the important progress of Reconstruction. Southern states circumvented the 15th Amendment, while courts proclaimed segregation to be consistent with equal protection. The first link describes what this meant for daily life. If you're looking for a happier topic, the second link describes how W. E. B. DuBois founded the NAACP. Another possible topic would be the way race featured in American imperialism. A second article explores the Filipino context for Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, "The White Man's Burden".





This was the classic period of immigration, in which newcomers transited Ellis Island under the gaze of the Statue of Liberty. You can find an overview by clicking the first link. A second one discusses the origin (and accuracy) of the melting pot analogy, whereby American culture subsumed that of successive immigrant waves.




America's openness to immigrants has always been part of arguments for exceptionalism. The link below quotes observers from our period to make that point


The American Dream

What did Americans strive for? One possible answer lies in their reading. Author Horatio Alger became a publishing sensation with a series of books in which poor protagonists achieve success through a combination of talent and hard work. The first link explores his relevance to the American Dream. Another clue to American aspiration lies in advertising, which attempted to tap the hopes and dreams of the public. Our second article describes the growth of advertising, both the practice and the profession.




Progressives were passionate about democracy. One of their reforms was the 17th amendment, which allowed for the direct election of U. S. senators. The first link gives you a brief history. Another milestone was women's suffrage, which is discussed by the second article.




Early Republicans promoted "free labor", which they imagined in terms of ownership (of a farm or business). By the Gilded Age, this had evolved into "freedom of contract", the sale of labor to employers such as factories. This meant a decline in workers' independence, as described in our first link. Freedoms came into conflict again during World War I. Fighting a war for freedom of the seas and self-determination, we simultaneously suspended civil liberties at home. Americans went to jail for speaking against the war, as detailed in the second link.



16 January 2017

A Nation Divided

Apologies for the generic blog title, I felt that division is vague enough to cover both the Civil War and the period before it (the Antebellum period). Indeed, those are the two units we're blogging on this time. There's a lot of common ground between them, but students are only expected to pick one event which represents their theme. Below, I've suggested both topics and articles for them to use.


Let's start with this topic, as it shows up early in our time period. Andrew Jackson rehabilitated democracy, which was still something of a taboo under our first few presidents. But should he be compared with what came before, or after? As the first link observes, modern observers hesitate to apply the term to Jackson. The other classic commentary on democracy from this period was Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Our second article contextualizes the president's defense of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people".




Exceptionalism is closely aligned to the theme of democracy. The idea of American difference is often traced back to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of Democracy in America. Our first link gets at what Tocqueville meant, and whether it's complimentary. The second addresses President Lincoln, who famously called America "the last best hope of earth"




This topic is arguably central to the time period, containing as it does the first movement for racial equality. Our first article explores the abolitionist ideal, whereas the second considers the reality of Reconstruction.




This theme is also prominent for any blog covering the Civil War, which liberated millions of Americans from slavery. While we've focused on the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment in class, our first article reminds us that freedom was not so much an event as a process. Our second link distinguishes between freedom and emancipation, in view of the challenges which accompanied the latter.




This is a topic I've short-changed in class. America's first full-fledged nativist movement is usually taught as part of the Republican party's origins. I thought better of teaching this complicated subject, knowing that I could suggest a blog on the topic of immigration. Our first article is about Know-Nothing Party, which opposed (Irish) immigration during the 1850s. The second is about birthright citizenship, which was a provision of the 14th Amendment.



The American Dream

The American Dream acquired a new element during this period, with the increased emphasis on education. Our first article describes the new women's colleges, as well as the rise of public education. This institution spread to the South during Reconstruction, a development treated in the second link.



08 November 2016

The Founding

Since my last blog, we've decided to blog every other unit. That means this entry applies to the units on the Revolution and the Early Republic. That's a huge sweep of history, but one linked by the activity of the Founders.  All of our themes feature here, and are at least partially transformed by the stresses of Revolution and Independence. Again, I'll be suggesting articles for each theme.

The American Dream

I've decided to start with this topic because it comes up early during the Founding. Taxation upset Americans precisely because it touched on their economic aspirations. Colonists displayed their economic success by consuming British imports, such as tea or clothing. So it seemed as though Britain spurned American admiration by taxing precisely these goods. The first article addresses colonial imitation of Britain. The second talks about how they turned against British goods, organizing the first boycotts in history. After the Revolution, other Americans aspired to be self-sufficient farmers. The third link discusses the place of this idea in Thomas Jefferson's thought.





This is another topic that emerges during the later colonial period. Immigration became controversial as soon as it started to change, with Germans beginning to replace British Protestants in certain regions. Our first link covers a famous episode, in which Benjamin Franklin harshly criticized German immigration. Our second link covers the period's most famous immigrant, Alexander Hamilton. Though the Broadway musical celebrates this aspect of his life, he wasn't above carping about other immigrants. Hamilton neatly illustrates a surprising tendency of the immigrant experience, one's willingness to close the door after entering.




