Category Archives: 2016 election

Final American history 2016

siege-of-constantinople

Siege of Constantinople: The capture of Constantinople “blocked” the Silk Road.

95theses

The 95 Theses: The Reformation set off religious wars.

3sisters

The Three Sisters: Europeans wanted Native American land

 

I had the dubious distinction of teaching American history, Pre-Columbus to 1800 in the fall quarter (the Pacific Northwest is on the quarter system; courses are 5 credits per, and 3 courses is a full load for 10 weeks). In my syllabus, the election fell on the week we were discussing the Federalist papers and the formation of the Constitution. Lucky me, to have to explain the Electoral College on election night. This quarter, this year, this century thus far: all hot messes. I find it more and more difficult to teach the history of the US when I feel as though we are in very real danger of witnessing the end of the Republic.

Perhaps the most chilling aspects of this election cycle were the triumph of propaganda on television news and on the Internet and the vehemence of the propagandists’ steadfast followers. From my perspective, this unfortunate mix of ignorance and manipulation will only get worse when the children affected by the “No Child Left Behind” testing frenzy and other politicization of education reach voting age (very soon). My students who are directly out of high school (or still in high school and attending community college through Washington State’s “Running Start” program), show an alarming inability to think independently or critically. They have been tested into obedience. Since kindergarten, this generation has been told that there are correct and quantifiable answers for everything.

The liberal arts are an antidote to that kind of rigid thinking. Since I am a Kool-Aid swilling member of the cult of liberal arts and critical thinking, I could not let my students leave my class with the same level of zombiedom they entered with. (If I left the class for a moment to go to the loo or deal with an interruption, they were perfectly quiet when I returned. It is spooky and unnatural.) So, I wrote the final exam for my course with this liberal arts sensitivity in mind. I will receive the same answers as I would have if I had phrased the questions in the usual history speak, but I made it much harder by requiring independent judgment and freedom of thought. Also, to complete the exam, the students need to employ more than just critical thinking, narrative history method, and study habits. The formula requires thinking more suited to the physical sciences (and law) than the liberal arts. In essence, they have to recognize a faulty equation, fix it, and solve for two variables. Yes, My history exam is algebraic. Math is a liberal art. (So there, troll who laughed at my liberal arts education and told me to pick up a science book—the physical sciences ARE the liberal arts, ye wee numpty.)

I welcome feedback in the form of constructive criticism, reasoned and civil discourse, honest and helpful suggestions, and penetrating questions. To head off the first criticism, I fully prepared the students for this from day one and held two review sessions in which I gave them the answers. We also had mini listening and reading workshops during the quarter. My course is designed as Atlantic history integrating social, political, intellectual, environmental, and cultural history. I “race” and “gender” the master narrative and count Native American tribes as sovereign nations in commerce with Europeans.

coastal-plain

The Fall Line dictated the size of any agricultural labor force.

tjslaveadvert

Racial construction created an easily identifiable caste of unfree agricultural workers.

____________________________________________________

 

Final Exam

History 146: North America Pre-Columbus to 1800

Tacoma Community College

December 2016

Rather than give you a traditional final exam, I want you find the habit of questioning all assertions for logical consistency, historical accuracy, and intentional manipulation. This is now your civic duty. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

As we have gone over in class and in the review on Dec. 1 in the final class of the quarter, please follow the instructions carefully, and then upload your answers to this page in one document file.

Assignment:

Much of the news coverage this autumn surrounding the election of 2016 was more akin to emotional assertion and opinion than factual reportage. The situation was so bad that the Oxford English Dictionary, the record of the English language, added the hyphenated word “post-truth” to the official lexicon. Transparency and effective journalism are necessary in order maintain an informed electorate. When opinionated emotion and supposition rule over fact-based reporting and reasoned discourse, democracy itself is in danger.

Too often, a non-expert on television seeks to end discourse with a classic logical fallacy, the appeal to authority. Especially for college students studying history, critical examinations of assertions of authority are necessary. The most common attempt to justify a position has been, “America was founded on the principle of _____________!” Fill in the blank, and this statement seems to carry a great deal of weight. But, as we have discussed many times in class, this statement is far from complete, is oversimplified, and is, in essence, incorrect, no matter how one fills in the blank. Which America? Which founding? Is there a principle or just an expedient method? The word “the” is most obviously problematic because there are certainly more than one “founding” principles.

