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Let’s talk about baseball…and history

“The American National Game of Baseball.” The 1862 World Series

The World Series is right around the corner and may provide an avenue to tap into students’ interest in sports to engage in a conversation about history. If you want to connect to the Civil War, currently in it’s sesquicentennial, you might have students look closely at this Currier and Ives depiction of the 1862 World Series and see if they notice anything different (i.e., the pitcher is pitching underhanded). To go deeper into the Civil War consider making use of resources in the primary source set, Baseball Across a Divided Society created by the Library of Congress.

New York boys playing baseball in an alley, 1910. Beginning in the 1890s there was increasing agitation for small parks and playgrounds to get the city’s children off the streets.

For industrialization in the early 20th century have students consider this Lewis Hines photo of children playing baseball in a new York City alley and how it contrasts with this one from around the same time of children playing baseball in Central Park. What do these two images tell us about society during this time?

What are some ways you tap into your students’ interests like sports, music, etc. to get them engaged about history? Tell us about it here.

Health, Youth and Beauty–Oh My!

Hinds skin cream ad

Ad: Hinds Honey and Almond Cream, ‘Don’t stare at me like that’ 1929

Today we have new commentary on advertisements from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

In searching through images to write a new blog, I wandered aimlessly through the thousands of ads that Roland Marchand expertly collected.  I amassed a list of at least twenty that were entertaining, astonishing, and thought-provoking or sometimes all three at once.  Ads for face creams, corsets, laundry services, laxatives, and cleaning products filled the pages but I remained stumped.  Which to write about and what to say?

Taking the advice of the expert History Project teachers I have watched over the years discuss strategies for engaging students with primary documents, I stood back and looked at the list as a whole.  I was struck by the obsession with health, youth, and beauty.  Unable to put my finger on exactly how to define this phenomenon, I turned to textbooks and articles to help answer my questions.  But they just did not get at the heart of what was happening in the 1920s.  Finally, I turned to my fellow History Project bloggers for help and it was Patricia Cohen’s post, From advertising to middle age that was ultimately the key.  She writes, “zeroing in on the physical body, the market whips up insecurities, creating a sense of inferiority, then sells the tools that promise to allay those fears.”  And this explains precisely the ads celebrating health, youth, and beauty in the carefree and liberating days of the interwar period.

For example, this 1929 ad for Hinds Honey and Almond Cream “Don’t stare at me like that…” features a husband and wife whose leisurely day at the beach.  Their outing is marred by the husband’s realization, “What’s the matter with your face?…Looks rough. Your face and neck used to be as smooth and young as your shoulders.”  The ad narrates the horrified response of his wife as she realizes “If he had noticed, what about the critical world? Was that why other men seemed less interested—why other women were no longer envious?”  Having established the problem, skin damage over time from exposure to the elements, the ad proceeds to provide the answer, in the form of Hinds Honey and Almond Cream that helps refresh skin exposed to the sun too long and even prevent sunburn.

His Empty Shoes

‘His Empty Shoes’, Lysol Disinfectant 1927

Advertisers of health products utilized the strategy of identifying a new insecurity their merchandise could solve.  For instance, Lysol Disinfectant’s 1927 ad “His empty shoes” is a startling and fear-producing ad. It advises mothers, “be sure—whatever may happen—that you have really done your best to protect your family against germ life.” Interestingly, this ad allows the reader to determine its meaning. For some, the empty shoes simply mean that at night, while children sleep, is the ideal time to ready their precious shoes for the next day of playing, doing one’s best to maintain healthy environments for children to grow and learn. For others, the empty shoes with laces untied, forlorn and forgotten, symbolizes the tragedy of losing a child.  The ad cautions mothers that this tragedy is avoidable if they use Lysol as part of their daily cleaning routine. Regardless of how the reader interprets the ad the end message remains the same: “have you done your best?”

Look here for more 1920s ads.

The Lincoln Douglas Debates

Lincoln Douglas Debates

Stephen A. Douglas, ca.1853

Today we feature another Civil War post from Luci Petlack, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

BACKGROUND: In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled on the infamous Dred Scott Decision. Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion claimed that people of color could never be American citizens and that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 were both unconstitutional as Congress had no right to interfere with the property of citizens, including slaves. As the ties loosely holding the country together weakened further, Americans began debating the meaning of this momentous decision. The most famous discussion occurred in a series of debates between incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas and small-town, lawyer Abraham Lincoln as they toured Illinois running for Senate in the 1858 Congressional election.

