I leave tomorrow for The Teaching Professor Technology Conference in Denver. I look forward to sharing what I’ve been up to in the classroom. But, again I hardly teach alone. The students in my “American Civilization to 1865” course at the University of Alabama and I benefit greatly from the skills of Graduate Teaching Assistants Kari Boyd, Hannah Miller and Lindsay Smith.
Today, all three GTAs surprised me by being open to participating in an exercise that allows the students to learn more about us as we head toward the October 15 Midterm. They were asked to share five things about themselves in 20 seconds.
Hannah, a writer, generously shared her five things in a poem and even edited Lindsay’s presentation into a poem. Kari, also, presented a great poem.
As true last semester when I taught the second half of this survey (“American Civilization Since 1865”), I then performed a spoken word presentation featuring key terms and a cool beat. This time, I picked an instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s Butterflies, which has huge meaning for me as it was on regular rotation in my CD player when the twin towers fell in 2001. In fact, to promote the album on which this song appears, Jackson visited the Virgin Records store inside the former Bertelsmann building in midtown Manhattan where I saw the towers fall from my 49th floor office. At the time, I was a creative coordinator for BMG on the heels of working many years as a journalist.
This tragic event prompted me to go back to school and get a graduate degree. Before earning my doctoral degree in History at the University of Illinois last year, I earned a Masters in Dance and Related Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2005. I figured if buildings were falling around me, I’d better have fun first.
During my time at UNCG, I studied with John Gamble and learned a lot about using computer software like Final Cut for videos, short movies, and dance and theater performances. I also took a course with Jan Van Dyke where I had to learn how to build a website.
The first time I did spoken word as a graduate student, Gamble asked me to read Nikki Giovanni poems onstage while members of the John Gamble Dance Theatre performed. I was honored as I knew so little about spoken word. But now I really believe it can be a powerful teaching tool (I enjoy it as much as I enjoy being in the archive as a historian. It is another way to find meaning in the present and the past).
As I leave for the conference, I feel fortunate to have more students emailing to say they are open to sharing their vinyl record projects with others. Again, they were challenged to make connections between a vinyl record and long-held idea about what it means to be “American.” For example, Julie Gibbs juxtaposed the life of country music performer Merle Haggard against that of Mobile-born biologist Edward Wilson as depicted in Wilson’s memoir.
Finally, Kalynn Cain, yet another student, turned to Judy Garland’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow to investigate the dreams of English colonists in British North America. Her paper is below. Thank you, Julie, George and Kaylynn, for allowing me to share your work.
If you would like to learn more about how the class approached this vinyl project, please see an earlier posting. For now, know that the following three learning outcomes may figure into how these projects will be graded (there is a more comprehensive rubric in an earlier posting):
1. analyze the complexity of American life as seen in key individuals and everyday people to 1865.
2. evaluate primary and secondary source materials to determine historical meaning.
3. demonstrate mastery of course material with clear, coherent writing.
Thank you for your interest in our work!
1 October 2014
Freedoms of the Colonists in the 17th Century New World
There is something alluring about a sense of freedom. Freedom, coupled with ambition, is an important factor throughout American history. It is these things that we have witnessed people willingly fight and die for in battles and in wars. They are a driving entity throughout time. There is a song called Somewhere Over the Rainbow that was sung in 1939 by Judy Garland.1 Though the words “freedom” and “ambition” are not stated outright in this song, there is a strong impression of these themes that underlay the lyrics. This paper will explore how the longing for freedoms lead the colonists to make a new life in a new world. It will also delve into the precursors of freedom: the longing for escape and something more.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow is the epitome of wanting to get away. To put the song into context, Judy Garland is playing a spirited young girl named Dorothy in the movie The Wizard of Oz. She is not happy with her life on her aunt and uncle’s farm because no one is paying attention to her; even when her dog had bit a woman and could have possibly been put to death. This song comes into play in the beginning of the movie when Dorothy dreams of living somewhere where all of her worries will be behind her. I am drawing from the essence of the entire song in order to reinforce how the colonists felt.2
1This song was written for the movie The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland sang it when she played Dorothy. For date of film and more information about it, see “The Wizard of Oz.” IMDb.com, accessed September 26, 2014, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/.
2 Lyrics for Somewhere Over the Rainbow found at http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/judygarland/overtherainbow.html (accessed September 26, 2014)
There was more than one reason why the people of England wanted to leave to come to the “New World” in the 17th century, but religion was a big one. Going back to 1517, there was a Reformation that was headed by a German Catholic priest named Martin Luther. He hated the corruption of the Catholic Church and wrote about it in his 95 Theses. This began a split in the church between Protestants and Catholics. In the early 17th century, Queen Elizabeth had made everyone conform to the Protestant Church of England. The people that opposed this became known as Puritans. They disliked the Church of England because it had started to look like Catholicism: the “corrupt” religion Queen Elizabeth’s predecessor, Queen Mary, had enforced. In 1607, Jamestown was founded by this group of Puritans looking for religious freedom. Like Judy’s character Dorothy looking for “somewhere over the rainbow”, the Puritans wanted to escape the religious corruption brewing in England for the colonies. After all, the state of their salvation was at stake. 3
Others that travelled to the New World came, not for religious reasons, but in hopes of gaining social or economic status. They did this by first serving as indentured servants: people contracted to work for a certain length of time in exchange for a ride over, eventual freedom, and land. However, these were not regular people. They were the criminals and poor from England. They were unwanted. That is probably along the lines of how Dorothy (Judy Garland) felt at the farm, prompting her dreams of a new place. These servants wanted to go to the New World to escape the life they had and eventually earn their freedom and sometimes land. Without this, they would have still been considered England’s worst with little opportunity to succeed or advance past their current social status.
3 Doctor Green talked about the Reformation, Queen Elizabeth, Puritans, and Jamestown in her September 3rd, September 5th, and September 10th lectures; Ms. Smith gave me specific notes on Queen Mary and the Puritans on September 28th
In the New World, they had a chance to rise above the stigmas and limitations placed on them in order to gain control of their own lives.4
From the very beginning of what became America, there has always been a desire for both something more and the freedom to go after it. Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion, for example, was a way for indentured servants, poor whites, and black slaves to strive for a stop to the abuse they received and for freedom. Bacon was a rich man that gave false promises to those with less in order to gain land for himself and to defeat the Governor at that time, William Berkeley. Despite his devious tactics, he and the slaves and servants rose up to fight for what they wanted.5 Dorothy (Judy Garland) didn’t have to worry about abuse, and she didn’t want high government positions. However, she did long for a carefree, trouble free place to dwell. Both the colonists and Dorothy were searching for something new. Everyone wanted more than what they were capable of having if they stayed in the place or position they were already in.
The colonists’ need for an escape or something more convinced them to leave what they knew in search of freedom. What they ended up gaining from this decision was the eventual forming of their own free nation, and it was far greater than what they had lost. Their experiences with freedom became the foundation of the America that we now know today. Even Dorothy (Judy) found her somewhere over the rainbow, but for her it turned out that where she really wanted to be was back at her own home.
4Doctor Green’s September 5th lecture included information about indentured servants and the type of people that came to Jamestown
5Doctor Green’s September 10th lecture discussed Bacon’s Rebellion