Presentations, Publications, Research

A Very Belated Academic Presentation – My 2014 SHEAR Pecha Kucha Presentation on Benjamin Lay

Way back in the summer of 2014, I gave academic presentations on Benjamin Lay at two different academic conferences — the Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists and the Society for the History of the Early American Republic. The timing and location of these conferences was fortuitous as they were both in Philadelphia (or its outskirts), where my in-laws live, so my family was able to visit them and I was able to share my research on Benjamin Lay with experts in these various fields of eighteenth-century and abolitionist history.

The paper I delivered at the CQHA was more traditional, but my presentation at SHEAR was a Pecha Kucha presentation, which was a fun challenge to create. After giving that presentation, which was well-received at the conference, I thought I should really sit down and record a screencast of it while my timing was still spot on.

Unfortunately, I delayed and delayed (and delayed and delayed) while life, work, research, dissertating, life, and etc. happened instead.

Only today, while working on a different screencast project, I decided to dig up my presentation notes and finally put this screencast together. So, if you missed the debut presentation two-and-a-half years ago, here’s your chance to fill that void!

Presentations, Publications, Research, Writing

Benjamin Lay article published! (but read on here for a “tl;dr”)

Shortly after I’d passed my comprehensive exams and begun working on my dissertation in earnest in the Fall of 2012, one of my committee members suggested that I look into the early Quaker abolitionist, Benjamin Lay, as a potential subject for one of my chapters.

At that point, I had the outlines of the dissertation and its focus: Quakers, their ideas about disability, and how those ideas influenced their reform activities. However, beyond a seminar paper I’d written about the Quakers’ Retreat at York—a groundbreaking insane asylum that used “moral treatment” and other more humane methods to treat those perceived as “insane”—I didn’t have a lot of clear areas for focus.

To help remedy this problem and gain some wider context about Quaker humanitarians in the eighteenth century, my advisor, Sarah Rose, suggested that I talk with one of her former graduate student colleagues who had studied Quakers of this era and who might have some good leads.

Lo and behold, that conversation with Michael Goode, yielded what became two conference presentations, two dissertation chapters, and now a published article in the Disability Studies Quarterly.

If you didn’t want to click that “published article” link above, let me entice you with a teaser image (courtesy the lovely and helpful archivists from the Smithsonian Institution) from the article below:


Benjamin Lay, Artist: William Williams, Sr., c. 1750-1758, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; this acquisition was made possible by a generous contribution from the James Smithson Society.


(Now that you’ve seen that, let me spam you with many more links to that very same article…pretty annoying, huh?)

Part of what made researching Benjamin Lay so fun and so much of a challenge was that Michael Goode first presented him to me as an individual whose disability left some scholars skeptical. Because Lay served on a sailing vessel, those skeptics argued, he couldn’t have been disabled because such a job in the eighteenth century wouldn’t have been possible for an individual with such a striking bodily aberration (and its perceived limitations) as you see in the image above.

So, as I learned about Lay’s life in the eighteenth century and about how later abolitionists perceived and presented him in the nineteenth century, I was on a quest to piece together (from varied and fragmentary evidence) how disability, in fact, was present in (spoiler alert!!!if not central to) Lay’s life, his advocacy, and his legacy.

My argument acquired a bit more intrigue when, in the summer of 2014, I had the privilege of presenting a focused version of my argument at the Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists where one of the skeptics was in the audience! After my talk, that scholar asked a number of good questions and seemed persuaded by my overall assertion that Benjamin Lay did, in fact, make his disabled body a crucial part of his abolitionist advocacy. I got further feedback and support for my developing argument from Caleb McDaniel, a terrific historian of slavery and abolition at Rice University, when I presented my Benjamin Lay talk as a Pecha Kucha presentation at the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic conference later that same summer.

With those votes of confidence, I continued my revisions and work on these chapters about Benjamin Lay, submitting the one that was just published to the Disability Studies Quarterly journal shortly after passing my dissertation defense in February of this year.

