November 16

Blog #149 – Final Exam blog – Rethinking History or Should Jackson Still Be on the $20?

In the past few years, students and adults have pushed to change the names of schools and institutions based upon the namesake’s past history.  Back in 2015, for instance, the Confederate flag was pulled down from the South Carolina capitol in the wake of the Charleston shootings (the shooter was pictured w/ Confederate memorabilia), and then the South Carolina legislature voted overwhelmingly to take the flag down.  This Economist article examines other particular cases not mentioned in the “Rethinking History”.  From another point of view, this article defends leaving the Hoover FBI federal building as it is, though some have come to question Hoover’s tough-minded, illegal wiretappings of students and Dr. King (Cointelpro).  Since the Charleston church shooting, there has been a concerted effort to begin the controversial process of taking down statues to leaders of the Confederacy throughout the South.  In an August 2017 statement on the monuments controversy, the American Historical Association (AHA) said that to remove a monument “is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history.” The AHA stated that most monuments were erected “without anything resembling a democratic process,” and recommended that it was “time to reconsider these decisions.” According to the AHA, most Confederate monuments were erected during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, and this undertaking was “part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South.” According to the AHA, memorials to the Confederacy erected during in the 1890s “were intended, in part, to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction, and to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life.” A later wave of monument building coincided with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s, and according to the AHA “these symbols of white supremacy are still being invoked for similar purposes.”

In the summer of 2020, America had a reckoning with Confederate monuments of all types and some people started tearing down some that still remained.  Some saw these monuments as symbol of the systemic racism in the country that celebrated men who fought to keep Black folks enslaved.  Other people thought that history was being “canceled” or erased by the removal of Confederate monuments.  Some protestors even went after the large statue of Andrew Jackson in D.C. but could not pull it down (see pic below).  Then President Trump issued an executive order that would prosecute people who defaced or destroyed federal statues.

In the article, “Rethinking History,” former Princeton president and 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson is derided because of his racist comments.  He told a black leader in 1914 that “segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you.”  A different example from the article is what the University of Virginia has done in the past decade in trying to honor its slave past.  At least 140 slaves helped build the university, and this fall, Virginia opened up a dorm named after two of the slaves who had worked on the campus before the Civil War.

One argument against changing the names of buildings or taking people off of our money is that our culture has become incredibly mired in political correctness.  We are too worried about offending people, the argument goes, so we make decisions like these to make sure no one gets triggered.  An argument for changing the names of buildings (like was recently done to Cobo Hall down town after people began to rethink the Detroit mayor’s stance against blacks integrating white neighborhoods in the 1950s) is that some things need to be fixed because having your name on a building is an honor.  Are we finally recognizing the faults of the past and trying to make amends for them, because our nation, though it’s been a melting pot since its inception, is really starting to change?  Or, can we learn something from the past instead of erasing it and blocking the things which we find disturbing?

This brings us to Andrew Jackson.  This NY Times article  from 2015 suggested putting a woman’s face on the 20$ bill.

“Jackson was a slave owner whose decisions annihilated American Indian tribes of the Southeast. He also hated paper currency and vetoed the reauthorization of the Second Bank of the United States, a predecessor of the Federal Reserve. Jackson is in the history books, but there’s no reason to keep him in our wallets.”

His record with the Indian Removal Act, his battles w/ Nicholas Biddle and the 2nd BUS, and the fact that he was a slave owner all count against him.  But what about his adoption of an Indian boy during one of the campaigns to eradicate the Indians?  Did America actually benefit from not having a central banking system for almost 80 years?  He was a symbol of the common man, those who could newly vote in the elections of 1828 and 1832 voted for him overwhelmingly, because he was a common man at one time.  But he was also an exceptional man, having fought in the War of 1812, amassed a fortune (though off the backs of slaves), and become the 7th president of the United States.  There are very very few people who can claim these achievements.

Andrew Jackson was first honored by being on the $20 beginning in 1928 (to coincide w/ the 100th anniversary of his electio).  Before that, Presidents Grover Cleveland and George Washington were on the bill as well as former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and also Lady Liberty.  Then the idea came about of putting a woman on the $20 beginning in the year 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.  Several women were finalists, but in 2015, Harriet Tubman won a poll and was originally slated to replace Hamilton on the $10, but because of the immense popularity of the play, the decision was made to then replace Jackson on the $20 a year later.  Then candidate Trump in 2016 said that he thought Tubman was fantastic but opposed replacing Jackson becuase it would be “political correctness” that replaced him.  In mid 2017, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that  “People have been on the bills for a long period of time. This is something we’ll consider; right now we have a lot more important issues to focus on.”  He also stated that any new bill wouldn’t be ready until 2026 despite engravers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing stated that there was already a bill in the works by 2019.  And according to the latest article I could find about this in 2021, the Biden administration supports Tubman on the $20 but hasn’t taken any action as of that article to make that happen.  So, the future of the $20 is up in the air.