Your assignment is to complete the statement, to fill in the blank, explain your choice, and connect it to the United States c. 1804. However, you must first change the statement so that it is accurate. “America” is a hemisphere, and, in the time period covered by History 146, parts of “America” were claimed by at least five European powers and thousands of Native American tribes. To fill in the blank, you will have to specify which America you mean. British North America? The Early American Republic? The Revolutionary Era? New England, the Middle Colonies, Tidewater, or the South? Jefferson’s America? Hamilton’s? You will also have to verify that “founded” is the correct verb. Is “coalesced” a more appropriate term? Also, was there actually a principle involved, or can you argue that a system of labor procurement was in play?

Similarly, if you answer using the ideas of the any of the Enlightenment “Founders,” please make sure you articulate the fact that the ideas swirling around both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were contradictory. If you answer the question for Jefferson, you need to acknowledge the Federalists and vice versa. If you answer with any freedom mentioned in these documents, be prepared to explain the history of that idea on this continent and/or in Europe or from Native Americans. One very large and flexible answer is “commerce”; one especially difficult answer is “hypocrisy.” Remember, Virginia and Massachusetts were two very different societies from the beginning, as were the Caribbean and Louisiana.

I expect you to construct the statement in two different ways and write at least four pages, double-spaced, 12-point Times or Times New Roman for each statement, about 1000 words per answer.

What I want is for you to pull on a thread in the history we have studied this quarter and explain how that subject contributed to the identity of the nation in 1800. In addition, you should be prepared to discuss certain aspects of correlation or opposition to the topic you pick. For example, many have suggested the answer with slavery. I think that is a good answer. You must give a short narrative history of slavery, explain why it answers the “founding” part of the question, and include a discussion of race formation. Without discussing race formation, you cannot give an accurate answer to the answer of how slavery was foundational. True, it was an economic system, but the social and political realities of race were solidly integrated into the national character by 1800 as much as the South relied on the economic benefits of a captive workforce. As we have discussed, there are many, many ways to complete the statement. Pick two, describe how each evolved, and explain why they are so important to the concept “America” as to be considered foundational.

An “A” answer would include:

  • An accurate reformulation of the statement “America was founded on the principle of ______________”;
  • A historically accurate answer (for example, “capitalism” is not historically accurate);
  • An accurate timeline (in terms of cause and effect, not an absolute date timeline) of the principle/institution/concept/activity you choose to explain;
  • A cogent explanation of how and why your answer was manifest in the politics, culture, social structure, or even geography of the United States, c. 1804;
  • A successful demonstration that you use a dictionary to look up words you do not know;
  • Evidence of hard work and engagement with the substance of the course;
  • A demonstration of critical and lateral thinking. Outside the box is good too. Just tie it all together in a killer conclusion.

You are NOT required (or permitted) to do any of the following:

  • Completely answer the question. That would be impossible as an undergraduate or in 4 pages.
  • Use any materials extraneous to the class. Use ONLY lecture/discussion notes, PowerPoints (up on Canvas), your textbook, and additional readings either handed out in class or posted on Canvas.
  • Use footnotes or citations. If you quote the Declaration of Independence or the Sermon on the Arabella, simply identify the document and the speaker. For example, “John Winthrop called the new society ‘a cittie upon a hill’ in his sermon on the Arabella.” No notes required.
  • Use the thinking of someone else. I want you to work your way through the answer yourself.
  • Panic. This is doable because you are smart and able.
  • Plagiarize. This is doable because you are fierce and competent.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 election, American history, Environment, Higher Education, Ideas, Intellectual History, Pedagogy, Resistance, teaching, Thinking, US Constitution

Letter To the Electoral College

Here is my email to 122 electors. Feel free to copy and share. 

Dear Elector,

My name is Dr. Kate Sampsell-Willmann. I am from Baltimore, but I currently live in a town in Washington State that is suffering from extreme poverty. 

I am a professional historian and teacher. The US, the first democracy after the fall of Rome, is the only democracy in the world with an Electoral College. Its purpose, as stated by Alexander Hamilton, is to protect the Republic from a demagogue who would tear this nation apart, someone who is unschooled in the requirements of the task and who would act to benefit only one sector of this diverse union. 

There are many divisive factions in America, a state of affairs also feared by those who wrote the Constitution. There always will be. Today, we call these lines of difference “culture wars.” Different issues divided us in 1787, but the disagreement was equally harsh. The three branches of government were designed to check and balance one another. With openly political, and worse, patronage, appointments to the Supreme Court, this balance of power may not operate as a check any longer. Viewed in context with the Senate’s refusal, on partisan grounds, to confirm a Justice whom they had previously deemed competent, the checks on power seem poised to fall. If one principle of the Constitution falls, what will guard rest? Need there ever be elections again?

The Electoral College is the last defense to keep the basic design of the US government in tact. This is not a partisan plea; this is a historian’s lament. No one person or group is meant to have complete power in the US. Please, go back and read the Federalist Papers (esp. 68); go back and look at Judge Garner’s approval by this same Senate; ask yourself whether it is plausible that the African American vote was suppressed in swing states, in any state. If any of these gives you pause, then please fulfill your Constitutional role and act as a brake on the forces of prejudice and hatred. In this case, the winner of the popular vote is the best choice for stable and competent government. 

While many protest, their action is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Your decision to attend to the popular vote and your original mandate under the Constitution is our last and only hope to avoid the iceberg. 
Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate and respect the role you serve in our electoral process.

Sincerely,

Kate Sampsell-Willmann, JD, PhD

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 election, Intellectual History, teaching, US Constitution

Time to Rally

Yes, I have a friend who is a Republican. I was party to a conversation on his Facebook feed about what Republicans shall do should HRC get the Democratic nomination. He loathes Trump, and according to his circle, HRC does not share the same principles, so no votes would be going her way either. Everyone is talking about writing a name in. To do so when faced with potentially the biggest threat to our Republic is selfish at best. I won’t say what it is at worst.

No, many of use cannot have it exactly the way we want it. I wonder how many of my fellow Democrats really, really wanted John Kerry (or Michael Dukakis) for president. We on the left have had to face many disappointments over these years, yet, for the most part, we go on trying to govern civilly even in the face of brutal racism and near-treasonous obstructionism from the Teabags. We soldier on. I told those Republicans (who happen to be soldiers) that in the face of the threat to our nation, complaining about not getting what one WANTS is childish and cowardly.

Well people, there are 2 threats to our Republic. We in this nation, whether we accept it or not, have an opportunity to change the path our nation takes. If for no other reason, Bernie Sanders’s remarkable success should show each person how every single citizen has power. We need to take these threats seriously, or the consequences will be dire. We can’t ask soldiers to fight this battle. We all have a part to play. We must stop Trump, and we must kick the Tea Party out of Congress.

Our divided nation is unique in one very important way; in the election of 1800 power transferred, for the first time in the West in 2000 years, from the party in office to the opposition without violent upheaval. In much of the world, such smooth functioning of government is rare. As Thomas Jefferson said upon his ascension to the presidency in 1801, “We are all Federalists; we are all Republicans.” Well, we are all Democrats; we are all Republicans. We cannot ask our  fellow citizens in the GOP to vote for someone they do not like without doing it ourselves.

I’ve been guilty of a bit of public complaining, OK whining, about how things have shaken out. It’s out of my system. Although I am genuinely sorry that a serious left-wing did not emerge victorious in the here and now, a movement has been born. This was never to be a revolution. Revolutions are bloody and swift. History has shown us that substantial and permanent political change takes more than one election cycle.

So let us make sure that sustained and progressive political change is what we will have. Commit to having a wider attention span than a primary election cycle. Identify and support every single Progressive candidate running for Congress and donate, phone bank, or knock on doors. Support the long shots; put all that passion to work to vote OUT every obstructionist who will hold our nation hostage to the tantrums of a few. Fill the Congress with responsible legislators.

Of equal importance is the need to defeat Donald Trump. His threat to America is real. Commit to swallow your need to get what you want; commit to skip the symbolism this time around; commit to be selfless and brave and unswerving. Commit to vote for whomever is the Democratic nominee for president on July 25. The enemy we face is far more serious than any single personal preference. W was bad enough; what Trump will do to this country, to our economy, to our foreign policy, to our culture is unthinkable. Don’t vote for someone this time; vote against Trump.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 election, Uncategorized