Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Great Debates: Kennedy v. Nixon

October 21, 1960 marked the date for the fourth and final debate between presidential hopefuls, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

The world's first televised presidential debate took place just over a month prior on September 26.

I think we're all familiar with the circumstances surrounding these oft discussed events. Besides being the first televised presidential debate, many credit these debates as the events that would change the way we looked at the president for years to come and helped put Kennedy over the top in his defeat of Nixon. The debate gave national exposure to Kennedy, who was a relatively unknown senator, and helped him to go on to win the election by a narrow margin.

Nixon who had been on the campaign trail that day appeared tired and un-shaven to the television audience. While Kennedy appeared to be polished and well rested. It's been said that those that listened to the debates on the radio declared Nixon the winner, while those that watched on television gave the victory to Kennedy.

It's a testament to the power of perception and image, and truly helped to shape the personae an American presidential candidate needs to address.

I've always said that because of this, a great candidate like Lincoln would not have made it as president in the television age. His awkward appearance and cracking voice would not translate well. And despite his great oratory abilities, it would be too difficult for the American people to overlook his appearance.

Here are two great resources to discuss these historical debates in class:


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Links to History: US History Teacher's Blog

I can't believe I didn't find this excellent resource earlier. Updated by 3 high school teachers, this blog (and it's two sister blogs for Government and World History) are full of useful links, material, great technology, games, online activities, lesson plans suggestions, videos etc... Perfect for any social studies teacher. Or for the curious amateur historian. I will definitely be referencing this site regularly.

In their own words, "this site is made by high school US history teachers and will have links to useful classroom sites, relevant articles, other useful blogs and more."


This isn't my typical "Links to History" where I share emails I've received from other sites and publishers and vendors... this is a blog I found this morning and had to share. Teachers, you have to go to this blog.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Christopher Columbus the Tyrant

Is Columbus Day something that should really be celebrated?

The following is an excerpt from Howard Zinn's, A People's History of the United States. It is a gruesome look at the real Christopher Columbus. Not the Christopher Columbus celebrated in 1st and 2nd grade classrooms across the United States, but the Christopher Columbus who allowed greed and power to get the best of him.

A People's History of the United States - Chapter 1:
"Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
"They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them,
for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:
"As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold?

The Indians, Columbus reported, "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage "as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask." He was full of religious talk: "Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities."

Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold.

They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking
Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans' intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for
sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend.

In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper
token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.
Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.
When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island."


Zinn's book is eye-opening to say the least. I was used the book as an alternate text in an accelerated history class, and it was well received by the students. They seem to love anything that is anti-authoritarian, or something that is different from traditional thinking.

You can see more reviews of Zinn's updated book... A People's History of the World here.

I had the learners read certain chapters from the book, write essays and comment on this blog. You can see their comments here: http://ushistorysite.blogspot.com/search/label/Howard%20Zinn

I'm wondering if any other teachers have done anything similar?


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Washington Burning: The Creation of Our Nation's Capital

In 1791, in a quaint Philadelphia town house near Sixth and Market Streets, just a short walk from Chestnut Street where his congress would meet, President George Washington approved a plan to move the nation's capital to an undeveloped plain of undulating hills along the Potomac River. Coincidentally, this new plan would place the president's house and Congress over a mile apart. But with the hiring of Peter Charles L'Enfant, that mile and the rest of the 10-square mile plot would become one of the grandest cities this nation will ever see.

I had never thought much about Washington, D.C. I understand its importance. I've stood on Pennsylvania Avenue, in awe of the White House. I've seen the reflection pool and pictured Martin Luther King proudly shouting "I have a dream!". I've seen the Washington monument and thought of "the republic for which it stands". But I had never given thought to the blank canvas that existed on the banks of the Potomac River a little more than 200 years ago and the planning and work that had gone into creating it. Until now.

Washington Burning by Les Standiford, is a book that has made me appreciate our nation's capital more than ever.

What starts out as a story of the building of our capital city becomes an excellent account of history and the roller-coaster life of the cities original designer, P. Charles L'Enfant.