Protesters near the White House failed this week to topple a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square.

But if we remove Jackson from the $20 and replace him with someone else, where do we stop?  Using the slippery slope argument (which is always a dangerous fallacy), do we rename Washington D.C. because Washington was a slave holder?  Do we take Lincoln off of the penny or the $5 because he had almost 30 Indians executed during the Civil War for sparking an uprising in Minnesota?  Jefferson… we won’t even get into him.

As someone in the “Rethinking History” article states, if we are going to name buildings after people, should we expect them to be perfect?  Maybe we should stop naming buildings after people.  Or can we learn something from these flawed individuals (especially b/c everyone is flawed in some way or another)?

Please answer the following questions:

  1. What are your thoughts about removing historical monuments or renaming buildings after historical figures?  Why?
  2. I see three possible alternatives to Jackson on the $20:
    1. Keep him there and leave it as it is.
    2. Swap him out with Harriet Tubman, and leave Andrew Jackson to be talked about in history classes.
    3. Leave him on the bill but conduct better and more thorough education about Andrew Jackson’s legacy. (If you come up with another alternative, please include it in your post.)

350 words minimum total for all three answers.  Due Tuesday night by midnight, November 22. 

November 16

Blog #148 – Final Exam blog – Who was the better democrat – Jefferson or Jackson?

What I am asking you to do with this blog is something that historians typically engage in – a comparison / contrast between two important figures pertaining to an agreed-upon set of standards.  In this case, we will be comparing the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson to see who was the better democrat (small d, not the Democratic Party, though both are seen as the forefathers of today’s modern party) and promoted democratic policies and ideas during their time in office.  As for democratic principles, we should work from the following list:

  • Who promoted political involvement for the average person, for instance, the expansion of the right to vote?  How was this done?
  • Who was considered for political office?  Who chose the presidential candidates during their time?
  • How did each man view the federal government’s role in promoting the economy?
  • How did each man view the relationship between the federal and state governments?  Did they exercise limited power as the executive?

The Common Man and Political Involvement 

Jefferson believed in an agrarian vision for America.  Remember the notes on Jeffersonian agrarianism – we saw that he believed that independent yeoman farmers who had easy access to abundant farmland would provide the bedrock of American democracy.  These farmers owned their land outright and that land provided the basis on which they could vote in all manner of elections (though in many states, the average voters did NOT choose the electors of the Electoral College).  During Jefferson’s presidency, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 which, when settled, would allow for new generations of American farmers to establish their own farms and be able to vote.  Also, to Jefferson, education was important for these farmers to stay informed on political topics, and so he promoted public schools while governor of Virginia and president.  However, during his time, political parties only functioned at the national level.  Lastly, unlike the Federalists, Jefferson trusted the common man to make the right decisions politically and didn’t view them as an unruly mob incapable of making rational decisions.

Print showing a crowd at the White House at Jackson's inauguration.

Before and during Jackson’s presidency, suffrage, or the right to vote, expanded as new western states eliminated property requirements to vote and eastern states began to modify their state constitutions to allow for more urban workers and landless white men to vote.  For some African American men, their voting rights were taken away  or a very high bar for property requirements were demanded like in New York in 1821 or outright took away their vote in Pennsylvania in 1833.  Under the guidance of NY Senator Martin Van Buren (soon to be Jackson’s Secretary of State and then Vice President), the new Democratic Party expanded its base to include not only Southern slave owners but urban workers and immigrants in the North, Western and Northern small farmers.  Van Buren also expanded the party system to include state and local branches that coordinated their actions with the national party.  When Jackson first ran in 1824 and again in 1828, American men were voting for the president or the electors in the Electoral College.  Jackson also worked to expand the amount of land that white farmers could own by forcibly removing Native tribes from the southeast part of the country and relocating them west of the Mississippi River.

Painting showing a large crowd at a county election.