So, feel free to click on to read the whole thing, or, as I promised, here’s the “tl; dr”:

Benjamin Lay was disabled and his disability proved central to his abolitionist advocacy during his lifetime in the eighteenth century. Lay actively used his non-conforming body to challenge the Quaker community to give up slaveholding and the slave trade and acknowledged how his aberrant body helped lead to him to his abolitionist views in his 1737 publication, All Slave-Keepers, Apostates. After his death, Lay’s disability became inextricably connected to his abolitionist work both in visual and written representations of Lay, his body, and his unconventional advocacy.

Now that this article has made it out into the world, I’d like to thank all those who’ve provided feedback, guidance, support, and encouragement over these past four-plus years as I’ve worked on this Benjamin Lay research and the rest of my dissertation. We’ll see where this work goes next, but in the meantime, it’s quite gratifying to send part of it out into the world.

If anyone does opt to read the non-“tl;dr” version of the article, I’d love to hear what you think!

Academic Skills, Presentations

A Foray into “Flipped” Tutorials: Writing an AP European History FRQ

This week is a busy one for a variety of reasons, but part of that busy-ness involves missing school on a day before the first test I’m giving in my AP European History classes. While much of the review activity is material my substitute can help cover, I have planned a discussion about how to approach and pre-write Free Response Questions that will be hard to do in my absence.

Given these circumstances, I thought I’d revive a tactic I’d used previously in case of absence: making a tutorial video!

I find these types of videos, where I’m focused on explaining a skill or intellectual strategy, to be more compelling to make (though perhaps not to view…you’ll all have to be the judges of that) than ones that focus on conveying content. I make that assertion largely based on the fact that I’ve only ever been compelled to make “flipped”-style tutorial videos for skills like these and not for content-heavy lectures.

Given that AP European History has a variety of skill sets, writing strategies, and essay approaches that are unique to the exam, I think this genre of video might be one that I’ll continue working on (though given the changes coming to the exam next year, that effort might be in vain).

I’ve posted my video below and would welcome any feedback! If I find more energy and time to continue adding to this series, I’ll pass them along here (and thereby avoid having this blog turn into a 1990s-Angelfire-esque wasteland of disused internet).

Academic Proposals, Presentations, Research

SHEAR 2013 Paper, “Spaces of Reform: Transatlantic Quakerism, the ‘Insane,’ and Publicizing Humanitarian Advocacy”

Society for Historians of the Early American Republic banner, courtesy

Take a cue from Mark Cheathem (who I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to meet while in St. Louis, but who posted his paper in advance of the conference), I thought I’d post the paper that I presented during the Sunday Morning session entitled, “Illness and the Institution: The Relationship between Health and Reform Asylums.”

(Have a look at the entire program, which had a number of terrific sessions that I really enjoyed and from which I learned a lot).

Now, I wasn’t as expeditious as Mark was at getting my paper out to the world in advance of its grand unveiling bright and early Sunday morning, which I’ll attribute to a case of “last-minute-fine-tuning/revision-itis” – a really nasty scourge. In any event, I really enjoyed getting the chance to share my research in this type of venue and get good feedback and questions from the audience. Moreover, the mix of senior scholars and graduate students at the conference was really nice and I was great to talk with and get feedback from experts in my topic about potential sources, further questions to consider, and directions to take.

Kathryn Tomasek of Wheaton College live-tweeted our session and I was interesting to go back and see her take on my paper and major points. She also had a number of good follow-up questions and suggestions for me after our session, which I greatly appreciated. (P.S. Sorry I wasn’t able to embed the image of her tweets directly into this post; unfortunately, I was foiled by the technical sophistication of Storify, which has a pretty cool interface, but doesn’t play nice with WordPress shortcodes. Sigh.)

Thanks again to Jamalin Harp for putting our session together, to James Watkinson for presiding, and John Murray for commenting and providing such useful synthesis and critiques.

Academic Skills, Pedagogy, Presentations, Research, teaching, Technology

New Assignment Alert!!!: The Presidency and the Media – A Comparative Analysis

Daguerrotype of the south front of the White House

Image via Wikipedia

Just when I think I’ve got things in order and I’m happy with the trajectory of a unit, I end up dreaming up some new assignment that occupies my evening. Sigh.

