Academic Skills, Geography, Historical Thinking, history, teaching

Backlog Post #1: The Market Revolution, Atlantic Context, and Information Reorganization

While my last post ostensibly was going to open the flood-gates of a number of new posts dealing with what I’ve been working on in my classes, that plan fell through (read: baby + grad school + teaching = neglect in this venue).

Nevertheless, as a way to prompt myself into wrapping up one of this week’s grad school assignments, I thought I’d post a recent assignment I worked through with my U.S. History class.

We’ve been looking at the early nineteenth century and examining some of the traditional narratives about presidents, political parties, and other developments of this era from a variety of historians’ perspectives. Keeping in this trend, we read an article by Seth Rockman about the significance of slavery in the Market Revolution. As the article (link included below) highlighted some of the important transatlantic connections that characterized the Market Revolution and situated the U.S. in a broader context (the leitmotif of my graduate studies at UT-Arlington), I thought I’d challenge my students to explore how Rockman makes these connections in his article by visually representing the phenomena he discusses on a blank map of the Atlantic basin.

Map of the North Atlantic - courtesy of

Not only did this assignment fall into one of my favorite pedagogical strategies of information reorganization, but it also provided an impetus to push the students to read the text more closely before we had our discussion on the reading. Now, before I end up rewriting the assignment in prose, I’ll go ahead and post it below:

Constructing Meaning in the Market Revolution, 1793-1860

Purpose and Learning Objectives:
The goal of this assignment is to get you to practice the skills of identifying arguments, assessing the type of evidence and method a historian uses, and to take that information and reorganize it in a meaningful manner. In particular, this assignment will get you thinking about interconnections and linkages and how those played out in the space of the North Atlantic during the first half of the nineteenth century.


  1. Actively read the Seth Rockman article, “Liberty is Land and Slaves: The Great Contradiction.”
  2. As you read, focus on the author’s a) argument; b) type and use of evidence; and, c) the way in which the author discusses the interconnections and linkages between the different parts of the Atlantic World that developed during the Market Revolution (esp. the years 1793-1860).
  3. Using the included outline map of the North Atlantic world, work to creatively reorganize the information presented in the article onto the map. Use the list of categories below to get yourself thinking about what type of information to include.

Elements/Categories to illustrate visually:

  • Movement of people (slaves, Indians, migrants — internal and external)
  • Movement of goods (manufactured, raw materials, food crops)
  • Transportation networks
  • Important natural features (e.g. rivers, canals, mountains, etc.)
  • Demographic information and links to social hierarchy
  • Important dates marking key developments

CONSIDER: How will you visually distinguish these elements?

There you have it! Fairly short, sweet, and straight-forward. What other strategies or approaches have people used to challenge their students to engage with a text in a more in-depth or different way? What suggestions or ideas do people have about ways to refine or improve an assignment like this?


8 thoughts on “Backlog Post #1: The Market Revolution, Atlantic Context, and Information Reorganization

  1. Here’s a suggestion that isn’t particularly higher level initially but can be of benefit to students who have difficulty visualizing the kinds of movement your assignment helps them understand. Let them copy and paste your map onto a series of PowerPoint slides. Find and label pictures illustrating the various peoples, goods, etc., specified in your rubric and then use the Animations feature to move them about. You’re probably already familiar with this, but the steps would be something such as: Select Picture–Animations–Custom Animation–Add Effects–Motion Paths–Draw Custom Path–Scribble. You then draw the path of the selected item. It’s one thing to follow Triangular Trade via static arrows and another, possibly better, to watch it in action. If you overlay or juxtapose several different slides, some of the patterns and interactions you’re asking students to find might emerge. Students can add text, links, color coding, etc. Their PowerPoints can be posted at Slideshare, etc. Having made this kind of assignment before, I’ve found students will usually come up with all kinds of fruitful embellishments.

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  3. Ayo says:

    Wow this is great! Was this assignment given to high school students or undergraduates? If the latter, what grade were they. Also, do you have any models or samples of what they came up with? Thanks

    • Ayo says:

      Whoops! I meant, if the FORMER (meaning if there were high school students), were grade were they in–11th? regular or AP US History?

  4. Nate says:

    Hi, Ayo – thanks for the kind words and feedback.

    I did this assignment with regular (non-AP) Juniors a few years ago when I was still teaching US History. I’m now teaching Western Civ. and AP European History, so I haven’t tried this assignment in a number of years, but based on my recollection, I think that it was pretty successful in getting the students to really scour through the text and think about the Atlantic dimension of the early Republican economy. I recall that discussing what students came up with on their maps generated a pretty profitable class discussion.

    As is always the case, the quality of the work, as I recall, was varied, and unfortunately I didn’t save or PDF any of the really strong examples, so I don’t have those to pass along. If you give the assignment a try, I’d love to hear about your experience with it. Good luck!

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