Eligibility for Federal Office and Choosing the Presidential Candidates

Under Jefferson, candidates were usually chosen based upon the ideal of a democratic republic – educated, usually wealthy landowners (and sometimes slaveowners).  After taking office, Jefferson did not remove many government officials but did work with Congress to try to limit the power of the federal courts (remember Adams’ midnight judges during his lame duck time in 1801).    During Jefferson’s time, the duty of an elected official was to vote on what he believed to be the best choice for the country and not vote primarily for regional interests.  They feared that tyranny came from exercising the will of the majority over the minority (whether it be slave owners, small states, or the wealthy).  This did change by the time Jackson became president in 1829.  Also, during Jefferson’s time, each party’s Congressional leaders held a caucus during the election year and nominated their top candidate(s).  This also changed under Jackson.  Beginning in 1824 and starting a long standing tradition in 1828, the party’s national convention named the presidential nominee.  As the right to vote expanded before and during Jackson’s tenure, almost any white male of voting age was seen as a proper candidate for office. More and more officials were decided by the voters including state and local judges, members of the electoral college, and state governors.  Jackson removed dozens of government officials as well once he became president, viewing those offices as for and by the people and not ones that should be held exclusively by that office holder. Furthermore, under Jackson, he and other elected officials saw themselves as carrying out the will of the people while in office.   Tyranny, in Jackson’s time, was seen as elected officials ignoring the will of the people and imposing their own values and views on issues. Jackson believed that the people could “arrive at right conclusions” and “instruct their… representatives” accordingly.

Role of Federal Government in Promoting the Economy

Jefferson initially fought Hamilton’s Bank of the United States but eventually came to accept its existence.  He also believed that manufacturing, commerce, and shipping were important, but, as mentioned before, the agrarian economy took precedence over those aspects of the economy.  We see this in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory.  We also see that during Jefferson’s presidency, he worked with Congress to lower the whiskey taxes and then eventually eliminate them.  He also kept government spending under control, though this was done through his cooperation with a Republican-dominated Congress and not through vetoes of bills (Jefferson didn’t veto any bills during his presidency).  However, Jefferson’s biggest knock against the economy was the devestating Embargo Act of 1807 that killed American exports, dropped agriculture prices, but ironically, spurred on domestic manufacturing to meet the needs of the American people.

Jackson, on the other hand, fought with the BUS and wielded the veto against it to kill it in 1832.  He also weakened it by removing the deposits of government funds from the BUS between 1832-1836.  This battle with the BUS and its eventual end, coupled with the Specie Circular and bad banking news from Britain sparked the worst depression in American history until 1893 (but that happened after his presidency).  Of his other 11 vetoes, more than half of those stopped federal government spending on internal improvements around the country, which probably would have benefitted the American economy.  Jackson believed in a limited federal government debt as well.  So it appears that both men didn’t subscribe to pro-business policies and would eventually damage their country’s economic prospects.

Print showing a street scene, with the American flag flying over unemployed young men, drunkards, families begging, and pawn shops.

The Exercise of Federal Power 

As previously mentioned, Jefferson did not veto any bills during his two terms, but he did steer a course that he thought would protect American interests abroad.  When the Barbary pirates continued to seize American shipping in the Mediterranean, Jefferson sent American warships and mediators to deal with this threat to American neutrality and commerce.  Jefferson acted as a guide to Congress in order to get his policies passed.  In the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, he moved away from his strict interpretation of the Constitution and took a more expansive or loose interpretation of his foreign affairs power.   Additionally, enforcing the Embargo with the U.S. Navy contradicted the Republicans’ traditional view of the narrow use of federal power.  Jefferson explained his abandonment of strict interpretation of the Constitution like this in 1810:

“…a strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen: but it is not the highest. the laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. to lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property & all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.” 

Jackson, on the other hand, believed in a limited federal government (Congress and the Courts) but an expansive and vigorous executive branch.  Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions at least twice (McCulloch, Worcester) and vetoed 12 bills from Congress, more than the previous six presidents combined.  He was also a strong nationalist and during the tariff crisis with South Carolina, was ready to march on the state once they decided to nullify the tariff in 1833.  Granted, Congress did give him authorization to do so with the Force Act, but even if they hadn’t, some historians agree that he likely would have gone to South Carolina and enforced the collection of the tariff anyway.  He let the responsibility to defend the nation squarely on his shoulders.  In addition, when abolitionists started mailing anti-slavery newspapers and other publications to Southern religious and political leaders in the South, Jackson initially asked Congress to pass a law to stop these mailings.  When Congress refused, he ordered all American postmasters to remove anti-slavery material from the U.S. mail.  Part of this expansive use of executive power came from Jackson’s view of the presidency as a “tribune” of the people who would do their will.

So, after having read these areas of similarity and difference, in your mind, who was the better democrat and why?  Provide specific examples from the blog and your own notes and reading to support your assertion.

350 words minimum.  Due Tuesday night by midnight, November 22.  

October 24

Blog #147 – How Jeffersonian was Jefferson?

So, in the handouts on Thomas Jefferson and his attitudes on slavery, race, the economy, society, and other things written before he became president, many of you thought that he was inconsistent in some areas (race and slavery among others) but yet consistent in other things (belief in agriculture and the need for more land).

As a man of principle, Jefferson tried to live by his beliefs, but when he became president in 1801, he had a chance to put his beliefs into action.  Though he hated banks and strenuously opposed the creation of the Bank of the U.S. in 1791, he let Hamilton’s bank remain intact during his presidency.  In other ways, he remained true to his principles.

Thomas Jefferson Presidential $1 Coin | U.S. Mint

As you look over the notes we collected as a class, I want you to answer the following questions:

  1. Before he became president (and using the quotes we looked at on Friday), in which area was he most consistent and why?  And in which area was he most inconsistent and why do you think this?  
  2. As president from 1801 – 1809 (and using the notes we compiled on Monday), in which area(s) was he most consistent?  Explain why.  And in which areas was he most inconsistent and why?  

Blog response due by Wednesday, October 26 by class.  Your total answer for both questions above should be a minimum of 400 words.  


Thomas Jefferson: The paradoxical Founding Father who left an imprint on Long Island | TBR News Media

September 12

Blog #146 – Oral Interviews on 9/11/01

This past weekend, we commemorated the 21st anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history.  Many people remember where they were when they first heard about this traumatizing event and have vivid memories of watching the events unfold.  But since you were born after the attacks, you’ve only heard about it in stories and learned about it through videos.  However, one of the ways historians learn about recent events that they haven’t lived through is through oral interviews of people who lived through the events either directly or indirectly.

Explore 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan | Museums & Galleries

Subject: The 9/11/01 terrorist attacks and the days afterwards.

Suggested equipment: paper and pen/cil for notes; suugest that you use a phone to record the interview.


  1. Get permission to take notes / record interview.
  2. You can use the questions below or add more / different questions – try to make questions that elicit more than a “yes” or “no” answer. You can always ask follow-up questions for clarification, explanation.
  3. Keep eye contact, nod and smile at appropriate times.
  4. Thank them for their time after you’re done. Also, ask them if they’d like a written transcript of the interview. Provide them w/ one if they say yes.  (For this assignment, you can direct them to the blog website:

Potential questions

  1. What is your name? How old were you on 9/11?
  2. What is your first memory of when you first heard about the attacks? What kind of conclusions did you come to about the planes crashing into the buildings (did you at first think it was an accident or was it something worse)? Why?
  3. Where were you when the attacks happened? What were other peoples’ reactions to the attacks?
  4. Have you ever been to New York City or Washington D.C.? If so, how did that affect your reactions to the attacks?  If not, how did the attacks alter / change your views of the cities and their inhabitants?
  5. Did you know anyone in the cities? If so, did you try to contact them to see if they were o.k.?  What was the conversation like?
  6. If you were stranded in another city after 9/11, how did you cope with being away from family?
  7. What were other peoples’ reactions like in the days after the attacks?
  8. Could you describe your most vivid memory of that day, 9/11?
  9. How did life change for you in the immediate aftermath of the attacks?
  10. What do you remember of the media coverage of the attacks?
  11. What did you think of President Bush’s address later that night? (Show them the transcript here or video below.)
  12. How did life change for you and your family in the weeks and months immediately after 9/11?
  13. What are your opinions about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Explain.
  14. Now that it’s been over 20 years since the attack, how do you think America has changed since that day? Why?

Your job:

Share a minimum of five questions and answers on Blog #146 (300 words minimum) and include your personal reaction to the interview and the shared memories of 9/11/01 (100 minimum).  If you interview more than one person for this blog, please indicate the persons’ names.

Blog due by Tuesday, Sept. 20 by class.

Link to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum –

September 1

Blog #145 – Columbus Day – what are your thoughts?

Christopher Columbus is credited with having discovered the New World in 1492, but not necessarily America (even though a lookout on his ship, Rodrigo, claimed that he saw land first).  How people interpret this fact is the subject of intense historical and cultural debate across the world.  The day honoring the discovery, October 12, is a national holiday, but for some historians and cultures, this day is marked as one when Spanish imperialism and genocide of the Native Americans began.

Those who want to discredit Columbus Day usually start with the wave of violence, slavery and genocide of the Native Americans that began after his “discovery.”  On the island of Hispanola (Haiti / Dominican Republic), the sailors left there after his first voyage were tasked with finding gold and silver and soon tried to put to work the natives of the island.  In subsequent voyages, he searched Central and South America for gold, and the communicable diseases like smallpox and measles that the Europeans had would also wipe out – intentionally or not – the Native populations.  Conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro exploited divisions among the ruling tribes, Aztecs and Incas respectively, to conquer vast empires.  It’s estimated that something like 80% of the 45-100 million Native Americans (historians disagree – a defender claimed that there were only 8.5 million Natives in all of the Americas when Columbus arrived) who lived in the New World were wiped out by disease, war, and famine brought on by discovery.  Critics have claimed that the holiday should be renamed “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” to honor all the Native Americans past and present.  In the Zinn section, he outlines the systematic destruction of the Arawak people and how they were eliminated through forced slavery, mining, and diseases.