The topic of immigration has traditionally been bound up with that of exceptionalism, which takes the paradoxical position that America is different from other nations precisely because of its internationalism. But for this period, exceptionalists focus on the Declaration of Independence. Again, the focus is on American universalism, as discussed by the article below



When This theme is the second in a famous trifecta, the unalienable rights enumerated by the Declaration of Independence: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". The first article discusses how that phrase was written and, more importantly, how it was read. The second article discusses the constitution's relationship to freedom, using James Madison as a case study.




The topic of freedom substantially overlaps with that of race, where slavery is still the main topic. Our first article talks about black soldiers, in both the British and American armies. The second addresses our Declaration's original paragraph on slavery, which Congress later struck from the final draft. Finally, the Declaration inspired northern states to abolish slavery, which is discussed in the third link.





Of all our topics, this is the one that comes up least during the founding. For all their talk of natural rights, the Founders strove to restrict suffrage to propertied men. But recently, there has been a trend to discover the beginnings of American democracy in elections surrounding the constitution's ratification. As the below article shows, property restrictions were temporarily waived.


07 September 2016

The Colonial Period

This feels a little premature, seeing as how my students' first blogs aren't even due yet. But I thought I'd get a head start on the colonial period, for any go-getters in my classes.

It'll be exciting (or horrifying, depending upon your perspective) to blog about this unit, as many of our themes mature rapidly during the colonial period. Among these are race, with the establishment of slavery in colonial Virginia. And exceptionalism still owes much to John Winthrop's ideal of the city on a hill. Others, such as freedom and democracy, still have a long way to go. But for all of them, there are fascinating premonitions of modern practice.

Now that we're covering history, I feel more qualified to introduce each theme with some remarks. I've tried to avoid assigning each theme to just one region, either Virginia or New England. But some of them just work better that way, so here they are starting with Virginia:


The history of race in America starts with Native Americans, not slaves. Our first article revisits the first Thanksgiving, with a large dose of context. But as the English displaced Native Americans, the racial narrative gradually transferred to African slaves. They were an alternative to the declining population of indentured servants. The second link describes this institution, and its replacement by slavery. Finally, a third website chronicles the growth of slavery during the late 1600s.




The American Dream

Our economic history began with tobacco. And the topic is still timely, as the first article observes; four hundred years later, we are still trying to discourage its consumption. To get a sense of the risks early tobacco planters ran (starvation), I have linked a second article. Virginia may not fit our idea of the "American Dream", as work was not especially valued there. It was New England that bequeathed us its work ethic, a legacy discussed in our third article.





Of our two representative regions, Virginia got a lot more immigrants. Indeed, because of low reproduction (most of the early colonists were male) and mortality due to starvation and disease, Virginia only survived because of immigration. The first article gives some basic statistics, and explores migrants' motivations. The same general impression, of large numbers and mortality, also applies to the slave experience recounted in the second link (obviously you could also apply this to our theme of race). A much more successful experience played out in New England, which had a healthier climate and attracted more families. The third website discusses this misleadingly-named "great migration", which involved fewer people over a shorter period of time but proved more durable.





Our first link treats Virginia's House of Burgesses, the first representative assembly in the Americas. You could also talk about New England, which combined both representative and direct democracy (in the form of town meetings). The second article tries to identify what, of the Massachusetts political system, anticipated modern democracy. Finally, a third explores the Mayflower Compact, which John Quincy Adams considered "the only instance in human history of that positive, original, social compact" underlying governments.





Freedom had a predominantly religious meaning in the colonial period. And while it has expanded into secular life since then, this original definition is still alive and well in America. The Pilgrims famously left England to escape religious persecution, but went first to tolerant Holland. So why go to America? Our first link explains their decision. They were followed by the Puritans, who sought religious freedom for themselves but not others. The second article describes how this second instance of persecution led to the birth of true religious freedom in Rhode Island.




Here the classic text remains John Winthrop's sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity". In it, Winthrop envisioned the founding of a "city upon a hill". The phrase has usually been understood to emphasize his colony's exemplary (and, by extension, exceptional) role. By far the most accessible introduction to the history is Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates. The first link is a (much shorter) interview with her publisher. The second article broadens our perspective to situate Winthrop in his Calvinist context. Here, we see that American exceptionalism owes a lot to the idea of a predestined elect.



30 August 2016


Welcome to my blog! I teach United States History at Potomac Falls High School, in Sterling, VA. This year, as part of our county's One to the World initiative, students will be blogging about one of six themes in American history: freedom, race, democracy, immigration, exceptionalism, or the American dream. They'll pick one of them, which they'll relate to each unit's content. To kick off things off, I'm asking students to announce which theme they've chosen -- and why. They should say something about how their theme relates to current events, while linking to and evaluating one online source. Students are strongly encouraged to find their own, but may use one of the following websites:



















The American Dream 




Students should summarize their link, identify its point of view (if any), and agree or disagree with it. Also, they have to comment on at least one classmate's blog entry. This could take the form of a question or comment, just keep it appropriate. I'm looking forward to blogging together!