Unlike many historians in the field, I truly enjoy teaching the United States survey course. This course is my one and only opportunity to introduce the study of the past and the practice of historical thinking to non-majors. I look forward to teaching it every fall semester. I love to lecture and I love to teach students in smaller groups how to read primary sources.
But I must also admit that I really cannot stand all the grading that is required in this course. It is hard to read the same basic paper on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense or Frederick Douglass’s Narrative over and over and over again. (This year I am only reading about 20 papers. In the past I have read close to 80). How many blue-book essays on the immediate causes of the Civil War does it take before one abandons their calling to an academic vocation? (This semester my sympathy goes out to my co-teacher, Cathay, who has been saddled with the bulk of the grading).
I cannot say the same thing, however, about the upper-division course that I taught this semester. The students in the “Age of the American Revolution” were assigned a 12-15 page research paper. Early in the semester I trained them in the practice of locating primary sources, with a special focus on the rich resources in the Early American Imprints Collection and Early American Newspapers. We recently purchased these databases from Readex and it has revolutionized (no pun intended) the way I teach early American history.
As a result, I have really been enjoying reading these research papers. The students have done a wonderful job of framing topics that draw upon the material in these databases. Some have supplemented their work in the databases with printed and online sources. A few even visited local archives. Here are some of the titles of the papers that have been produced in this course:
“Pacifism, Strife, and Division: Mennonites During the Revolutionary War.”
“Quakers and the American Revolution.”
“The Quakers Revolution: American Independence and Friction Among Friends.”
“The Pennsylvanian Crusade: The Paxton Boys’ Justification of Murder.”
(Can you tell that I teach at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania with pacifist roots?).
Other papers focused on execution sermons, the Anti-Federalists in Pennsylvania, John Woolman, Methodism and the American Revolution, the Sons of Liberty, revolutionary-era children’s literature, biological warfare, James Madison and the Bill of Rights, clergy who did not support independence, the British Whigs’ view of the Revolution, the role of print (newspapers) in the coming of the Revolution, and the religious beliefs of John Jay.
It is always a pleasure when I get the opportunity to learn something from an undergraduate paper.
“Pacifism, Strife, and Division: Mennonites During the Revolutionary War” sounds like something I'd enjoy reading.
Hope your grading goes well, John!