Here’s John Oliver’s take on Columbus Day:

But was this all Columbus’ fault? His defenders say, of course not. Diseases act in random ways and are influenced by many things including stress, food (or lack thereof), poverty and other cultural or economic factors. Discovery could have brought some of these conditions on, but they weren’t necessarily the primary cause. A defender of Columbus stated in his piece that there were already different diseases running rampant throughout the Native population before Columbus’ arrival. Columbus is also given credit for having been a visionary, having convinced the Spanish monarchs to provide him with three ships to sail the Atlantic in search of a newer, quicker route to Asia around the earth. In fact, Columbus failed in his attempt to find that quicker trade route to Asia. It would be Magellan who would circumnavigate the globe. And, Columbus is being blamed for what came in his wake – the Spanish conquistadors, the destruction of Native peoples, and even the African slave trade since that was linked with the opening up of the New World. Could this attack on Columbus also be a remnant of the Black Legend that grew to fantastical proportions as exaggerated by English Protestants as a way of discrediting the Spanish Catholics? Too much blame, much too much indeed, to put on one man’s shoulders.

Another way of looking at this is that when we celebrate Columbus Day, we celebrate America. Should we acknowledge both the good and the bad that come with America / Columbus? Or is it more patriotic to revel in America in a “Team America” way with unquestioning loyalty? Or, as the video below discusses, Columbus is a myth that we have embraced. Is this something that we should jettison?

Questions to consider: 1. Do we keep Columbus Day as is (meaning that it’s an official government / bank holiday) or do we acknowledge Columbus Day with a solemn reminder of what happened to the Native Americans afterwards?

2. Or do we pitch Columbus Day in favor of celebrating “Indigenous People’s Day”? Why? Or is there another option? If so, explain.

3. Would you be interested in finding out if our school board / local city / village governments officially celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?  And should we – if we feel strongly enough about this – ask them to consider changing it?  Why or why not?  

Please use specific examples from the summer readings (and if you want to go down the Columbus rabbit hole, there’s a pdf in Schoology called Columbus Comparison – Shweikart vs. Zinn that compares a conservative historian’s and a Marxist professor’s take on Columbus).

300 words minimum due by Friday (9/9) by class.

Here’s an account of Detroit’s first celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day –

An article arguing for keeping Columbus Day –

A video on why we celebrate Columbus Day (some good reasons about the history of Columbus Day):

The Breakfast Club’s discussion of Columbus Day – Why Native Americans Want to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and not Columbus Day.

May 27

Blog #144 – Selma

I hope that you enjoyed the chance to see Selma, a moving drama about the events leading up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the piece of legislation seen as the culmination of the Civil Right Movement (CRM) in the 1960s.

This particular article is written by an historian who thinks the movie is flawed b/c it omits a key scene or the reason behind why King turned back at the Edmund Pettis Bridge days after Bloody Sunday (when the original marchers were attacked and broadcast on TV).

Answer the following question: 

1. I’d like you to read it and tell me whether or not you agree with the historian and explain why this makes the movie flawed or not flawed.

Pick from TWO of the following:

2. The movie doesn’t try to show King as a hero.  In fact, it shows his flawed marriage with Coretta and his infidelity and how it had affected their lives.  Give your thoughts on the portrayal of the King marriage.

3. The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover director are shown as creepy, invasive, and abusive.  They wiretapped the members of the CRM, they manufactured evidence to show King’s infidelity, and tried to prove that Malcolm X and King were communists.  What are your thoughts on the abuses of power by the FBI and Hoover?

4. Some historians, particularly those who have worked with President Johnson, have criticized the movie for not showing a more sympathetic Johnson (who was shown wanting to work more on his Great Society – War on Poverty and the Vietnam War which went barely mentioned).  Anti-racist activists have criticized a sympathetic Johnson as taking away accolades from King, a black man, and giving more credit to the President, a white man, for a pivotal piece of legislation, the Voting Rights Act.  Which portrayal do you think should have been shown?  Why?

5. Draw some comparisons to Hidden Figures and Selma.  They can be favorable or unfavorable to either or both.  Explain your reasoning for the comparisons (minimum of 2).

May 27

Blog #143 – Hidden Figures

This film is a stirring film about the intersection of math and history and how math conquers all (rejoice, my math teacher friends!).  The story portrays the struggles of Dorothy Vaughn, NASA’s first African American supervisor; Katherine Johnson, the math expert on the John Glenn flightImage result for hidden figures review and also instrumental in the moon landing; and Mary Jackson, NASA’s first female African American engineer.  It is startling to see how Jim Crow racism was shoved in the face of these strong women, typified in Katherine’s struggle to maintain her dignity while sprinting across NASA’s campus to visit the only “colored” bathroom nearby.  Furthermore, the women of the West Computing Room have to deal with the intersectionality of both racism and sexism since they are women of color.  With Dorothy’s leadership, they are able to carve out a niche in the very male-dominated computing field.