In these debates Douglas, a long-time advocate of popular sovereignty, argued that the Dred Scott decision still allowed for popular sovereignty. Douglas accused Lincoln of desiring racial equality and allowing marriage between the two races. Lincoln flubbed a response, but eventually proffered a complicated understanding of distinguishing the rights of the races. He believed that all people were created in the image of a supreme being and therefore had the same natural rights. He then explained civil rights, guaranteed by the federal government. Here, Lincoln claimed to believe that black men should have some civil rights, but not all (i.e. citizenship but not the right to vote). Lastly were states’ rights that should be determined by the individual states – pulling directly from constitution. His main example here was the right to marry. If the state of Virginia prohibits the marriage of African-Americans, then the federal government could not interfere. This delineation of rights is what brought Lincoln to the forefront of Republican politics on the eve of the Civil War.

Neither man claimed a victory in the debates. Douglas went on to win the Senate seat by a landslide, but this was not a loss for Lincoln as he had become a national figure and was available to run for president in 1860. These discussions created the leader who would take the country into and eventually win the Civil War.

How to use this image: When teaching the coming of the Civil War, the connections between the events occurring around the country and the political happenings often seem disconnected. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates provide a great way to connect the events of the 1850s with the rise and eventual victory of Abraham Lincoln. In 1858 a back country lawyer became a well-respected speaker and more firmly established his place as a Republican politician along with his stance against the expansion of slavery. From this discussion, we learn where Lincoln came from (i.e. how a black-horse candidate won the presidency) and why Southerners so immediately seceded upon his election.

Luci Petlack is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include black American history, race relations and the American Civil War. Her dissertation, “A Dilemma of Civil Liberties: Blacks under Union Military Control, 1861-1866,” looks at the effects of military occupation and martial law on black communities during the Civil War in Baltimore, Maryland; New Orleans, Louisiana and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Investigating the Past through Documentary Source Problems

“The traditional stay-at-home and mind-your-own-business policy laid down by [George] Washington was wise for a weak and struggling nation…”

–Henry Watterson, newspaper editor, interviewed in The New York Herald, June 22, 1898

Debra Schneider, social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School, comments on The Debate over the Philippines, 1898 – 1900, one of the many Documentary Source Problems created by Roland Marchand for his U.C. Davis students with modified versions for use in middle and high school class rooms.

I use this primary source investigation to introduce America’s imperialism at the end of the 19th century to my high school juniors in a U.S. history class. In fact, it was this documentary source problem that finally got me to teach this topic; these documents and the teaching methods were better than any others I had seen before then. I use documents from both the middle school and high school lessons, and guide the students with many questions from the middle school lesson.

Though it takes some work for students to make sense of the formal and old-fashioned language, this lesson never fails to intrigue and engage students with the powerful sentiments these documents express. Once we make sense of the documents’ meanings, we practice reading them aloud, to give expression and passion to the words. Students immediately identify the racism:  “Can we hope to close the flood-gates of immigration from the hordes of Chinese and the semi-savage races;”  the insincerity: “I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them;” how George Washington is being disrespected: “The traditional stay-at-home and mind-your-own-business policy laid down by [George] Washington was wise for a weak and struggling nation;” the pride: “We are taking our proper rank among the nations of the world,” and the abandonment of democratic principles: “You have no right at the cannon’s mouth to impose on an unwilling people your Declaration of Independence and your Constitution and your notions of freedom and notions of what is good.” The knowledge they construct with this lesson creates a good foundation for our study of American interventions for the rest of the 20th century.

As a way to have students “do history” we encourage you to consider using lessons from our collection of Documentary Source Problems. Each one includes background text,  one or more investigative or guiding questions, and some activities to help students analyze the document excerpts and form conclusions.  Let us know about your favorites!

Debra Schneider is a social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California, and a fellow of the U.C .Davis History Project and the Great Valley Writing Project.

