History Department
History Department

Faculty mentor schoolteachers at Humanities Texas June Institute

Fri, June 18, 2010
Faculty mentor schoolteachers at Humanities Texas June Institute
Associate Professor Erika Bsumek presents a lecture at HTX Teacher Institute

The faculty and staff of the department are in the education business. Most of our work is with undergraduate and graduate students here on The University of Texas (UT) campus. In fact, many of our graduate students become college teachers, and our undergraduate majors in the UTeach program join the ranks of those secular saints, middle and high school teachers.

In addition, we participate in the annual Institutes for Texas Teachers organized by HTX, the Texas chapter of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

From Sunday-Wednesday in early June, the Department of History and its Institute for Historical Studies, the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Library and Museum, UT’s College of Liberal Arts, and HTX teamed up to provide one of 2010’s six Institutes for Texas Teachers. HTX organizes these institutes as part of the We the People initiative of the NEH.

The subject this year was “Shaping the American Republic to 1877.” Presentations, panel discussions, and small group workshops were held in meeting rooms of the LBJ Library and Museum—plenary sessions in the mornings and workshops in the afternoons. Over 40 middle and high-school teachers participated.

Scholars, archivists, and teaching specialists addressed the teachers on different aspects of the political, economic, and social history of the United States from 1776 to 1877. Four faculty from the department gave lectures from their areas of scholarship. Each historian also provided primary documents and bibliographies of books, articles, and online sources.

H.W. Brands gave the Sunday, June 6, keynote address titled “Ben Franklin and the Witches.” Brands explained that Franklin’s life spanned the eighteenth century (1706-1790); “he was born in an age when all North American colonists believed in witches, but he died in the Age of Reason.” Similarly, since Franklin was “born an Englishman but died an American,” the task for Franklin and his generation was no less than to create an American identity. On Tuesday, Brands presented a second lecture, an energetic address on President Andrew Jackson and “The Jacksonian Era.”

Associate Professor Robert Olwell presents a lecture at the Humanities Texas Teacher Institute

Associate Professor Robert Olwell presents a lecture at the Humanities Texas Teacher Institute

Robert Olwell spoke to the teachers about “The Revolutionary Period” emphasizing the rhetoric of the aggrieved colonists. The American Revolution, Olwell explained, was “a struggle over metaphors.” For example, the British along with American Loyalists often used a family metaphor to explain the conflict: The British empire was the “mother country” and, from the empire’s perspective, the colonists behaved as ungrateful and disobedient children.

Protesting colonists used the metaphor of “slavery.” Though half of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were slave owners, patriot rhetoric denounced Britain’s new taxes as oppressive, tyrannical, and tantamount to the enslavement of the colonists.

Erika Bsumek’s topic was “Native Americans and Westward Expansion.” Professor Bsumek moved beyond a simplistic narrative of “victims and villains” as she compared the response of the Sioux nation and the Cherokee nation to the nineteenth-century westward migrations of white Americans. The Cherokee made their case for territorial sovereignty in the U.S. courts; the Sioux responded with armed resistance. Both groups lost almost all of their land.

Bsumek also explained that between 1685 and 1876 the Sioux, aided by horses they acquired as a result of Spain’s 16th century adventures in North America, claimed a vast territory in the northern plains as they defeated other indigenous nations. But, although the Sioux and the U.S. both waged wars of conquest, the Sioux neither imagined nor desired that the Mandam, the Crow, or the Kiowa, for example, would disappear.  Nineteenth-century U.S. political theorists, however, saw no place in the U.S. for Indian peoples.

George Forgie, recognized as one of the university’s superior instructors, had already participated in the 2010 Teachers Institutes in Fort Worth and Houston before the June institute in Austin. He spoke to the teachers about “Sectionalism and the Civil War.”

Forgie identified five questions that have been the focus of historical scholarship regarding the Civil War: Why did the South secede? Why did Northerners go to war to preserve the Union? What explains the Union victory? How, when, and why did slavery end? And, how do we evaluate the significance of Abraham Lincoln? Forgie challenged the teachers to consider the complex history of the seeming contradiction between Lincoln’s 1861 promise to protect slavery and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

As this UT-hosted Institute for Teachers came to a close on Wednesday afternoon, teachers continued to swap ideas for how to best teach U.S. history to their middle and high school students.

One middle school teacher later wrote to Michael Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas, to express her appreciation for the Institute. “I have attended hundreds of hours of professional development over the last 5 years and the Humanities Texas Workshops are the best that I have ever attended.

“The time for each lecture was perfect. The breakout sessions in the afternoon were so special. We could get up close and personal with the speakers. It gave us opportunities to explore ideas with great teachers. Quality of speaker, quality of handouts, quality of time spent in breakouts all made for an A+ professional development opportunity,” wrote Mary Duty from Waco’s Tennyson Middle School.

Story by: Dr. Megan Seaholm; Photos by: Charles Bogel

Related Links:
Humanities Texas
We the People initiative by National Endowment for the Humanities

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