In some ways, this is a film about progress: Civil Rights progress, gender progress, and also technology’s relentless march forward.  This is shown by the real film clips of Civil Rights protests occurring in 1961 and 1962.  We also see progress as women make strides into the male-dominated fields of computers and engineering.  Almost all of the white male characters at NASA are figurative clones, wearing white shirts, dark pants, and thin dark ties.  Occasionally, we might see a flash of color on Paul Stafford’s tie (Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory), but for the most part, all of the white men have the same uniform and haircuts.  That’s why the women of color stand out, not just in their attire but because of their skin color.  We see technology’s progress, however much it is double-sided, when Katherine temporarily loses her job as a “computer” in the Space Task Group when Dorothy finally gets the IBM Main frame computers online, a machine that can do 24,000 calculations a second.  This machine makes the women of both the East (white) and West (Black) Computing Rooms obsolete.  Only when the computer spits out different landing coordinates for John Glenn’s return to Earth right before launch does Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), NASA’s head of the Space Task Group, bring Katherine back in to confirm the computer’s numbers.

There was an outstanding moment near the end of the film when news of John Glenn’s orbit is released, and all Americans, regardless of skin color or gender, are united in their worries over the fate of Glenn (aImage result for hidden figures reviewnd by extension, America’s space program and maybe even its prominence in the Cold War).  Scenes show black and white Americans standing in front of a store front watching the TV reports about the peril Glenn faced as his capsule threatened to burn up on re-entry (an aside: imagine this dramatic scene of a nation gripped by a similar incident today – how would Americans be tuning into the progress of such an incident?  Certainly not standing on a street watching a TV).  Another scene showed Americans parking their cars and listening to their radios, staring up at the sky, looking for a fleeting glimpse of Glenn’s capsule, even though it was going to splash down in the Bahamas.  These scenes showed a united America, hoping and praying for the successful return of one of our golden boys, the Mercury 7 astronauts.  These scenes are also a way of showing how little militancy there is to this story of racial advancement and integration.  The most powerful scenes in the film are ones in which characters stand up for themselves or right the wrongs of our sordid past.  This is not a criticism of this film.  It doesn’t need to be angry about the past. In fact, this film emphasizes the women of the film and to dwell on America’s sad racial history isn’t what this film is about.  It’s about transcending that history.

I think that one of the larger question that everyone should be asking themselves is how did this story not make it into the history books?  It has great human drama, excitement, daring, perseverance, and a thrilling conclusion.  The other question is how many other hidden and forgotten stories are out there, waiting to be told?   If these ladies, who were such an extraordinary part of this story to send Americans into space, can be forgotten and shunted to the side for over 60 years, where are the rest of these stories?  One thing to keep in mind is that by telling these hidden stories of people / women of color, we as historians do not have to pick and choose to eliminate stories of white participants, but to include them all.    History doesn’t have to be like a pie to be carved up into smaller and smaller sections but like a tapestry that continues to be weaved into a more complete picture.


  1. Explain how the title “Hidden Figures” has different layers of meaning for this film and time period.
  2. Provide at least 2 specific examples of Jim Crow discrimination or racism perpetrated by the white characters and how they affected Katherine, Mary, and / or Dorothy.
  3. This is a story of overcoming challenges that white society put in the way of our main characters.  How did all three women overcame these obstacles.
  4. How did sexism affect Dorothy’s, Mary’s, and Katherine’s careers?  Provide specific examples.
  5. How does the Civil Rights Movement play as the backdrop for the advancing fight against the Cold War’s space race?  Provide examples.

Image result for hidden figures review

 350 words minimum for your total answer.  Due by class on Friday, June 3.  

May 25

Extra Credit – The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, focuses on the members of Alpha Company as they hump across Vietnam and also how they dealt with civilian life (“Speaking of Courage”). 

1. The things that the soldiers carried in battle were not just physical things but mental / emotional as well.  Henry Dobbins wore his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck as a comforter.  But after the war is over and done with, the soldiers, like Lt. Cross, carry guilt and pain around with them.

2. The novel is also about truth, especially with the story, “How to Tell a True War Story,” which seems contradictory in many cases.  But maybe that’s what the truth really is in a war-time environment – unclear.

3. The novel also captures loneliness and isolation experienced by the American soldiers while in the Vietnamese jungle.  Though the soldiers are surrounded by their comrades in arms, many don’t feel a connection to each other.  Could this be because they’ve been drafted into a war they don’t want to fight?  Or that war is the most loneliest experience – do or die on the battlefield?

4. How does shame or the idea of letting another person down motivate Tim and other soldiers in the stories?

“They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment.”

Pick two of the four topics to write about and also include a brief assessment of the book. 