Tonight’s antagonist (though not an unwelcome one) is an assignment I developed for my government classes that get them to compare different media portrayal of the same event from White House news sources and from two other newspapers of their choosing. We read about how the White House use of the media evolved over the 20th century, and I thought this would be a nice assignment to get students to examine the nature and extent (or presence at all, perhaps) of media bias, and juxtapose that with official White House portrayals of those events. Moreover, I hope it yields some insights into how the modern presidency uses media — both traditional and social — in a way that is quite distinct from some of its historical predecessors.

For your collective edification, I’ve shared the assignment below:

The Presidency and the Media – A Comparative Analysis


Building off the reading about the media from our text, the goal of this assignment is to explore and analyze the different portrayals of particular topics, events, issues, and the like, from the perspective of the White House press secretary and other official media, and two other newspapers.

As a result of the comparison, you should be able to analyze and dissect the different portrayals of the same issue from the varied sources and then offer an assessment of the significance of those differences in terms of impact on the public and reliability of reporting.


  1. Select a topic that official White House media and other newspapers address. Once you’ve found a topic, post it to either the A Period TodaysMeet discussion group or the B Period TodaysMeet discussion group. Your topic should be clear and specific, and if it isn’t, then I’ll give you that feedback so you can properly refine it before doing further research and analysis of the presentation of that issue.
    1. The TodaysMeet discussion rooms are a venue to ask questions, share resources, get insights from classmates, etc. Please use proper decorum and a scholarly tone in this forum.
  2. Once your topic has been approved, you can then explore that topic on official White House news sources and on TWO other news sources.
    1. White House Briefing Room
    2. Google News — a launching point to find other newspapers; not an end in itself.
  3. Try to find at least two different articles on each subject from the different papers. The goal of this requirement is to get a wider sample that will be more representative of the way each news outlet presents its view of the particular issue, event, topic, etc.
  4. Closely read the article to identify the different perspectives on the topic and consider what interpretation you have about the significance of the difference (or lack thereof) amongst the various sources on the same topic. Work to develop ~3 key points of significance that you can illustrate and support with specific pieces of evidence from the different sources.
  5. Using a Screencast website (Screenr, Screencast-o-Matic, or another), record a narrative of your explanation/argument about these different sources and the significance of their presentations of this topic.
    1. Make sure that you are clear about your sources and their authorship. Remember, this is as vital (if not a more vital) element of a source than the source’s content.
    2. You should use the screencast features to visually highlight particular pieces of evidence, sequence of evidence, etc. and share that with the viewers.
  6. The screencasts can be a maximum of FIVE minutes. Once you’re done with your screencast, which conveys your argument verbally and illustrates it visually, then embed it into your class group on Edmodo (see these instructions for Screenr).

Learning Standards for Evaluation:

  • Student used research and prep time in class effectively and in a focused way.
  • Student developed a clear topic of investigation and got approval for it on the TodaysMeet discussion forum.
  • Student found appropriate and adequate newspaper articles and White House releases from reputable newspapers and from the official White House news outlet.
  • Student developed a clear argument and conveyed it persuasively via the narration on the screencast. The student presented this argument in five minutes or less on the screencast.
  • Student recorded a clear screencast the mentioned the specific details of the sources with the audience via the screencast. Student used the screencast’s visual elements to highlight particular pieces of evidence that supported his or her argument.
  • The student properly embedded his or her screencast to the appropriate class page on Edmodo.

Please share any thoughts or feedback you might have about the design, goals, implementation, missing resources, etc. I haven’t rolled this assignment out yet, so there’s still time to crowdsource this thing up to MacArthur Genius Grant level!

history, Presentations, Research, teaching, Technology

“All history is local”: The New Deal in Fort Worth Project

I took photo with Canon camera.

Image via Wikipedia

ne of the things that I’ve been looking forward to about teaching U.S. History is getting the chance to have students study and explore the ways in which national trends or programs manifested themselves in the local context. Perhaps I’m digging back to my own experience of having attended high school in a former New Deal-era building, but it always seemed like the massive federal programs of the 1930s provided great fodder for this type of investigation of broader trends in one’s own backyard.

