Archive for the ‘Lesson plans’ Category

“sort of a little biography”

A couple of months ago there was an article in my local paper that described a situation in a nearby middle school. The social studies teacher had included creating a newspaper advertisement for a runaway slave as one of the independent activities available to students for extra credit. Several parents objected and the principal ordered the teacher to remove the project from the list. As a former high school teacher of social studies (not in the district referred to) I found myself conflicted. I would really appreciate comments from readers about whether you think such a project is appropriate and acceptable.

SOME CONTEXT: From a historian’s point of view it has been very difficult to find primary sources in connection with the slave population. Clothing is not likely to exist as it was usually worn out and discarded. Written accounts by enslaved workers in colonial America and later in the United States are rare. Few slaves could read or write; teaching them to do so was a crime in several states. References in plantation account books were usually limited to the sex and age of the slave, perhaps the name, date of acquisition, and the purchase or sale price. Census listings were equally limited. There are precious few details about how enslaved workers looked and dressed, what their lives were like, what skills they possessed.
Ironically ads for runaway slaves often provide answers to these questions because owners not only posted a reward for the return of the “absconded,” a word that was commonly used, but often provided a description of the runaway: color, height and stature, clothing worn and other information. Historians have been working to create archives of advertisements for runaway slaves. Joshua Rothman, a historian at the University of Alabama has said: “They [owners] wanted to provide as much detail about their appearance, their life story, how they carried themselves, what they were wearing . . . Each one of these things [ads for runaway slaves] is sort of a little biography.”

Transcription of the ad: New London, May 16, 1768. Stolen or Run-away from the subscriber, on the 14th Instant (of May), a Negro Woman named SOBINER, between 30 and 40 Years of Age, of a slender Body, and middling Stature, talks good English, and can read well; carried off with her one homespun check’d Woolen Gown, one blue and white striped Linen Ditto, two Linen Shirts, and one Woolen Ditto, three check’d Aprons, two or three pair Woolen Stockings, one quilted Coat, one Side brown, the other striped, a red short Cloak, a chipt Hatt, a Pair white Woolen Mittins, a Cambric Handkerchief, several Caps, and sundry other Articles. Whoever takes up and secures said Negro, so that her Mistress may have her again, shall receive FOUR DOLLARS Reward, if found within twenty Miles of this Place, and FIVE DOLLARS if further, and all necessary Charges paid by LUCRETIA PROCTER. N.B. All Persons are forbid entertaining or concealing said Negro under Penalty of the Law.

I chose the ad above because it was placed in a Connecticut newspaper and shows that slavery was more common in the North than we are likely to admit. And I believe that the list of particular clothing in the ad for Sobiner is due to the fact that the slave owner was a woman.

Back to the use of runaway ads in the social studies curriculum. While readers may have mixed feelings about a student-created ad as a project, I hope that there would be little objection to a teacher’s using several ads as a topic for discussion and critical evaluation in class. Students could look up the numbers of runaways, discuss motives, the risks involved, destinations, penalties for those who helped them, the likelihood of capture, etc. And they could evaluate the ads as primary sources of information: are they accurate, representative, useful, historically significant?

This SITE is the source for the quotation and provides information on this subject as does this SITE. The above ad is one of the many compiled for a PROJECT by students at Wesleyan.

posted August 27th, 2018 by Janet, comments (5), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Connecticut,Lesson plans,Research,Runaway slaves

“A Lady’s Adieu to her Tea Table”

Despite the fact that the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party has passed (December 16, see “A Pernicious Article of Commerce”), I could not resist posting this poem “A Lady’s Adieu to her Tea Table” that appeared in the Virginia Gazette, January 20, 1774. I discovered it on The City University of New York, La Guardia Community College website: “Women’s Leadership in American History,” which is supported by The New york Times and J. P. Morgan Chase. It was the basis for a lesson plan for 11th grade Social Studies. It would also be suitable for English classes. As a former teacher of 11th grade Social Studies who is totally committed to the idea of using primary source materials in history classes, I appreciate how interesting a couple of periods could be discussing the context and various elements of the poem.

Farewell the Tea Board, with its gaudy Equipage,
Of Cups and Saucers, Cream Bucket, Sugar Tongs,
The pretty Tea Chest also, lately stor’d
With Hyson and Congo and best Double Fine.
Full many a joyous Moment have I sat by ye,
Hearing the Girls’ Tattle, the Old Maids talk Scandal.
And the spruce Coxcomb laugh at – maybe – Nothing.
No more shall I dish out the once lov’d Liquor,
Though now detestable,
Because I’m taught (and I believe it true)
Its Use will fasten slavish Chains upon my Country,
And LIBERTY’s the Goddess I would choose
To reign triumphant in AMERICA.

