Academic Proposals, Historical Thinking, Research

Churning out new assignments!: “Introduction to Historical Research and Presentations”

There are two major exciting things about this post. Firstly, I’ve actually written something new! In order to accomplish this lofty goal, I thought I’d return to my approach of sharing new assignments that I’ve developed. Secondly, I figured out how to embed a Google Doc in WordPress! Hopefully this embedded document will show up for everyone whether viewing it on or through an RSS Reader.

This most recent assignment, which I’m discussing with my students tomorrow, has the ever-so-pithy title of “Introductory Historical Research and Presentation Assignment: Rome and the Middle Ages.” This assignment shares some commonalities with others I’ve posted before, most notably my “Crap Detection” assignment, as it aims to get students thinking critically about their sources and evaluating the authorship to understand how that aspect inherently shapes the nature of the content.

However, this assignment’s emphases are slightly different as I’m hoping that it will help students to explore research databases, begin to understand and use Chicago Style citations and bibliographies, and gain an understanding of historiography and how historians can approach the exact same topic from a variety of perspectives. Moreover, I hope that by giving students freedom to choose their topics within the broader time period of Rome and the Middle Ages that they’ll have a greater investment in their topics, which will make researching and presenting on them more compelling.

So, let’s see if the second exciting element of this post works. Below, you should see the embedded Google Doc of the assignment.


Any suggestions or thoughts on how I could revise or add to this assignment to better emphasize the skills I’m working to have my students develop? I haven’t yet made photocopies, so I can certainly incorporate any expedited feedback! (However, I probably will have made the copied by the time you read this, so if you have suggestions along this line I’ll gladly take them nevertheless and incorporate them for the future).

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?

Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching

Historical Research via Wikipedia

Last spring when I came across Jeremy Boggs‘ assignment about using Wikipedia in the US History survey course, I was immediately impressed and inspired.

I had often thought about how great it would be to get students to engage with Wikipedia in a more meaningful way than perhaps they’d been exposed to previously. For the most part, students came to me as sophomores having a firm understanding that they were NOT to use Wikipedia because anyone could edit it, and therefore the site (undoubtedly edited by nefarious internet goblins) might lie to them. Of course, year after year the first site students would gravitate toward in the course of their research projects was Wikipedia. I guess fifteen and sixteen year-olds are inexorably drawn to the thrill of the taboo–even in their research.

My previous approach to discussing Wikipedia with students emphasized that its lack of utility and applicability to research came from the fact that it was a tertiary source, and just like any other encyclopedia, it couldn’t help one much in developing a clear argument. While I still make this point, Boggs’ assignment design I think will be much more helpful in getting students to learn about Wikipedia’s style, how to research for an objective article, and how to write differently for this assignment than for their more usual argumentative essays.

I have to admit that I borrowed very liberally from Boggs, as I think his assignment makes a lot of sense, and this is the first time I’ll be rolling it out with students. No doubt I’ll find challenges with this present arrangement and make amendments in future years. In general my structure very much follows that of Boggs’; however, I’ve scaled down some of the source requirements and also asked students to write a process-focused reflection post both at the beginning and at the end of the assignment.

If any other teachers (especially high school teachers) have tried this type of assignment with their students and have any feedback about the process or any other thoughts, please feel free to share them.