US History I

US History I

I taught US History I twice at the University of Iowa, first as a TA under the direction of Dr. Jacki Rand and later under Dr. Angela Miller-Keysor. I led discussion sections and graded the exams, papers, and quizzes designed by my supervisors. During class, I worked with students on how to understand, contextualize, and analyze primary sources from our course reader. Developing skills in assessing and marshaling evidence into a cohesive and well-supported argument remained the primary goal of each session. Additionally, I devoted class time to emphasizing important lecture material and held several in-class writing workshops where students peer-reviewed each other’s work.

Although the University of Iowa catalog describes this class as a survey beginning in 1492 and ending in 1877, ensuring that students recognize that American history did not begin in 1492 became my first order of business. Rather, my discussions started with a short lecture on the pre-contact era, exploring locations like Cahokia and intricate diplomatic arrangements like the Haudenosaunee (or “Iroquois”) Confederacy to illustrate how sophisticated and powerful Native communities populated what is now the United States well before Christopher Columbus’s fateful voyage. From there, the class followed the expected trajectory for an early US survey.

While lecture covered European colonization, the American War for Independence, Reconstruction, and myriad topics in between in between, my classes honed in on specific subjects, using readings and primary source documents to get students asking provocative questions about the past. How did the conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca justify Spanish conquest in North America? What caused the Salem witch trials? How might the perspectives of a judge and defendant in that event differ? Did Thomas Jefferson’s “factory system” shape what would later be called “Manifest Destiny?” What motivated anti-abolitionist riots in New York in 1834? How did medical technology shift during the Civil War? How did African American women’s lives change during Reconstruction?

In the fall of 2012, Dr. Rand and I also coordinated a class project based on an exhibit about Iowa’s role in the War of 1812, which stood in an on-campus museum throughout the semester. We contacted Iowa’s Office of the State Archaeologist–which designed the exhibit–in order to view materials in advance, then scheduled class visits with the museum staff. During my sections, we devoted a course to analyzing interpretive exhibits and using physical artifacts as primary sources. The next week, we toured the exhibit as a group. There, I floated around the class, helping students engage with the exhibit and take notes for the research essay that served as their final project. This assignment exemplifies the sort of tactile work I integrate into my courses, thereby giving students a learning experience that reaches beyond the traditional term paper.

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