I hope teachers among the readers of this blog will use the student handout and this document which are on pages 7 and 8 of the Leadership packet. Be sure to take a look at the other lessons using primary sources. A treasure trove of ideas, documents, and plans!

posted January 2nd, 2014 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Lesson plans,Primary sources,Reading old documents,Resistance to British

Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History month. Time for this blog to renew its commitment to focus on women during the nation’s founding and early years by providing readers with glimpses into their lives reported in their own words culled from the book In the Words of Women and other sources.

C-SPAN is expanding this focus by launching a two-year series on First Ladies, exploring their private lives as well as the public roles they played. Each episode of ninety minutes features one of the First Ladies, proceeding in chronological order. Season One debuted on Presidents Day 2013 (Feb. 18) and will continue on C-SPAN every Monday at 9pm ET until June 2013—fifteen programs in all covering Martha Washington through Ida McKinley. Season 2 will follow in the fall with the remaining first ladies.

Although the first two episodes—on Martha Washington and Abigail Adams—have aired already they can be viewed on the C-SPAN website. The format includes moderator Susan Swain with a panel of two experts, who answer questions and Pokies exchange views, interspersed with visuals, timelines, and maps, with commentary by other narrators. For Martha Washington, guests were presidential historian Richard Norton Smith and Patricia Brady author of Martha: An American Life. The program on Abigail Adams featured C. James Taylor, Editor-in-Chief of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as Edith Gelles, author of three wonderful books on the Adamses, and a particular favorite of mine. The producers have tried very hard to make these programs appealing as well as informative, providing context for viewers with a sketchy knowledge of the period represented. Personally, I feel the episodes are too long; an hour would be sufficient. Call-ins and tweets are included in the programs, token gestures to interactivity; I admit I have very little tolerance for this sort of voxpop. Nevertheless, I urge those with an interest in history, and women’s history in particular, to view this illuminating series.

The images are by Jone Johnson Lewis, adapted from those at the Library of Congress.

posted March 7th, 2013 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Lesson plans,Letter-writing,Washington, Martha

Tweeting: fun and a learning tool!

Earlier this month, on August 5 to be exact, the Massachusetts Historical Society celebrated the fourth year anniversary of posting line-a-day diary entries by John Quincy Adams on Twitter, beginning on that day. In his diary JQA described his long trip from the United States to St. Petersburg in 1809 where he served as the American minister to Russia. During his tenure he wrote daily comments on meetings with diplomats and friends, recreational walks, family matters, even the weather.

Although this diary is by a male and outside the time frame of this blog, there is something to be gleaned from the MHS project, especially for teachers. As a lesson in language arts and or history, a teacher could assign a primary source by a woman (from this blog or the book In the Words of Women) to a class and have students come up with a 140-character tweet based on the document. There is more to this task than meets the eye: students must read carefully, understand what is being said, and condense the essence into a short statement. Tweets can be shared and compared to conclude the lesson. Or the lesson could constitute an introduction to a topic suggested by the source. For example, this letter by Abigail Adams to her husband John in Philadelphia is an excellent entry point for a discussion of the activities of women during the Revolution.

[Boston July 31, 1777]You must know that there is a great Scarcity of Sugar & Coffe, articles which the Female part of the State are very loth to give up, especially whilst they consider the Scarcity occasiond by the merchants having Secreted a large Quantity. There had been much rout & Noise in the Town for several weeks. Some Stores had been opend by a Number of people & the Coffe & Sugar carried into the market & dealt out by pounds. … A Number of Females, some say a hundred, some say more, assembled with a cart & trucks, marchd down to the ware House [of merchant Thomas Boylston] & demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver. Upon which one of them Seazd him by his Neck & tossd him into the cart, upon his finding no Quarter, he deliverd the keys, when they tipd up the cart & dischargd him; then opend the warehouse, Hoisted out the Coffe themselves, put it into the trucks & drove off. … A large concourse of Men Stood amazd, Silent Spectators of the whole transaction.

In addition to devising a tweet for this letter, students could be directed to the Massachusetts Historical Society site where the manuscript version of the letter can be found and have a go at reading Abigail’s handwriting. These are wonderful exercises likely to involve students and others by providing not only information but a sense of immediacy surpassed only by time travel.

Dear reader: a challenge! Why not comment with a tweet of your own based on Abigail’s letter.

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