Historical Thinking, history, teaching

The fruits of my inefficient time usage: A Reconstruction Timeline!

Today with my U.S. History students we’re moving into a discussion of Reconstruction as a follow-up to our in-depth reading about Lincoln, race, slavery, and the historiographical debate over “who freed the slaves?” (Though this will have to be a separate post, the resources at Trinity School history teacher Michael Berkowitz’s website are amazing. That’s where I found the articles I used for this seminar discussion over the historiographical debate about “who freed the slaves?”)

As a way to lead into this discussion, and as a way to reinforce some of the historiographical discussion we’ve had in the past few days, I’m planning on talking about the historiography of Reconstruction before delving into the details of the era in question. Perhaps it’s a result of having taken two classes with Eric Foner in college, but I’m particularly struck by the obviousness with which the moment that historians studied and wrote about Reconstruction so clearly shaped their attitudes toward this twelve-year period. For instance, here’s a particularly telling clip from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation:

Also, I’ve still got my (impressively) thorough (if I may say so!) notes from those classes, which provides a nice basis on which to build and lead this discussion.

In preparing for this, and as a way to help make the students’ notetaking more structured, I creating two timelines related to Reconstruction — one designed to trace the historiography and one to trace the history of the era itself.

I ended up spending way more time than I should have fine tuning the location of lines and text boxes in Microsoft Word, and I’m sure there’s a more efficient way to create what I’ve generated here, but in any event, this is what I was able to figure out, so this is what I’ve made. In short, my poor use of time is, perhaps, your gain!

NB: (If anyone has suggestions for nice tools that create clean-looking blank timelines in a relatively short amount of time, please let me know).


One thought on “The fruits of my inefficient time usage: A Reconstruction Timeline!

  1. This is really cool! I love the diverse perspectives and skills it imparts to your students. I wish everyone approached history this way. I hate the idea that history becomes this sort of secret society where only the initiated get a full understanding of the subject. There is so much more content than the history book “facts” and it so often feels as though history is reduced to story-telling while the teacher keeps all this additional information, the rest of the story, really, such as historiography, to himself. I think this is great stuff and would love to hear a follow-up after the class works on it.

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