Thanksgiving and the Civil War

In October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling on all Americans “in every part of the United States . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” In doing so, Lincoln followed a long tradition of religious, political, and military leaders issuing proclamations of thanksgiving to inspire and unify Americans in difficult times.

Though the United States was embroiled in a bloody and destructive civil war, President Lincoln reminded the nation that there was still much to be thankful for: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies . . . Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed every where, except in the theatre of military conflict.”

Harper’s Weekly published the Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 17 and printed a two-page engraving by Thomas Nast on December 5. In the video below, Beth Huffer, curator of books and manuscripts, explains the significance of the engraving:

For more on Thanksgiving, read “A History of the Thanksgiving Holiday” by Catherine Clinton from History Now 4: American National Holidays.



Gilder Lehrman Institute at National Council for the Social Studies Conference

GLI Director of Education Tim Bailey speaks to teachers on the importance of usiThe Gilder Lehrman Institute was on the scene at the 97th National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference, held November 15–19 in San Francisco, California. The Institute held a conference session on using Teaching Literacy through History techniques and primary sources to teach World War I in the classroom, and met social studies educators from all over the country.

Thank you to all who attended our session or dropped by our booth to learn more about Gilder Lehrman programs, including the Affiliate School Program, Teacher Seminars, Teaching Literacy through History, digital collections, and more!



David Dinkins Reflects on His Term as New York City Mayor

A recent article in the New York Times evaluates the 1990–1993 term of Mayor David Dinkins, the first (and, to date, only) African American mayor of New York City. Addressing the popular conception that Dinkins did nothing to stop the city’s infamously high crime rates, which had been steadily climbing for several decades, the article argues that, thanks to Dinkins’ efforts, the city saw a small but significant decrease in crime rates for the first time in thirty years.

In this 2013 interview with James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, Dinkins discusses his proudest achievements during his term, which include increasing funding for public libraries, passing a “Safe Streets, Safe City” initiative to combat crime, and welcoming Nelson Mandela to the the city after his release from prison in South Africa in 1990. Watch a clip from the interview below:



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Brenda Mayes and Andrew Lincoln Smith

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Brenda Mayes and Andrew Lincoln Smith:


Brenda Mayes, Bates Elementary School
2017 Michigan History Teacher of the Year

What is the last great history book you read?
Churchill: A Life, by Martin Gilbert. An excellent, well-researched portrait of a fascinating man.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
Greenfield Village, part of The Henry Ford historic site in Dearborn, Michigan, features the homes of industrialists Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, Thomas Edison's laboratory, Luther Burbank's field office, as well as transplanted slave cabins and a plantation home, and steam locomotives. We take our fifth graders there every year; it's a perfect match for our history curriculum.

Who is your favorite historian?
My favorite historians are Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City, Isaac’s Storm) and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
My favorite historical film is The Gathering Storm about Winston Churchill.

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
Our Port Austin Reef lighthouse was built in 1877; prior to that, townspeople attached a lantern to the top of a cedar post to warn steamships. On the right is a photo of my grandparents, Ed and Lucy Mayes (center, he holding his beagle, Lady) on a winter trip to the lighthouse, which stands on a shoal 1.3 miles offshore.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
I’d love to meet Franklin Delano Roosevelt, because of his personal resilience, and his strength in leading our country out of the Great Depression and through World War II. I’d also maybe get to meet Eleanor and his dog, Fala, in the bargain!

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
My advice to potential teachers would be: if you have a passion for teaching, nothing is more rewarding than that aha! moment in the classroom. I’ve been fortunate to learn from two previous Gilder Lehrman winners, Michele Anderson and Anthony Salciccioli, that there is no other profession capable of elevating your students and fellow educators as much as teaching.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I’m intrigued by the 1920s; it was a Golden Age for the arts and architecture, as well as a time of growth for our country.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
My fifth grade boys and girls find the Civil War era fascinating. Many of my students also develop an interest in World War II and the Vietnam War from our veterans’ classroom visits.



Andrew Lincoln Smith, Scecina Memorial High School
2017 Indiana History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
One of my favorite moments is still the time a student finally figured out that a “compass rose” was not actually a rose diagram hidden in the map like a Where’s Waldo puzzle.

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
Fort Edward, New York, the town that I grew up in, was a fairly major part of the Seven Years’ and Revolutionary Wars. It’s also considered the birthplace of the US Army Rangers.

What is the last great history book you read?
Most recent was The Return of Martin Guerre. Fantastic work, reads like a novel, and is great exposure to peasant life for students who are unfamiliar with the sixteenth century.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
Fort Ticonderoga is hands down my favorite. Great place for immersion, fantastic museum, and the views of the Adirondacks are unparalleled.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
Aaron Burr. The whole “I’m not happy, so let’s start an army and commit treason” thing still just doesn’t entirely make sense to me, even after studying it for years. I really would love to know if he was as arrogant as some historians make him out to be.