 

Advertisements Capture Cultural Norms

McCall's Magazine, 1946

Today we have new commentary on advertisements from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

Advertisements are an excellent way to engage students in historical thinking as they provide an opportunity for students to identify historical events and ideas and analyze their meaning.  In particular, ads are a great way to discuss cultural norms.  One example from the Marchand Collection, is the 1946 advertisement for McCall’s Magazine featuring a mother reading Lives of Great Men to her adolescent son all the while the father, perhaps, perches high above them both.  The caption reads, “HE shapes the mind” while “SHE shapes the character.”  It echoes perfectly the 1940s and 1950s reinforcement of traditional gender roles that followed the turmoil of World War II and reflects the anxieties of the conflict between the US and Soviet Union.  Stability was paramount during the Cold War.  Both sides vied for control of newly emerging free nations and sought to present their path—communism or capitalism—as the clear choice for rule.  To ensure stability at home during this tenuous time, a culture of consensus or conformity asked the population to agree on traditional gender roles for men and women that celebrated women’s domesticity.  This ‘domestic containment’ confined women to the home where they were charged with creating a safe haven for the family.  Linking national security and traditional gender roles, the United States sought safety both abroad and at home.  Men and women worked together for a singular purpose.  As the ad states, “Man and woman are in partnership—each with an essentially different role to play in preparing an oncoming generation for the business of living.”  Domestic containment of the 1940s-1950s did not necessarily relegate women to a subservient position to their husbands.  Rather, it attempted to create a partnership–women as experts of the domestic realm, men as the authority of the public sphere.

In addition to domestic containment, the ad addresses the presence of specialist and self-help literature in the 1940s and 1950s.  The ad argues, “McCall’s is a magazine women really live by—and for that reason, a potent medium for moving ideas into women’s minds,” a sentiment shared by other advertisers and writers of popular help books of the era.  Magazines such as McCall’s and books such as Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care (1946) found a ready and willing audience of women searching for help in ‘professionalizing’ their role as wife and mother.  McCall’s Magazine guided “Women’s Thinking” as it served “her specialized interests in homemaking and family life” just as Dr. Spock appealed to women’s interest in child rearing.

Finally, the ad is also useful for reviewing important roles for women throughout US history.  Examples include republican motherhood, the cult of domesticity, and separate spheres.  Revolutionary ideas of republican motherhood are echoed here, as mothers (the purveyors of morality and responsibility) were tasked with creating good Republican citizens.  It also harks back to the cult of domesticity and separate spheres of the middle nineteenth century that gave women power and influence over the private sphere or the home.  Linking ideas across time helps students see patterns in history and aids information retention.

For more from Katharine Kipp, see Enlisting the Citizen Consumer in World War II

 

Manhood and Success

From the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality

Bradley and the "Culture of Personality" click on image to see full version

Douglas and the "Culture of Character" click on image to see full version

Commentary from Tim Yates, former History Project staff member: The Marchand Collection offers a wealth of images that can be used in the classroom to illustrate and prompt discussion of what cultural historians mean when they abstractly describe the shift from a inner-directed nineteenth-century culture of character to an other-directed twentieth-century culture of personality.    The socioeconomic causes of this shift also involved other abstract historical concepts such as the shift from producerism to consumerism, for which the Marchand Collection also provides useful illustrations beyond the ads discussed in this post.  While Douglas and Bradley are both products of the longstanding American emphasis on self-improvement, they are different historical types.  Douglas represents the successful inner-directed producer come industrialist who helped Americans overcome scarcity through factory production.  Expanding factory operations enabled the kind of industrial mass-production pioneered by Henry Ford in the early twentieth century.  The productivity of nineteenth-century middle-class men such as Douglas led to the emergence after 1900 of middle-class men such as Bradley, who increasingly found themselves selling mass-produced goods or doing other kinds of white-collar work in the office environments of large corporations or public bureaucracies.  Success in many of the jobs created by mass production and consumption required other-directed management of social impressions.  Advertisers and self-improvement promoters offered twentieth-century self-makers a range of new solutions for the changing circumstances, solutions that centered on personality enhancement.  Explore the Marchand collection for examples of advertising appeals to personality enhancement as well as images depicting the rise of mass production.  This chapter of American history raises other historical questions that the Marchand Collection might help elucidate.  How did middle-class American women experience of the cultural shift from character to personality and the underlying shift from a producer-oriented to a consumption-oriented economy?  When and how did working-class and ethnic-minority groups experience this new twentieth-century culture?  How did the rise of a mass-production and mass-consumption economy shape American politics over the course of the twentieth century?  How does the nineteenth-century emphasis on character influence our society today?  How does the more recent culture of personality influence your life?