As I was contemplating how I wanted to approach this, I asked a colleague how he’d taught the era in previous years, and he noted that created a scavenger hunt of the New Deal era buildings in Fort Worth worked great in terms of getting kids to explore the city and look at it in a way in which they hadn’t before. My hope is in part that this type of scavenger hunt will also introduce them to the distinctive architectural styles of the time period and hopefully getting them to see these types of buildings as both important architectural landmarks and as reflections of a particular time in the country’s history.

So, below I’ve posted the text of the assignment sheet that I’ll be giving to my students tomorrow in class. My hope is that they use the end of this week to research some of the broader contextual issues about the New Deal in Fort Worth, and then to use this weekend to scout around the city, photograph their building, continue their research, and begin putting together their modified Pecha Kucha presentations (I’ve scaled it down to 5 minutes, by making it 20 slides X 15 seconds per slide).

The New Deal in Fort Worth


Texans were optimistic in January 1929. During the 1920s, the state population had increased over 25% and the economy continued to diversify. Diversification included lumber in East Texas, citrus farming in the Rio Grande Valley, ranching on the Edwards Plateau and in West Texas, and wildcatters, encouraged by the legacy of Spindletop, were producing vast amounts of oil and gas.

But after Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, all such optimism ended. Though Texans remained hopeful, economic conditions worsened across the United States in the early 1930s forcing Texans to eventually admit that a depression was upon them.


This project is intended to help you appreciate the tangible results of the New Deal programs put in place by Franklin Roosevelt in an effort to relieve the economic hardship and suffering brought on by this unprecedented crisis.

In addition to researching and learning about the ways in which these projects helped reshape Fort Worth, this assignment also seeks to get you to explore the city a bit, and develop an eye for architectural features unique to the time period and become more adept at analyzing architecture. Moreover, this project will build on your continually-developing skills of research, critical analysis of sources, and presentation in a clear, direct, and persuasive manner.


  1. While each individual is responsible for one photograph, I encourage you to undertake the exploration of the city and the documentation of your various buildings with other group members. I suggest groups of three as the most ideal, as that way you’ll have a few other people with whom you can discuss the buildings, their formal architectural features, and the patterns that you notice amongst the buildings. Additionally, three people is constrained enough so that you won’t be running all of the city all day.
  2. The project will count as a partial test grade of 50 points (a la the 1920s vs. 2000s comparison presentation).
  3. Each individual will be assigned an unmarked photograph of a historic building or landmark built between 1933 and 1939 with federal assistance from one of the New Deal agencies. The group must identify the building or landmark, photograph it from multiple different vantage points and with yourself in the photograph, and answer the following questions:
    • When was the building constructed?
    • Who was the architect?
    • Which of the Federal New Deal Agencies funded and sponsored the construction of that building?
    • How many workers were employed in the construction project?
    • How much did the project cost? How many federal dollars were allocated?
    • What would the cost of the project be in 2011 dollars?
    • What architectural styles are incorporated into the design? What are the significant design elements and styles that the building exemplifies?
    • Does the building contain significant pieces of art? If so, what type?
    • What was the initial use/purpose of the building?
    • What is the current use of the building?
    • What comparable buildings or sites like this one exist elsewhere is Fort Worth? Elsewhere in the United States?

…and the most important (and, unsurprisingly, analytical) question:

    • What was the significance of this building or site to both the success (or failure) of the New Deal and the development and growth of Fort Worth?

Learning Standards:
The assignment will be evaluated on the following standards. Each of these standards will be evaluated on a 1-5 scale (5=Outstanding, 4=Good, 3= Competent, 2=Approaching Competency, and 1=Unacceptable).