300 words minimum for your total response.  Due by Tuesday, May 31st by class.  


Image result for tim o'brien the things they carried pdf

February 9

Blog #142 – En-Gendering the Spanish American War

Throughout the year, we use different lens with which to analyze certain events – we can analyze events or people’s actions through an economic lens or a political lens or a social / cultural lens.  During our Reconstruction unit, we used a racial lens to look at how Reconstruction policies affected free Blacks.  Now, we turn to American imperialism and instead of analyzing American foreign policy, or our relationship with other nations, through a diplomatic lens or a commercial lens, we are using the lens of gender to explore the Spanish American War.  This angle was originally presented by historian Kristin Hoganson in 1998.  To help you answer the questions raised by this blog, you’ll need to have read the article, “En-Gendering the Spanish American War”.

The Image-Makers' Arsenal in an Age of War and Empire, 1898–1899: A Cartoon Essay, Featuring the Work of Charles Bartholomew (of the Minneapolis Journal) and Albert Wilbur Steele (of the Denver Post) |

The question that this gender lens attempts to ask is, is there another way of looking at the causes of the Spanish-American War?

First, some context for Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the war.  He was part of a generation of Americans who were raised on glorious tales of Civil War gallantry told by the veterans of the war.  His generation of men aspired to have their own fight where they could test their courage and honor, and the Spanish American War provided such a chance without the grizzly slaughter of four years of a civil war.  Also, TR’s father had not fought in the Civil War being too busy making money.  Furthermore, TR grew up as a very sickly, asthmatic child who was very fragile until he reinvented himself in his 20s out on the Great Plains in North Dakota raising cattle in the summers.  It’s likely he never thought that when he was a boy listening to stories of valor at Gettysburg would he get a chance to do the same thing and face an enemy with bullets flying at him.  Lastly, when the war started, TR resigned his post in the McKinley administration as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to form his own militia unit for the war which was dubbed by the press, “the Rough Riders” but he called this militia unit the Children of the Dragon’s Blood.  TR would also later go on to defend what he would call “the strenuous life” which included playing manly sports, continual exertion, challenging nature through hunting and exploration, cleaning up corruption, busting trusts, and waving the ultimate symbol of his manhood, his “big stick” in the international arena.

So why did America come to the defense of the Cubans in 1898? The article lists the following possible reasons:

  • commercial rewards of empire
  • an extension of a global Manifest Destiny
  • a quest for naval bases
  • humanitarian concerns for the Cubans
  • a chance to enact some Christian “uplift”
  • glory
  • revenge for the destruction of the Maine
  • motivated by yellow journalism

The World from New York, New York on March 9, 1898 · Page 1

But the article proposed another cause – a crisis of upper and middle class white manhood.  There seemed to be threats to traditional notions of manhood all around – the creature comforts of an industrial America were making men “soft” and “sluggish”; making money no matter what seemed to corrode the manly sense of honor and integrity; men lost their jobs, their self-respect, and their independence and vitality because of the Depression of 1893; but possibly most shocking was the rise of the “New Woman” who wanted the right to vote and participate in politics.  In this new era, women’s virtue was superior to men’s because look at all of the economic, social, and political problems that men’s “virtue” had caused from 1865-1898 that the Progressive Era would try to solve when it occurred a few years later.   I mean, let’s remember that women were leading the reformist charge during that era.

Let’s take a look at another cartoon from this time period.  Here’s a cartoon from Puck. Spanish-American War 1898 Namerican Cartoon By Louis Dalrymple From Puck 1898 Urging War With Spain To Save Cuba Poster Print by (18 x 24): Posters & Prints

The caption reads, “The duty of the hour – to save her not only from Spain but from a worse fate.”  After reading this article, I’d like you to interpret this cartoon through the gendered lens mentioned in the article.

Your job – answer the following questions:

  1. Do you agree with this gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish American War?  Why or why not?
  2. What is a strength of using this lens?  What is a weakness?  Explain.
  3. Interpret the cartoon above of the Cuban woman in a frying pan (or the one below of the Rough Riders) using the gender lens.   Describe in detail how you can use gender to interpret different aspects of the cartoon.

A minimum of 400 words total for all three answers.  Due by class on Friday, February 11.