MORE ABOUT THE IMAGES

Douglas and the Culture of Character: This advertisement for W.L. Douglas shoes vividly illustrates popular nineteenth-century American ideas about manhood and success.  The ad promotes W.L. Douglas shoes in an appeal emphasizing the qualities of Douglas the shoemaker, a self-made man sincerely dedicated to the craft he began learning it as a young child.  Cultural historian Warren Susman has argued that nineteenth-century America “was a culture of character” rooted in “producer values” that idealized thrift, discipline, work, morality, duty, citizenship, and reputation.  Americans considered these qualities prerequisites for true success.  Douglas has these qualities.  He contrasts both the nineteenth-century drunkard who weakly squandered money and became a slave to alcohol, and the confidence man, who spent his energies in criminal schemes hinging on the cultivation of false social impressions.  Douglas is a hard-working man who has achieved self-mastery by directing his energies inward to develop discipline.  He frequently spends his days in Boston thriftily purchasing his own supplies to eliminate the  middleman costs, which, the ad assures readers, his stores do as well.  Upon returning from Boston, he often works alone late into the night.  Relentlessly efficient and productive, Douglas is a sincere man of character, and character translates into affordable shoes with quality.

“Bradley” and the Culture of Personality: This 1922 ad for “Nerve,” a series of six pocket-sized self-improvement courses created by William G. Clifford and promoted by Fairfield Publishers, Inc., offers a new narrative of success, one that differs from the W.L. Douglas shoe ad in historically important ways.  Here the individual–a man named Bradley–is subjected to a new set of psychological demands for self-mastery conveying a new model of success.  In this ad the language of character has been replaced with the new language of what Susman identifies as emerging culture of “personality,” which generated new models of success and manhood emphasizing self-confidence, self-realization, and self-gratification, and celebrating the kinds of impression manipulation that formerly signaled the immorality of the nineteenth-century confidence man. The ad informs readers that Bradley, who once lacked self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, has become a man whose “vividness and charm” magnetically attract “favorable attention,” and a man consequently awarded with a $12,000-a-year job. Whereas the Douglas ad featured imagery of individual productivity, this ad shows Bradley walking into a room and commanding favorable attention.  Bradley is a success because he is well-liked and charming.  His self-improvement bears little or no resemblance to Douglas’s thrift, hard work, and long-honed skills at producing a purchasable good.  Instead, Bradley is a success because he has “gain[ed] the self-assurance that strongly impresses people,” “overcome nervousness,” developed “an impressive and winning personality,” and mastered the ability to “deal with ‘big’ people as easily” as easily as he interacts with “his closest friends” by learning to “dominate and control” both “business and personal conditions.”

SUGGESTED READING:
Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women:  A Study of Middle Class Culture, 1830-1870.
Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance:  A Cultural History of Advertising in America.
Roland Marchand, Advertising and the American Dream:  Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940.
Warren Susman, Culture as History:  The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (see especially “Personality and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture,” pgs. 271-285).

Timothy (Tim) Yates received his Ph.D.  in U.S. History in 2007 from U.C. Davis, where he worked for the History Project as a digitizer of images from Roland Marchand’s and Karen Halttunen’s teaching collections, a research assistant for summer programs, and a Teaching American History grant contributor.  Tim currently works as a consultant for ICF International analyzing the history of built environments for development projects requiring federal and/or state regulatory compliance.  Tim’s most notable recent work for ICF has consisted of researching and writing histories of National Historic Landmark sites and resources such as Mission San Gabriel and the Doyle Drive and Veterans Boulevard Highway Exchange (the south approach roads to the Golden Gate Bridge).

The Union is Dissolved!

Today we have another Civil War post from Luci Petlack, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

Here is an image of South Carolina’s ordinance of secession from December 20, 1860 – the first action initiating the America Civil War (1861-1865). South Carolina was the first state to secede of those who eventually comprised the Confederate States of America. In early November 1860 Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election. Lincoln’s election was really the final straw for Southerners upset with the divergence in politics and economics between the North and South. The election of a Republican candidate opposed to the expansion of slavery whose name did not even appear on ballots in Southern states, scared white Americans of the South. Southerners wondered, “How much control did northerners have over the political stage of the country?” In their minds, the only way to check the power of the North was to secede.

