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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Teaching Reconstruction

In selecting a name for this blog, I was thinking about one of my teachers I had in high school who would put a movie on as a way to teach something, and not discuss the film at all.  Actually, our discussion would come in the form of writing a paper, which is not the best way to go about discussing a film.  Discussing the film first is important, and then have students write a formal paper if you so decide.

However, that is not the point of the post today.  I was worried that people would think this blog is solely about how to use films in the classroom.  While this is part of this blog, another goal of mine is to share resources that can improve our practice as teachers of the social sciences.  I recently was on vacation and shopping with my mother when I came across a book by Philip Dray called Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen.  I had decided days prior that I was going to start the year off teaching reconstruction in my eleventh grade humanities class and this book just about fell into my arms.

I would not recommend reading the entire book with your students as many of them will get lost in the complexities of the people involved, laws passed, court struggles, etc.  It does give a different perspective to reconstruction that I have never studied before, that of the black congressmen elected during the years following the end of the Civil War.  I would recommend the following chapters for use with your students:

Chapter 2 "A New Kind of Nation"-- This chapter provides a good overview of the early days of reconstruction.  I would first have students take a look at Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and complete a simulation about what the north, south and the newly freed blacks would want from reconstruction.  After doing that, I would then have students read this chapter as it would provide them with some background and a better understanding of the goals of Johnson and the radical Republicans.

Chapter 5 "Kukluxery"-- This chapter addresses the early influence the Ku Klux Klan had in the south during the early days of reconstruction.  It helps put into context the response by the federal government with the KKK Act and other responses by Congress to this terrorist group.  In teaching about this, I would also include portions from Birth of a Nation (1915) [Remastered Edition] and discuss the power film can have over shaping the ideas and history of people.  This film was a "recruitment" film for the KKK if you look at the number of people who joined after this film was released.  While you might be jumping around a bit, it is important for students to understand the power this group had not only in the south, but in the north as well.

Chapter 8-- There is a scene here in this chapter (beginning on page 168 in my edition) that focuses on and explains the "show down" between the former vice-president of the Confederacy (serving as a congressman from Georgia) Alexander H. Stephens and Robert Brown Elliot, the black congressman from South Carolina over a Civil Rights law.  The speeches these two men gave are a great source for students to begin to understand the deeply entrenched ideas of racism that existed in the time.  I am looking forward to using this chapter in my class this coming fall.

I have not fully completed the book yet, jet lag and unpacking has since been in the way, but I will add on to the post if any other chapters seem helpful.

If you have any other tools you use for teaching reconstruction, please share them with me by posting a comment here.  When I return to school, I will make available some other resources I have for teaching reconstruction, which will be posted on my resources page.


1 comment:

  1. I have my students do a webquest using: and Both are great sites. Both are great resources with lots of visual primary documents.