  1. Assignment uses and properly cites at least FOUR scholarly, legitimate sources, from reputable newspapers, journals, agencies, and the like. This information is submitted with the presentation in Chicago Style bibliography format.
  2. Presentation briefly addresses the approach/method/process that the student used to both find and photograph the building, the way the student went about researching its background, and the sources that were most valuable in researching the building.
  3. Presentation addresses the factual details of the building (e.g. bullet points above re: construction dates, architect, workers, costs, purposes).
  4. Presentation addresses the architectural elements of the building (e.g. styles, artwork on the interior and exterior, architectural influences and precedents, analysis of formal features, and comparable buildings and sites).
  5. Presentation addresses and analyzes the significance of the building in terms of its reflection of the New Deal’s success or failure and the impact and importance that the building had to the development and growth of Fort Worth.
  6. Pecha Kucha presentation employs pertinent images and adheres to the 20 slides x 15 seconds/slide format. Moreover, the presentation is primarily built upon photographs that the student took him or herself and of which at least one includes the student at the site.

All of the sites for the entire project can be found within the scope of locations on the map pictured below:

Here are the photos of the sites that I’m going to have my kids hunt down. For some of these buildings I have more than one picture, but in general I’ve tried to make the images of striking architectural features or distinctive stylistic aspects of the buildings, rather than the buildings in toto.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


What other types of “all history is local” assignments have people developed? I’d like to be able to do this for World History topics as well, but, for obvious reasons, those related to the major themes and eras of U.S. History come much more naturally. However, I’d love to hear from others about their experiences.

Academic Skills, history, Presentations, Research, teaching

Trans-historical Comparison Assignments: Great, or the Greatest?

Great Depression: man dressed in worn coat lyi...

Great Depression: man dressed in worn coat lying down on pier, New York City docks, or "how my students might feel after completing this assignment and explaining their complex comparison in the course of five minutes." - Image via Wikipedia

In my U.S. History classes we’ve finished up the era of imperialism and WWI, and are now moving into the 1920s and building toward the Great Depression and the New Deal.

As this is the first time I’ve taught through a U.S. History survey, there’s a lot I’m learning as I progress through each era and try out different types of assignments. One type of investigation and analysis I’d like to have my students do more of is working to understand how contemporary patterns, trends, and dynamics developed in and transformed from earlier eras. So, as I’m moving into this next topic, I thought it’d be an ideal time to work to get the students to explore the links between these present-day phenomena and parallel phenomena that occurred earlier in U.S. history.

To accomplish this goal, I set up a comparative (a trans-historical comparison, no less, the merits and perils of which I suppose we could discuss as well) assignment that gets the students to investigate certain themes and topics from the 1920s and then explore how those are similar to and different from the developments of the past decade. In framing this assignment, I’ve used economic downturns (Stock Market crash and the Great Depression vs. the “Great Recession“) as the focal points of the comparison.

As with any trans-historical comparison (or I suppose any comparison in general, but I don’t want to get to methodologically wonky here, which I probably just did by writing the words “methodologically wonky”), there’s the risk of fitting proverbial square pegs into round holes and seeing events and patterns from a past period as being similar to current developments. However, my goals with this assignment center less on the precision of the comparison, but are more about getting the students to employ their research skills, hone their presentation skills, and gain a fuller understanding of the contemporary history of the past decade.

In order to avoid re-writing the whole assignment sheet in this intro, I’ll cut myself short and go ahead and post the assignment I distributed to my students today:

The Roaring ‘20s and the Boom Years of the 2000s (or aughts, or whatever)

Purpose:The goal of this assignment is both to get us to understand the major developments, dynamics, trends, and events of the post-WWI period in the United States, and also to help us think comparatively.

This assignment frames our study of the 1920s as a narrative progressing to the 1929 Stock Market crash and subsequent Great Depression. However, beyond simply studying these events as constrained just to the 1920s, we’ll also be working on our skills of using the comparative method and thinking transhistorically by considering in what ways these early-20th century developments have parallels to the major developments, dynamics, trends, and events of the past decade. In order to facilitate the comparison, we’ll be viewing the 2000s as a narrative building up to the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009, which will enable us to look as the developments of the decade in a more-or-less side-by-side way.

Finally, in terms of sharing this information with your classmates, this assignment will challenge you to become more comfortable with and well versed in oral presentation aided by meaningful images. We’ll be using a slightly modified Pecha Kucha (pronounced “Pe-chach-ka”) format to make our comparison clear. In the course of this presentation you’ll be expected to convey the important points about both decades and advance an argumentative stance about the most significant similarities and differences in terms of that category.