The paragraph at the bottom of the document claims that the Constitution of the United States was effectively dissolved from this point forward in the eyes of South Carolina“That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention, on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the Untied States of America was ratified, and also, all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ”The United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.”

This was a very bold statement. The ordinance bluntly put states’ rights above federal rule by removing the state and its inhabitants from this binding contract. In the next thirty-six days, five states (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana) followed in South Carolina’s steps issuing their own ordinances of secession. The country began to split at the seams following the issuance of this document. It is amazing that a pronouncement of so few words would have such a lasting legacy on our country and indeed our world’s history.

This is a good document to use in teaching the Civil War, either on its own or in conjunction with other documents. The source sparks questions of why southern states seceded and if the words printed seem to illustrate that its authors understood the consequences of their actions. Would they have written such bold words had they known the four years of bloody warfare and eventual defeat to come? Also, in being so sparse in their wording, what were the authors not saying? The vague wording left the future of the South and the Confederate States of America wide open for interpretation.

Luci Petlack is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include black American history, race relations and the American Civil War. Her dissertation, “A Dilemma of Civil Liberties: Blacks under Union Military Control, 1861-1866,” looks at the effects of military occupation and martial law on black communities during the Civil War in Baltimore, Maryland; New Orleans, Louisiana and Cincinnati, Ohio.

19th-Century Advertising & Anti-Chinese Sentiments

"No more Chinese cheap labor," exclusionist, c. 1880

 

Today’s post comes to us from Wendy Rouse who teaches United States history at San Jose State University.  Her book “Children of Chinatown: Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920” examines the unique experiences of Chinese immigrant children living in San Francisco during the exclusion era.

Chinese immigrants began arriving in the United States in large numbers following the discovery of gold in California in 1848.  After work in the mines dwindled, many Chinese immigrants found employment for the railroads, in agriculture or in factories.  Others opened their own businesses operating laundries, restaurants, and stores. Economic depression and nativist sentiment created hostility toward foreigners in the 1870s.  White laborers worried that a cheap Chinese labor force represented a threat to their own jobs.   Hostility often led to violent attempts to oust the Chinese from cities and towns in the West. Anti-Chinese politicians and labor leaders gained political power especially in places like California.  These groups successfully lobbied for the passage of legislation that would restrict the number of Chinese who could immigrate into the country.  In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively banned Chinese immigrants from coming to the United States.

The above advertisement for celluloid collars was created during this era of intense anti-Chinese sentiment and is especially useful in helping students understand the intensity of the hostility toward Chinese immigrants.  The Chinese laundryman in the image is visibly upset about the potential of losing his business as a result of the invention of “celluloid cuffs, collars & bosoms” which required less starching and washing than traditional collars and would therefore eliminate the need for services offered by Chinese laundries. A happy Uncle Sam looks on as Columbia points to the writing on the wall which indicates that the invention means “no more Chinese cheap labor.”  The caption “Othello’s Occupation’s Gone” suggests identification between Shakespeare’s character Othello and the Chinese immigrant.  This advertisement reflects the popular attitude of the era that the “Chinese must go.”  In this case, however, it is not exclusion laws or violence that drives the Chinese out, but invention and therefore the advance of industrialization and modern civilization which is driving out the Chinese immigrant.

For more on this topic see Roland Marchand’s documentary source problem “THE CHINESE MUST GO!!!–The debate over the California Constitutional Convention available for university, high school and middle school classrooms.

 

Draft Riots of 1863 Reveal Class Tensions & Opposition to War

Luci Petlack, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis, shares her thoughts about “Draft Riots on Lexington Avenue, New York City,” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newsletter.

This image depicts a scene during the July 1863 New York City Draft Riots where white rioters attacked the homes of abolitionists, set fire to the Colored Orphan Asylum and brutally assaulted black individuals. These rioters targeted symbols of Republican Party rule who they viewed as the instigators of the war. Numbers vary, but scholars estimate about 500 deaths (mostly rioters) and well over $1 million property damage.

Two years into a war that Americans, North and South, thought would end in a few months, the Union government turned to the draft to enlist more men in their army. The Conscription Act that began the draft allowed individuals to pay a $300 bounty for a replacement. For members of the working class, $300 was about one year’s salary making the bounty out of their reach. The draft itself upset many people, but riots exploded in the summer of 1863 because of the class tensions the bounty exacerbated. Workers, many of them immigrants, felt the rich men of the North, namely Republicans, were using the lives of the poor to fight the war. Newspapers around the country covered these draft riots with the same interest as many of the battles during the war.