L'Enfant is a very curious character, one who in my opinion deserves way more recognition in American history than he's received. His visions of grandeur, as expensive as they may be, eventually do come to fruition under the tutelage of other designers. L'Enfant's life seems to parallel the ebb and flow of the making of the city, it's demise during the War of 1812 and it's eventual resurgence.

Standiford has a knack for helping the reader to visualize the correspondence between the rotating architects commissioned to finish the job L'Enfant started, and each of the founding fathers who had a say in the city's planning. His ability to describe war movements and the "what if's" in history compare to Michael Shaara's account of Gettysburg in The Killer Angels.

Each chapter is a small vignette of the history of the making of Washington D.C.. Standiford often goes into great detail, demonstrating his ability to research and describe only what is most important. Washington Burning brings out great stories of George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James & Dolly Madison. The intimacy of these stories and those of some lesser known characters make Washington Burning a great read.

For more information about the author Les Standiford, you can visit his website at
http://www.les-standiford.com/, or read his blog.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.com if you're interested in purchasing it.


In doing some of my own research on the topic I came across this website, which is a well written account Washington's history by Bob Arnebeck: http://www.geocities.com/bobarnebeck/introduction.html

And if you're super curious, like me, and you're wondering how Washington D.C. got it's name. Then you can check out this link by Arnebeck who describes the christening well: http://www.geocities.com/bobarnebeck/name.html


Monday, October 06, 2008

The Presidential Election Lesson Plans & Presidential Word Clouds

For history, civics, and government teachers the Constitution Center is heaven.

It is an overwhelming array of multi-media sure to keep you interested for hours.

What makes the Constitution Center even better is its undying devotion to education and its continuous rotation of great exhibits. Fortunately for me, I can walk to the National Constitution Center (NCC) from my house. I'm close. I can experience everything it has to offer... And having said that, I'd like to share a little bit of what I have to look forward to during my next visit.

The NCC is on top of things. They prepare months, probably years in advance to bring the greatest ideas and technology to the forefront. The exhibit highlighted below is no exception.

It appears to be based on the US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud where someone has taken the time to create a tag cloud of the words most often used in speeches for each president. It's fascinating.


Check out the link first, then read about what the National Constitution Center is doing (in their own words)

Hindsight is Always 20/20

"The Center celebrates the excitement of the election season with Headed to the White House and now, with an extraordinary exhibition that displays each president’s State of the Union addresses as you’ve never seen before.

Hindsight is Always 20/20 examines the history of the presidential State of the Union address through the metaphor of vision. Drawn from the annual addresses given by Presidents to Congress, ‘Hindsight’ consists of a single Snellen–style eye chart for each president who performed this Constitutional act. Instead of the typical eye–chart characters, the piece highlights words from their State of the Union speeches presenting the sixty–six most frequently used words from each presidential administration, starting with the most often used word on the top line. The result is an engaging snapshot of each presidency, containing a mix of keywords related to events of the day and rhetoric unique to each president and the time period in which they served.

Artist R. Luke DuBois is a composer, artist, and performer who explores the temporal, verbal, and visual structures of pop–culture ephemera. Past exhibitions of his work have been displayed at the Insitut Valencia d’Art Modern in Valencia, Spain; San Jose Museum of Art; Daelim Museum in Seoul, Korea; Sundance Film Festival; and Sydney Film Festival.

Hindsight is Always 20/20 is part of the Center’s long range goal to broaden our audiences and expand our offerings through compelling and diverse exhibitions."

Additionally, they offer free lesson plans and ideas to help incorporate civics into the classroom. The link below is a link to some some excellent resources about the upcoming

election. http://www.constitutioncenter.org/HeadedToTheWhiteHouse/Educators.html

FYI - I'm teaching world history this year and am looking for creative ideas to incorporate the election into the curriculum. We're starting Greece on Friday and I see a natural link with Greece's democratic government with that of the United States' government, and an easy transition to the election.

If anybody else has any other ideas, please share them...