Lessons Learned from the AHA's Bridging Cultures Program, Part 4: Going Global in the U.S. History Survey

AHA Session 269
Monday, January 5, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Petit Trianon (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University
Brittany Adams, Irvine Valley College
Timothy Dean Draper, Waubonsee Community College
Sarah Lucinda Grunder, Suffolk County Community College

Session Abstract

The past two decades, scholars have focused their attention on the Atlantic and Pacific worlds, drawing together broad geographical and chronological contexts for understanding history in the Americas outside of the confines of nationalist narratives. While these frameworks have been central to scholarship and sparked heated historiographical debates in recent years, it has not always translated into tangible changes in history survey courses. This roundtable discussion features teacher-scholars dedicated to teaching American history in the context of the Atlantic and Pacific worlds.

For students and instructors this approach broadens the context of American history, complicates national narratives, and enriches student understanding. It provides a sense of how Europe’s American colonies emerged from ocean-spanning ambitions and intercontinental encounters, how the United States emerged from those processes, and grew to shape them in turn. Finally, it allows instructors to engage intercultural contact, political and economic development, and the social and cultural flows we call “globalization.”

Drawing on recent scholarship, including those who emphasize broad understandings of the Pacific (e.g. Igler, Matsuda) and Atlantic (e.g. Kupperman) as well as those who stress the way specific environmental, cultural, economic, political and social factors shape both local histories and empires (e.g. McNeill, Norton), this roundtable discussion will focus on how Pacific, Atlantic, and transoceanic perspectives can be used effectively in survey courses. Panelists will discuss how they use local and regional history to address global “currents,” as well as how they incorporate specific scholarship through lectures, discussions, assignments, and classroom activities. Brittany Adams will discuss how she uses California and the Spanish borderlands to enhance her students’ understanding of Pacific migrations, encounters, and  diversity; Steven Blankenship will talk about how he uses specific primary-source assignments to ground student understanding of colonial encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations along the Atlantic’s western rim; Timothy Dean Draper will explain how he brings both the Atlantic and Pacific to the 20th century Midwest through labor, immigration, ideologies such as the New Left, and commerce; and Sarah Lucinda Grunder will relate her experiences using Long Island’s Dutch and Puritan inhabitants and New York slavery as jumping off points for transoceanic perspectives.

Panelists, all participants in the NEH/AHA’s Bridging Cultures: Atlantic and Pacific Seminar, represent a range of teaching and research interests. The seminar program drew together scholars in Pacific and Atlantic history, provided opportunities for independent research, and cultivated a community of instructors working to enhance their teaching of U.S. history. Philip Morgan, organizer of the Atlantic seminar, will chair.

This panel will appeal to a range of AHA attendees with its focus on incorporating scholarship into teaching and broadening national histories by examining how local and global histories intersect. Scholars working at two- and four-year institutions hold the primary responsibility for teaching U.S. history surveys. As more students elect to begin their college study at two year institutions, and as more doctoral recipients facing a tight job market choose community college careers, it is critical that survey courses reflect historiographical currents and maintain consistency across institutions.