Learning How to Learn History
For the first blog post, I would probably have the history/social science majors cover an issue in history by focusing on how to explore historical documents and texts in order to come up with creative questions to ask their future students. In James Loewen's book Lies My Teacher Told Me, he gives five ways to look at an historical text in order to understand history better. By using these five questions to better understand history, EDM310 students will get the creative gears flowing at the beginning of the semester and have a guideline to go by when creating project-based learning plans. (I have underlined a part that will, in my opinion, work well in EDM310.)
1) First, why was it written (or painted, filmed, etc.)? Locate the audience in the social structure. Consider what the speaker was trying to accomplish. Does the speaker have an agenda? If so, what is it?
2) Whose viewpoint is presented? Where is the speaker located in the social structure? What interests, material or ideological, does the statement serve? Whose viewpoints are omitted? Students may then attempt to rewrite the story from different viewpoints, thus learning that history is inevitably biased.
3) Is the account believable? Does each acting group behave reasonably -- as we might, given the same situation? Are there internal contradictions? Does it cohere? Do some assertions contradict others?
4) Is the account backed-up by other (secondary) sources? Or do other accounts contradict it? This is where you have to do your homework.
5) Finally, after reading the words, seeing the image, etc., how does it make you feel? Emotion is the glue that causes history to stick. By examining the author's choice of words, images, context, etc., we may sense the power of communicative ideas, and understand what they mean, to us as individuals and to society at large.
If you learn, memorize, these five questions, you will have learned how to learn history. Not just for your college education but for the remainder of your natural born life.
Material culled from Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Used for educational purposes only.
The assignment I have chosen will be to look up five questions about the secession of the southern states. I chose a Facts on File article but most credible articles found on the internet will do. So the following are some questions about the secession that will promote learning by encouraging students to think outside the box so to speak.
Secession of the Southern States
Many Southerners drew parallels between secession and the colonists' declaration of independence against Great Britain. In what ways were the situations similar? In what ways were they different?
Many Southerners drew parallels between secession and the colonists’ declaration of independence against Great Britain because of the similar disagreements of taxation, and rights against a seemingly tyrannical government. They were different because the secession was not about these so-called similar reasons. It was undoubtedly about having the right to own slaves, which was an entirely different situation. In a democratic government, capitalism will always spark controversy. How much control should government have of states rights or even the rights of individuals? Southerners that did own slaves (which was around only ten percent) justified their secession by their rights stated in the constitution. When government tried to infringe on that right, secession was top priority and they were even willing to fight for it. In the nineteenth century the United States was growing at an alarming rate due to the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican-American War. With “Manifest Destiny” issuing a guilt free pass to grab up land west of the Mississippi. The main question was would these new territories be considered slave states? When the colonies demanded independence from Great Britain, the reasons were: “no taxation without representation,” and ultimately independence culturally, and financially from Great Britain’s government control. Many will argue that these were the same reasons for the south seceding but the underlining cause of these many problems was slavery. This single underlining problem provided the southerners succession with the justification it needed by drawing parallels with the declaration of independence against Great Britain.
Should the South have been allowed to secede if it decided that remaining in the Union was not in its best interests? Why or why not?
The South should not have been allowed to secede even if it decided that remaining in the Union was not in its best interest because of the “supremacy clause,” and the main focus on equal rights by the constitution. Even though events that led to the Civil War upset the South by seemingly threating their rights, only a small percent of southerners owned slaves and that small percent were the wealthy and powerful. The rest that followed were blind by pride and ignorance. Article five of the Constitution, considered the “supremacy clause,” stated that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. It rules as supreme law to benefit the people, even slaves. Although a slave owner himself, Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” Government has the right to protect natural rights. The tenth amendment is one amendment that is in the favor of the southern states. The tenth amendment says that powers not granted to the federal government will be the rights of the people and the states. Without the southern states the United States cannot stand and both the Confederate States of America and the Union would not be able to stand-alone. Sometimes the federal government has to step in to do what is best for the nation as a whole. There are many different reasons that the South used to justify their decision to secede from the Union but the ultimate reason was slavery and they should not be able to secede just because it is in the best interest of the rich.
What role did slavery play in the Civil War? Do you think that the North and South could have ever reached a compromise on slavery without resorting to bloodshed?
Despite popular belief, slavery obviously played the main role in the Civil War through the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Wilmot Proviso, Kansas-Nebraska Act, “Bloody Kansas,” and the dependence on slavery in the southern economy. These events aggravated the South, and led to increasing tensions between abolitionists and pro-slavery supporters that would never be able to compromise without bloodshed. With more states being added to the Union, the growing issue between free state supporters and southern sympathizers were: “would these new added territories be free or slave states?” The Missouri Compromise in 1820 was the first attempt to postpone a major conflict and provide a temporary balance of free and slave states by adding Missouri as a slave state. While settlers in Missouri were constantly divided on the slave issue, the land gained during the Mexican-American War would increase controversy when the Wilmot Proviso stated that the new states gained would be free, in an attempt to stop slavery in it’s tracks. Supporters of slavery continued to argue that it was their state and individual right to own slaves and by prohibiting doing so was a power that the government did not have. The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 soon would give settlers of the new admitted states the right to determine if their state were slave or free through popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty solved nothing, it gave only a legal right to either support or abolish slavery, which increased the hatred and violence between the two groups. One famous abolitionist’s belief led to his conquest of door-to-door visits killing any supporter of slavery known as “Bloody Kansas.” This radical abolitionist was John Brown, and the rivalry him and the “border ruffians” caused was almost a civil war in itself. John Brown stated: “I will take their lives as coolly as I eat my breakfast.” Through John Brown’s religion and tribunal life, many saw him as crazy and many perceived his rash actions to be “just.” Such a belief is up for debate but his actions arguably began the rise in hatred and paranoia within and between states. Frederick Douglass who was an ex slave, writer, and nonviolent abolitionist said this about John Brown: “His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine... Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him.” Although a major part, John Brown’s holy war was just a result of his convictions to end slavery, and bloodshed was the solution. Not only was slavery considered a sin, it was the backbone of the southern economy and many were able to fight for that right to continue. With the election of Lincoln, tariffs, and other acts of war, the Civil War became evident and an end in sight was nowhere to be seen without bloodshed.
What would the U.S. be like today if the South had won the Civil War?
If the South had won the Civil War, the United States of America would be no more due to divided beliefs, a weak defense, and ruled by overly rich plantation owners through capitalism. As a nation as a whole, the U.S. was powerful, and threatening to any surrounding countries and a country on the rise but without the North, the South would be a slave dependent confederation with only two classes: upper and lower. Without the distribution of wealth, the rich would get richer and the poor poorer. They would be driven by money only and would eventually have a civil war caused by uprisings of their own soon enough. The U.S. would not expand and the North’s industries would eventually suffer bankruptcy. The concept of slavery might even spread to the Pacific Ocean and be a South America ruled by the rich with a “concentration camp” demeanor.
Imagine that you are President James Buchanan; write a speech in which you respond to South Carolina's declaration of secession in 1860.
You have declared to succeed from this Union for reasons that are in your best interest. Although secession is not legal, I am afraid that neither I, nor the federal government has the constitutional right to stop this treason. Despite your secession I will continue to retain military outfits and forts in your territory. I say with satisfaction that your actions have left an awful taste in my mouth and a sympathy for the future of this this nation that rivals none. I cannot wait for someone to succeed ME! Hopefully it will be that magnificent governor of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.
Thanks a lot,