Memoirs and Novels for US History (Responses)
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Gardens in the DunesSilkoLink (if available)Brief Description of Text:Recommended Discussion Questions or Thematic Connections:
Useful at what level:
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9/18/2015 11:31:56Autobiography of Benjamin FranklinBenjamin FranklinIn between 1,000 to 1,500 words, assess Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary exhibition in light of your reading of Franklin’s Autobiography. You may pick one of the two issues to focus your essay. Be sure to use key details from both in supporting your answer.
Option 1: How might Benjamin Franklin understand the function of public history? Some historians have claimed that public history is essential in a democracy. How does Benjamin Franklin understand democracy, and does this exhibition serve a democratic function?

Option 2: We communicate differently depending on to whom we are talking. And different mediums of communication bear different messages in and of themselves. Receiving a phone call means something different than receiving a text. Franklin intended a different audience than the creators of the exhibit, and a book is a very different medium than a digital museum exhibit. How do differences in audience lead to different representations of the past in the autobiography and the exhibit, and how does the medium shape the message in each of these cases?
U.S. Survey (first half)
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9/18/2015 11:32:42Twelve Years a SlaveSolomon NorthrupIn between 1,000 to 1,500 words, Assess the film 12 Years a Slave in light of your reading of Solomon Northrup’s narrative of the same name. You may pick one of the issues to focus your essay. Be sure to use key details from both in supporting your answer.
Option 1: Historian Karen Haltunen has argued that American social reformers, including abolitionists, participated in a “pornography of pain” to motivate their reform movements. Do you see a “pornography of pain” in the book or the film?

Option 2: Literary critic, Saidiya Hartman questions the value of ongoing depictions of extreme slave suffering, calling many who participate in such displays spectators, or even voyeurs. She calls instead for witnesses to testify to the horrors of slavery. How does reading the narrative versus viewing the film encourage spectatorship, voyeurism, or witnessing?

Option 3: Presentations of the past are dependent upon market considerations. Whether an academic monograph, a public museum exhibition, or a popular film, all require financing and accordingly expect to at least offset costs through generating revenue. How did the differences in market considerations lead to differences in presentation for the book, exhibition, and film we’ve assessed in class? Use specific examples to defend your arguments.

Option 4: Vastly more people understand the past through popular history than through the work of professional historians. How should teachers use popular history in the classroom? Use specific examples from the narrative and the film in explaining your answer.
U.S. Survey (first half)
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9/18/2015 13:17:02The Things They CarriedTim O'BrienCollection of short fiction about truth and the Vietnam War
U.S. Survey (second half)
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9/18/2015 13:55:23The Sovereignty and Goodness of GodMary Rowlandson
U.S. Survey (first half), Elective, US Women's History
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9/18/2015 13:55:58Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself Harriet Jacobs
U.S. Survey (first half), Elective, US Women's History, African American History
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9/19/2015 12:04:50The Day the Cowboys QuitElmer Kelton
http://www.amazon.com/Cowboys-Quit-Texas-Tradition-Series/dp/0875650546
Historical fiction based loosely on an 1883 cowboy strike in the TX panhandle. Kelton does a great job of making real the sense of alienation felt by laborers as big corporations began to dominate an industry. It helps students realize that this problem wasn't limited to the industrializing northeast and midwest. It was an issue for southern and western cowboys and farmers too.
I used the book to talk about a clash between traditional, Jeffersonian values and the new values of consumer capitalism. One semester, I played Seger's Feel Like a Number before we began the discussion to point out the perennial nature of the issues raised in the book.

Major themes:
1) Face to face relationships and honesty (anti-bigness, anti-bureaucracy)
2) freedom, self-determination, independence
3) Loyalty and Social Responsibility
4) Equality vs. concentration of wealth
5) Depersonalization
6) Greed
7) Profits vs. traditions or people
8) Are market forces sacred?
U.S. Survey (second half), Elective
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Gardens in the DunesLeslie Marmon Silko
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