Who is your favorite historian?
Walter Johnson is perhaps my favorite living historian, but Kenneth C. Davis is a close second.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
I would say that Seven Years in Tibet is one of my favorites. Not a strictly historical film, but based on the experiences of Heinrich Harrer, it really shows a different side of the conflict during WWII, and is a great film on immersion, cultural diffusion, and assimilation.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
The Gilded Age is what I focused on for my master’s degree. I’m partial to Soviet studies as well.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
Many of my students are interested in the 9/11 era. It has a direct consequence to them, but is not so far off that they can’t sympathize with the tensions and issues.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Sarah Crossingham and Michael Green

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Sarah Crossingham and Michael Green:


Sarah Crossingham, Wishek High School
2017 North Dakota History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
This past school year my school staff was involved in a book study. Our final project was to create a Student Appreciation Week. We had so much fun planning and implementing this in our school. We had games and activities planned for each day, including a one-act play (with teachers as the actors), a school-wide capture the flag, and a color run. It ended with taping our superintendent to the gym wall.

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
One fun fact I like to show my students are all the infrastructures the WPA created in Wishek, North Dakota, during the Great Depression—many of which are still used today. The Civic Center, the Wishek Swimming Pool, and sidewalks all around town have WPA markings and explanations.

What is the last great history book you read?
A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi. This book dives into the connections between mental illness and the effectiveness of leaders throughout history. Leaders explored include Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler, and others.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
I would love to meet Mary, Queen of Scots. Her story is fascinating, and I would be interested to hear her ideas on how to unite the divided Scotland and try to take the English throne from Elizabeth I.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
Schindler’s List, without a doubt. I feel that every student should watch, evaluate, and learn from this film. It shows the harsh reality of the Holocaust and the true story of a man trying to do the right thing.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
My favorite topic to teach is the court case Marbury v. Madison. I love turning this case into a twisted story time for my students. I really play up the backstabbing, twists, and turns, then finally the loophole to resolve the case.



Michael Green, Caesar Rodney High School
2017 Delaware History Teacher of the Year

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
The region I live in was a site of coal mining at its height in the early 1900s.

What is the last great history book you read?
American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I love to use Stanford University’s website Reading Like a Historian, which is great for resources.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
Make sure that you are passionate about the subject and you have to have patience—if not, don’t bother!

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
This is cliché, but I really want to meet Abraham Lincoln and see for myself what he was like.

Who is your favorite historian?
I really enjoyed learning from Gary Gallagher from the University of Virginia at my summer teacher seminar, and have liked the books I have read by him.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
My favorite historical film is between is a tight race between Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, and Glory.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I really enjoy the Civil War era, specifically the war and its lead up and aftermath.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
They usually like WWII and Vietnam, or the 1950s–1970s.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Barbara Kraft, Oregon

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Barbara Kraft:


Barbara Kraft, Liberty High School
2017 Oregon History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
Toward the end of the year in 2016, the objective for the day was understanding the impact of the Iran-Contra scandal. The lesson I planned was derailed as students kept asking questions I had not anticipated. We ended up having an incredible, unplanned discussion. At the end, one student shouted out, “I learned more in the last 45 minutes than I ever have from Twitter!” After telling this story at lunch, a fellow teacher typed up the quote and hung it in my classroom over my desk. It is a good reminder that sometimes I make an impact, and when I do, it feels amazing!

What is the last great history book you read?
I just finished Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. It added to my understanding of the Space Race and offered me another perspective of American history. I highly recommended it to my students and others. I am impressed at how skillfully the author blended history, science and social issues. It also made me wonder what other untold history needs to be explored. History is perspective and more perspectives need to be added to further the rich complexities of this nation’s history.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I grew up in Butte, Montana, which touts itself as “Montana’s Most Historic City.” There is a World Museum of Mining behind Montana Tech. Throughout my youth, we regularly visited the museum (as it was free!). It is 22 acres of buildings that are set up like a mining town. There are replications of a saloon, blacksmith, eye glass doctor and an old time grocery. There is also a school house with a swing in the back where I would play with my sisters. There was a Chinese laundry and a sauerkraut factory, both giving credit to the immigrants who settled and built the city. Finally, there was the Orphan Girl mine that we could explore and really see what it was like to be a miner in the early 20th century. These tours taught me to love history and to respect the people that have come to this country to make a living and contributed to the growth of our nation. This museum let me be a part of history as I walked down the streets and imagined what it would have been like to live in that time. It still stands today. My last visit was July 3, 2008 as I shared my childhood memories with my husband and son. I remember it well because men in dark suits were roaming the old-time streets and it was odd. I only understood why when I saw the broadcast the next day of Barack Obama at the World Museum of Mining during his first campaign!

What is your favorite historical film or series?
John Jakes’ North and South was extremely impactful on my love of history. I was in high school when the miniseries debuted on television. It hooked my interest in the Civil War and I wanted to know more. I clearly remember where the books were on the shelf in the library. I read all three books in the series, and then asked the librarian if there were more books like this. The librarian helped me find more historical fiction, which is still my favorite genre for pleasure reading today. These novels also made me want to know more and led me to read nonfiction books about history.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I am very passionate about the Progressive Era. It includes women’s suffrage, advancement of Civil Rights and the national conversation about the role of government in citizens’ lives. My students read excerpts from Teddy Roosevelt, Alice Paul, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida Tarbell, Andrew Carnegie, Upton Sinclair, and several immigrant stories. It is an era that has accessible primary documents that offer multiple perspectives that lead to rich discussions with many connects to present day.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
My students seem to “turn on” when we get to the Civil Rights era. It is toward the end of the year, and students have fine-tuned their skills of academic reading and writing and are more confident in their abilities. In this unit students can focus more on the content. One of my favorite lessons is analyzing excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Drum Major Instinct” and Robert Kennedy’s “Speech on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.” Each year, student engagement is high, and they get goosebumps as we listen to King and Kennedy speak. At the end of the lesson, students reflect on the words spoken by these two men and make a statement about how they want to be remembered or what they want to make of our nation. Reading their reflections is inspiring. I hang them in the hallway and love when I see other students stop and read.



A Veterans Day Exploration of the Vietnam War

In honor of Veterans Day, we are reposting our resources on the Vietnam War, a post originally created to coincide with the premiere of Ken Burns The Vietnam War. Explore Vietnam Warrelated scholarly essays, primary source documents, teaching tools, and videos from our website:

Video: The Origins of the Vietnam War
In this video lecture, National Security Archive senior fellow John Prados discusses the factors that led to the Vietnam War. 

Infographic: The Vietnam War: Military Statistics
An infographic shows the number of deployed US military forces and casualties from 1964 to 1972.

Featured Primary Source: Robert F. Kennedy to John Bayliss, 1967
In this September 15, 1967, letter Senator Robert F. Kennedy states that the government’s goal in Vietnam “is to protect the right of the South Vietnamese to be able to govern themselves.”

Essay: The First Saddest Day of My Life: A Vietnam War Story
Sharon D. Raynor takes readers through the Vietnam War diary of her father, Louis Raynor, who was drafted at age eighteen and served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. 

Essay: The Vietnam War and the My Lai Massacre
George Herring, professor of history emeritus at the University of Kentucky, looks at the events and legacy of the 1968 My Lai and My Khe massacres, in which US soldiers killed more than 400 Vietnamese civilians. 

Essay: The Consequences of Defeat in Vietnam
Mark Atwood Lawrence, associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, investigates why the US government, while exploring military tactics for fighting the Vietnam War, failed to assess the possibility and consequences of a defeat.

Featured Primary Source: Edward Kennedy on conscience, resistance, and reconciliation at the end of the Vietnam War, 1973
In a letter written after the Paris Peace Accords officially ended US involvement in Vietnam, Senator Kennedy discusses the need to care for those who served in Southeast Asia and to turn “attention to reconciliation and healing the wounds and bitterness created by this long and costly conflict.” 

Lesson Plan: The End of the Vietnam War: Conscience, Resistance, and Reconciliation
In this two-lesson unit, students use primary source documents to explore the moral and political arguments of the post-war debate over pardons for draft evasion.

Essay: Vietnam Veterans Memorial
In this excerpt from Maya Lin’s Boundaries, the designer and artist reflects on the symbolism and significance of her winning design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, and what meaning it holds for her.



Honoring Sara Ziemnik, 2017 History Teacher of the Year

Historian Eric Foner presents Sara Ziemnik with the 2017 NHTOY Award.On November 8, Sara Ziemnik was honored as the 2017 National History Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in New York City, where Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Eric Foner presented Ziemnik with her award and a prize of $10,000. 

Two of Ziemnik’s students from Rocky River High School, Adam Hackett and Julia Paynard, took the stage to praise Ziemnik for her innovative and exciting teaching style, which awakened not only their love of history, but an appreciation of its impact on the present day.

In accepting her award, Ziemnik spoke of the importance of bringing controversial topics, past and present, into the classroom as a way to encourage students to form their own opinions based on evidence and respectful dialogue.