Spanish American War Political Cartoon High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

An article on how the Span-Am War led to American empire –

An analysis of the American / British alliance that grew out of the Span-Am War as shown in cartoons –

December 9

Blog #141 – Reconstruction Historiography

You’re probably wondering, what in the world is historiography?  How different is it from history itself?  Well, in essence, it’s the history of the history of a topic or time period.  Historiography analyzes how history has been written in the past and how different interpretations of events.  For instance, historians in the 1850s would look at the events of the American Revolution differently than historians in the 1950s and those in 2020.  Each historian is shaped by their own biases and time period – for instance, if a historian wrote during a time period where there was economic turmoil and depression, those current events might likely shape how that historian views older events.  Also, the study of American history before the 1950s had been predominantly a white male enterprise which only focused primarily on political, economic, and diplomatic topics, but since the 1950s and the Civil Rights Movement, more and more female historians and historians of color entered the field who showed a light on peoples’ stories that hadn’t been told before by white male historians.  They also expanded the field of history to include social, cultural, and women’s histories.  Here is a quote on the importance of historiography:

“Historiography allows us to understand the wide range of historical interpretations and how differing perspectives have shaped the representations of historical fact. It helps us adopt a more critical lens in understanding history as relative, as a subject that has been manipulated by those telling it and reclaimed by those who have participated in it. It encourages to seek out the biases in historical accounts and understand the subjective nature of historical writing.” (citation).

So, the period of Reconstruction is one that had been dominated by a racist view of the leading historians of the time period until the 1950s.  Essentially, it was written from a white Southerner point of view, and Reconstruction was seen as a tragic era where Southern whites were the victims of incompetent Blacks and corrupt white Republicans.  Early Black historians like William Wells Brown and George Washington Williams writing in the 1870s and 1880s saw the period as tragic because the freedmen had been elevated beyond their previous status without proper preparation: “The government gave him [the freedmen] the statute-book when he ought to have had the spelling book; placed him in the Legislature when he ought to have been in the school-house.” (Williams).  They thought that the establishment of public schools in the South was one of the only good things to come out of Reconstruction.Opinion | The Lost Promise of Reconstruction - The New York Times

One fictional work that influenced the upcoming Dunning School of Reconstruction (see video below) was the popular novel, The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon in 1905.  It was an “unabashed celebration of the Ku Klux Klan” that saved the South from Radical Republicans’ attempt to “Africanize” the South.  This novel served as the basis for the hugely popular film, Birth of a Nation, released in 1915 to wide acclaim and massive audiences.

In the old school or William Dunning interpretation, Reconstruction was a miserable failure that blundered in giving freedmen their rights (which they weren’t ready for for a variety of reasons, but usually racist theories about intelligence and human nature), but Andrew Johnson and the Klan were portrayed as the heroes of the era because they tried to ease the country back together painlessly (Johnson) and pushed for restoration of home rule (Klan).   Reconstruction governments were filled with scalawags and carpetbaggers who corrupted the states and raised taxes.  The true victims here during this period were Southern whites.  In this old school, we see a major critique of the federal government’s expansion and exercise of federal power over the states.  Behind much of this interpretation is the opinion that was popular at the turn of the 20th Century that white people of Anglo-Saxon (English) or Northern European descent were superior to the rest of the world.  We see a lot of this nonsense in the previously mentioned silent blockbuster from 1915, Birth of a Nation (link here if you wanna check it out), and the epic Gone With the Wind in 1939.  Part of the reason that this Dunning School of Reconstruction had such a lasting impact was that there was a huge push towards reconciliation in the late 19th Century, and William Dunning’s book on Reconstruction was full of heavily researched details which set the standard for Reconstruction histories going forward.

In the 20th Century, Black historians like W.E.B. DuBois depicted Reconstruction as a tragedy because of its failure to secure civil rights for African Americans throughout the country in his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction (link to the audio book on YouTube here).  While he stated that there were minor successes like education for Black Americans, he lamented the violence that racist whites inflicted upon Black Americans – lynching had reached peak numbers in the 1890s, and white society attributed this to inherent Black criminality (but we all know the real story).

Reconstruction in Alabama | Encyclopedia of Alabama

Later on in the mid to late 20th Century, under some of the new interpretations, especially the Progressive and Neo-Progressive / New Left historians in the 20th Century, the Dunning interpretation is flipped on its head.  Andrew Johnson was a racist who stood in the way of the idealist Radical Republicans who wanted to give freedmen their full and equal rights.  The Klan was not the protector of the South but a haphazard terrorist organization that kept blacks from voting and intimidated both whites and blacks in the South.  And the Southern state governments, Republican by nature, may or may not have helped out the freedmen.  One thing is certain: the governments, from the local (Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall) and state all the way up to the federal level (see the Grant administration) were corrupt.  Moral standards were low during this time period and many people (as we’ll see in one of our next units) are in it to make a quick million or two.  Here is an extended interview with historian Eric Foner on Reconstruction who wrote the most influential book on Reconstruction in the past 40 years (also one of my favorite living historians).


Your job: Discuss the importance of historiography, and think about whether or not Reconstruction was a success of a failure.  Use your notes, readings of primary sources and the textbook, articles and videos (Reconstruction: The Revolution That Failed among others) to back up your thoughts on this topic.

Due Wednesday, December 15 by class.  Your response should be a minimum of 300 words.