Tag Archives: Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History

The Revolutionary Age – the Winter Edition of History NOW

The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar, 13 Septembe...

The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar, 13 September 1782″. By John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), c. 1783 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Revolution is truly like a pox, spreading from person to person.

This particularly human sickness is the subject of this winter’s issue of History NOW from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  Ten essays from a collection of eminent historians detail how the revolutionary fervor of the Americas would spread globally, to France, to Haiti, to Cuba and beyond.

Several of the essays caught my eye.  First was Patrick Spero’s interesting piece on the truly global nature of the American war of independence.  Unbeknownst to many on this side of the pond, the longest and largest battle of the War of Independence did not occur on American soil and involved no US lives: the Spanish seige of British-held Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783.  The British victory was celebrated in a painting by John Singleton Copley, demonstrating the US struggle’s overall limited place in what became a global war.

Susan Dunn’s comparison of the French and American Revolutions is also of note.   The analysis is hardly new–that the moderating nature of the American Revolution made for a long-lasting, yet flawed system, while the increasingly radical French Revolution would self-destruct.  What is new is the view of the American Revolution from the French point of view, particularly how the French perspective changes from that of doting admirers to critical ascendant revolutionaries bent on correcting and improving on the American model.

I would be remiss if I forgot the contributions of my old friend, UCLA professor emeritus Gary Nash.  In an article recovered from Gilder Lehrman’s arch, Nash examines the social and intellectual roots of the Revolution, particularly the various movements advocating for independence and social change.  The ideals of revolution manifested itself through various avenues, as Americans of all stripes struggled to create a new society–a society that would be on the backburner as forces of reaction and stability placed the war and the ensuing Constitution as a priority over social change.

As with any Gilder Lehrman product, History NOW is laden with primary sources for educators to utilize the ideas of the authors.  This issue contains the Stamp Act, Jefferson’s letters on the Haitian and French Revolutions, the Monroe Doctrine, even the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence.

The Neighborhood is usually very enthusiastic of Gilder Lehrman resources, and History NOW is no exception.  Take your time and really sift through the treasure trove of analysis and insight…it’s among the best issues yet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Myths of Our Founding: Carol Berkin on Teaching the Revolution

Battle of Bunker Hill, by John Trumbull.  Yale University Art Gallery

Battle of Bunker Hill, by John Trumbull. Yale University Art Gallery

Should we have revolted against the British Empire?   According to Carol Berkin, we never had it so good–as long as you were a New England merchant, a Caribbean slave trader or a tidewater planter.  That covers everybody, right?

Here at the Neighborhood, mythbusting in history has always been a key issue.  Because so much of our collective history has been built on myths created over centuries, this process is often complex, messy and controversial. 

Over the months, we’ve tackled subjects as diverse as the Boston Massacre, Native Americans, the War of 1812Civil Rights, even Jesus.  With each, it was important to strip away the veneer of the textbook to get as close to the source as possible.  Carol Berkin, University Professor of History at Baruch College and CUNY Graduate Center, does a similar job with the American Revolution in the latest issue of History Now, from the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History.

Berkin does an excellent job in parsing a straightforward narrative into a complex web of conflicts, struggles and contradictions.  Upon reading her analysis, Great Britain seems less than a tyrannical imperial power and more like a rookie teacher who can’t control her students.  The British were real penny-pinchers when it came to colonial control, leaving much of the actual legwork to local assemblies that took advantage of the crown, Native Americans, and poorer backcountry farmers and townspeople. 

It was only with the French and Indian War, which left the empire broke, that Britain decided to read up on classroom management and establish some routines and procedures for effective imperial rule.  By then it was too late–the little monsters that were the 13 colonies had already dumped the hamster cage, spilled the paste on the floor and pulled the fire alarm (so to speak).  No amount of time in the woodshed was going to control this bunch.

In all, Berkin makes a great framework for upper-grade elementary, middle and high school teachers to enrich their U.S. history lessons.  Focusing on even one of her points can make a week’s worth of lessons.  Please let us know how you used this information in the classroom and comment her at the Neighborhood.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized