Events Calendar

Paul Clemens: High School Teachers Institute

Friday, May 03, 2024, 09:00am - 02:30pm

“Teaching the American Revolution during the 250th Anniversary of the War and Independence”

May 3, 2024

9a – 2:30p

Paul Clemens, Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University

The purpose of this seminar is to discuss recent work that is fundamentally changing the way scholars understand the American Revolution. It is also to explore whether these new understanding should and can replace older narratives, shared by the public and taught in schools and colleges. The 1976 bicentennial did its part in challenging past interpretations of the Revolution, but when the dust settled, the public celebration of the Revolution had been conducted much along the same lines as could have been expected beforehand; historians, for their part, having enthroned some traditional understandings, largely lost interest in the topic. Whatever happens in 2025-6, it will be different. New scholarship makes a much more dramatic break with earlier work; the state teaching standards have already incorporated some of this work; and the political pushback to recent interpretations, if not in New Jersey, then in other states, will become part of the culture wars. In this context, we will start off with a dialogue about an article by Jane Kamensky asking whether historians have gone too far in replacing traditional understandings without offering in their place something that gives students hope that the past can inform the present in positive ways. We will next move to a collective reading of the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson’s draft) and a discussion of how scholars are now interpreting the document. I will then discuss with you some of the best new work on the Revolution: Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty Exiles (2011) – the loyalist diaspora; Kathleen DuVal’s Independence Lost (2016) – on the little remembered, outside of Florida, revolution along the Gulf Coast; Marla Miller’s Betsy Ross (2010); my colleague, Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught – on a woman who George Washington had enslaved and who successfully evaded re-enslavement despite Washington’s efforts; and Holger Hoock’s Scars of Independence (2017) – that dramatically dispels any notion that the war itself was anything but brutal, deadly, and bloody. Planning to participate? - I urge you to read Dunbar’s or DuVal’s book this summer.