This image is great for learning and teaching about the American Civil War for a few reasons. The Civil War immediately brings battlefields and generals to mind. This image shows the oft-neglected home front. Interestingly, it wasn’t just on the fields of Gettysburg and Vicksburg that violence emerged because of the war. By this point in the war, violence had become the norm, regardless of an individual’s status as soldier or civilian. The whole country was truly involved. Second, this image shows that there were northerners opposed to the war. Oftentimes students create a dichotomy between the slave-owning South and the abolitionist North – a split that never existed. It is important for students and teachers to understand the complicated tapestry of sentiments during the war.

Further Reading:

  • Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). Bernstein argues that the riots were an effort of working-class individuals to assert their power against their competition (black laborers) and against members of the higher classes.
  • Adrian Cook, The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863, (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1974). Cook portrays the insurrection as an outburst by the lower classes against government control.
  • James McCague. The Second Rebellion: The Story of the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. (New York: Dial Press, 1968). McCague believes that Irish struck out at rich whites and blacks with a comparable hatred, expressing their dissatisfaction with labor opportunities and chances for success.
  • Jack Tager, Boston Riots: Three Centuries of Social Violence (Northeastern University Press, 2001), 133-139. This short section provides details of the draft riots in Boston.

Luci Petlack is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include black American history, race relations and the American Civil War. Her dissertation, “A Dilemma of Civil Liberties: Blacks under Union Military Control, 1861-1866,” looks at the effects of military occupation and martial law on black communities during the Civil War in Baltimore, Maryland; New Orleans, Louisiana and Cincinnati, Ohio.

What’s Missing

Today’s post comes to us from Jed Larsen who teaches at Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in Sacramento  and was the Gilder Lehrman Teacher of the Year for California in 2011. 

If music can be considered as the spaces between notes, then historical investigation can, at times, be the search for what’s missing in primary sources. In his book, Facing East from Indian Country, Daniel K. Richter attempts to reconstruct the history of colonial settlement in North America from the Native American point of view with, as he admits, a limited amount of authentic Native American primary sources that clearly express what the Native Americans thought. Thus follows an intriguing though conjectured history.

As a teacher of 5th graders, I don’t have the facility to attempt such a daunting task with my students (nor they the content knowledge needed to take part in the discussion), but I often find that examining primary sources for what they are missing, or how they challenge the common narrative of history, makes for a compelling investigation. Below are 3 such sources from the fantastic Marchand Image Collection:

1. European World Map of 1489 -  by Henricus Martellus, influenced by Ptolemy; rediscovered in 1960. This intricate map of the world is one of 6 used to investigate the question, “Why weren’t the Americas discovered until 1492?” Wonderful for what it does show (detailed locations of coastal cities, the southern tip of Africa, a modestly accurate portrayal of Europe), its omissions hammer the point home: Europeans are unaware the Americas exist. Couple this with significant inaccuracies that make the map more symbolic than utilitarian, and it underscores why boats rarely left sight of the coast.

2. American prisoners of war on the British prison ship Jersey in New York Harbor, 1779-83.
The Battles of Yorktown, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga, as well as Washington’s crossing of the Delaware to ambush British soldiers, are famous for being turning points in the American Revolution. The lives of all American soldiers lost in these battles, and all other Revolutionary War battles combined, still amount to less than those lost on the British prisoner-of-war ship Jersey, a perfect storm of starvation, overcrowding, disease, and neglect. This illustration provides a somewhat antiseptic version of those conditions, as well as a path to investigating the dangers posed to soldiers during the war, challenging the assumed narrative that most soldiers who die in a war die from wounds sustained in battle.

3. The Boston Massacre, 1770
Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the Boston Massacre, disseminated throughout the colonies, persuaded many to question the relationship between the colonies and Great Britain. The document’s relevance lies in its power of persuasion, not its accuracy. With a quote below the engraving describing the “guiltless Gore”, one could assume the massacre of innocents was just that. A trial of the soldiers and officer involved ended with seven acquittals and two manslaughter verdicts. This source allows students to weigh the credibility of primary sources and encourages further examination of other sources and perspectives to flesh history out.