I taught US History II under the supervision of Dr. Landon R.Y. Storrs in 2014. As with US History I, I graded all papers and exams and led two discussion sections. This course picks up at the end of Reconstruction and extends roughly to the present day. Given that modern American political history was one of my comprehensive exam fields, I was particularly excited to teach this course. From the Gilded Age to Brown v. Board and the suffrage movement through the New Deal, Vietnam, the Age of Reagan and beyond, this class plumbed the social, political, economic, and military events, movements, and processes that marked the American past since 1877.
Recent history attracts me because its relevance to the present is often more apparent to my students. Accordingly, US II offers an opportunity to connect current and past events on a variety of levels. Using the historian Eric Foner’s excellent reader, Voices of Freedom, my classes focused on a variety of primary source exercises, during which students were asked to place themselves in the shoes of historical actors whose thoughts, words, and actions came alive in their personal writings and correspondences. Our class discussions emphasized the ascendance of the US to its post-WWII position as an international superpower, then as a participant in an ever-globalizing world. All along, we asked critical questions about Jim Crow, immigration, and the lived experience of peoples deeply involved and invested in the shifting social, political, and economic landscapes of twentieth century America. How and why did Senator Albert Beveridge justify the US occupation of the Philippines? Do parallels exists between his rhetoric and that used to rally support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq? To what extend did racialized real estate policies shape the system of de facto segregation still apparent in cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, and St. Louis? How might evaluating the history of women’s reproductive medicine and rights challenge the way we think about modern debates over Roe v. Wade?
One classroom activity that illustrates my efforts to connect the national to the local revolved around the Indian New Deal’s impact in Iowa. Due to my dissertation research, I had access to many primary sources from Iowa’s only resident Native group, the Meskwaki Nation. After delivering a brief lecture on the back ground of the Indian New Deal–a series of programs led by Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier that were aimed at returning rights to self-governance and tribalism to Native communities while helping them survive the Great Depression–I broke the class up into seven small groups of four. Each group received a piece of correspondence or portion of the Meskwaki Constitution, which I had assembled in an order that would allow each group to reveal a new dynamic to the debates surrounding the formation of the tribal constitution. I then instructed the students to evaluate the source (something we practiced frequently throughout the semester), discuss who wrote it, when, what they were saying and why, and consider the piece as part of the broader story of the Indian New Deal we had just covered.
As each group reported on their source, students were able to see the tribe’s constitution, which members of the Meskwaki Nation ratified in an election in November 1937, for what it was: an organic document aimed at restoring the community’s political sovereignty. More than that, however, students could see the document as highly contingent and controversial. Its authors, students saw, were torn between an overzealous Bureau of Indian Affairs set upon restructuring tribal governance on American terms and a community struggling to survive the Depression while negotiating fundamental changes to the gendered, environmental, and political tenets of a system that had led them for millennia.
In the end, this assignment not only reinforced the critical thinking and analytical skills we worked on throughout the semester; it also provided them with a hands-on lesson in local history. By achieving these several goals at once, it reflects the pedagogical approach outlined in my teaching statement.