In completing this assignment you’ll need to draw on your skills of saliency determination, categorical identification and analysis, research for pertinent sources, “crap detection” of those sources, use of the comparative method, and argumentative development and articulation.

Topics: (please note how I have oh-so-generously provided you with the page references for the topics on the 1920s. However, you’ll have to do to meaningful research for the information about the 2000s, and of course, do the heavy-analytical-lifting on making the comparison).

  1. Xenophobia in the decade prior to the decline (pp. 561-562)
  2. Domestic intolerance, persecution, and violence (pp. 562-563)
  3. Technological innovation and quality of life in the U.S. (pp. 563-564)
  4. Changing nature of business and industry in the U.S. (pp. 564-566)
  5. Transformations in real estate and property development on a NATIONAL scale
    (pp. 566-567)
  6. LOCAL Fort Worth city development and transformations of the 1920s vs. those of the rest of the nation (pp. 566-567)
  7. Communications technology and its cultural effects and ramifications (pp. 567-569)
  8. Religious dynamics and developments (p. 570)
  9. Immigrations laws, policies, and dynamics (p. 572)
  10. Race relations, culture, and civil rights (p. 572-573)
  11. Women’s rights, their role in moral advocacy, and other cultural developments (pp. 574-576 and pp. 581-582)
  12. Economic stratification and the condition of laboring populations (pp. 576-577)
  13. Relationship and connections between big business and the federal government
    (pp. 577-579)
  14. U.S. foreign policy and international involvement (pp. 579-581)
  15. Economic decline and collapse in major markets (pp. 583-584 and 587-589)

Learning Standards: The assignment will be evaluated on the following standards. Each of these standards will be evaluated on a 1-5 scale (5=Outstanding, 4=Good, 3= Competent, 2=Approaching Competency, and 1=Unacceptable).

  1. Assignment uses and properly cites (with a Chicago Style bibliography handed in with the presentation) at least TWO contemporary, legitimate sources, ideally from reputable newspapers, journals, and the like. Moreover the bibliography also includes a citation for the textbook.
  2. Presentation accurately conveys and explains the most important concepts, dates, events, figures, and other material about the 1920s pertinent to that topic.
  3. Presentation accurately conveys and explains the most important concepts, dates, events, figures, and other material about the 2000s pertinent to that topic.
  4. Pecha Kucha presentation employs pertinent images and adheres to the 20 slides x 15 seconds/slide format.
  5. Narration to accompany Pecha Kucha presentation offers meaningful interpretation and analysis that addresses  the most significant similarities and differences in terms of that category.
  6. Narration to accompany presentation also addresses the sources of the information for the material on the 2000s, explains its validity to the comparison, analyzes the authorship of those sources to explain the credibility of those sources.
For the material about the 2000s, I encourage you to draw on Proquest Historical New York Times (accessible through our school library webpage), Google News, and Google News Archive. Those three resources should provide you with access to solid and reputable primary sources about the events of the 2000s, meaning you can likely avoid the treachery of AskJeeves,, and Yahoo Answers.
I should note that I built the fifteen topics listed above from Gary Nash, et al’s The American People textbook, and the list effectively follows the structure and major topic headings of the chapter. I broke it into fifteen topics as I have fifteen students. Also, the modified Pecha Kucha format to which I refer is just a slightly condensed one — instead of giving the students 20 slides with 20 seconds for each one, I’m giving them 20 slides with 15 seconds for each one. This time condensation brings the total time for each presentation down to an even five minutes, which should allow us to cover all the students in the course of two 45 minute class periods.
It’s likely that I’ll be making minor (or perhaps major) adjustments and tweaks to the assignment over the next few days, so if you want to stay tuned in to the latest goings-on (and who doesn’t?!?) you can access the Google Doc of the assignment sheet.
If anyone has experience with a similar type of assignment — either in terms of subject matter, comparative structure, or presentation style, I’d love to hear what worked and what didn’t as my students embark on their research and on assembling their presentations over the next few days.