“Any silence [is] a statement . . . and silence is a dangerous choice,” she told the packed room of teachers, students, historians, and Gilder Lehrman Institute partners. Having difficult discussions, according to Ziemnik, helps students grow into civic-minded and politically engaged adults able to think critically and form educated opinions. 

Sara Ziemnik gives her acceptance speech.Ziemnik ended her speech by discussing the importance of studying American history. “I tell my students that we did not create the past, but we have inherited it. The fabric of history is woven into us and into our American story. . . . We have to be relentless in our drive to understand where we have been so that we can comprehend who we are today and where we are going.” 

Ziemnik has taught American history and world history for seventeen years at Rocky River High School, where she encourages her students to learn from one another, centering her classroom around debate, discussion, and inquisitive learning. She deploys digital tools and works with the local community to bring the past alive for her students. Among her projects was a partnership with Cleveland State University to create and add content to the “Cleveland Historical” app, where students can explore Cleveland history via interactive tours.

Congratulations, Sara!


 


Nominations for the 2018 History Teacher of the Year awards are now open. Students, parents, colleagues, and supervisors may nominate K12 teachers for the award at gilderlehrman.org/nhtoy.

 


Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Kristanne Heaton, DoDEA

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Kristanne Heaton:



Kristanne Heaton, WT Sampson Middle/High School, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
2017 Department of Defense Education Activity History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
It didn’t seem funny at the time, but I look back now and laugh at the student who asked right before the APUSH test, “Now, we won the Revolutionary War, right?” Some of my favorite memories are when a class is totally engaged in a lesson—the French Revolution game, the WWI simulation, or the primary sources investigation of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. However, my all-time favorite memories are the students who have confided in me at the end of the course that they plan to study history or become history teachers.

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
The “town” I lived in when I won the DoDEA History Teacher of the Year Award, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has a very interesting history. My biggest challenge is really just choosing which fact I should share. Its mere existence is an interesting historical fact, and the plaque commemorating the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494 is surely interesting, too. The fact that the shuttered and guarded border displays a quote from Jose Marti is fascinating. But the fact that you drive by the remnants of the infamous Camp X-Ray on the way back from seeing the border holds an ironic power certainly not lost on this history teacher. The Battle for Cuzco Well happened here in the Spanish-American War, but my personal favorite is the battle that took place here in Guantanamo Bay between the British and the Spanish in the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Best name ever!

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I love all historical sites, of course! As someone who specialized in early Christian art in graduate school, I will always appreciate the layers of history one can explore in Rome. But the American history teacher in me has really loved living in Guantanamo Bay for that same reason. My most recent favorite was a visit to the Tenement Museum in New York City. Again, it was an amazing testament to the layers of history and culture immigrants have brought to the United States.

Who is your favorite historian?
I enjoy exploring new perspectives on history. Jared Diamond’s interdisciplinary, wide-reaching approach really influenced how I think about history, as did the innovative socio-biologist, E.O. Wilson. I also have always loved the work of Michael Camille, medieval art historian, who wrote about the “margins” (both the art found there, and the lives lived there). But the historian I read most often is probably Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What is the last great history book you read?
Ron Chernow’s Hamilton. It is taking me longer than usual to read because I have to stop and sing every song from the musical in my head before I can keep reading. But I’ll continue striving to be “a hero and a scholar.”

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education, but are unsure?
I think that it is important for teachers to be learners, as well. Find the subjects that interest you and find a way to contribute to the research about that subject. The process of engaging yourself in the discipline will allow you to engage your students more.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
George Washington. This might seem like a cliché for an American history teacher, but I have always wanted to better understand how he saw his position in the American experiment. Did he really “tremble” at his inauguration speech? If so, why? What was he feeling? Scared at the daunting task, or humbled by the power? Was he hoping for greatness or hoping to define a new kind of leadership where he was not supreme? Feelings are something history doesn’t record very well, so that is why he tops my list to meet in person.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
Film can be a great tool for teaching, but sometimes the film itself is an invaluable primary source of the era you are studying. For this reason, I love to use Gone with the Wind, Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, or Kapra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But my favorite depiction of a historical period is still the epic Gandhi.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
Right now, anything “Hamilton!” I also find America’s role in the Age of Imperialism very interesting. That period of our history seems to be a window into the dual nature of the American character, as we are always trying to define and reimagine our place in the world.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
If they want an “A,” they love studying Alexander Hamilton! Actually, I find that students are always interested in our wars. I think that young people want to understand our greatest conflicts, why they happened, and how we worked through them. Additionally, young people have a great deal of empathy and want to hear about how people got through some of our hardest times. Whether we are studying slavery, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movements, or the internment of the Japanese during WWII, I find these are really powerful topics for my students.



Explore John F. Kennedy with the Gilder Lehrman Institute

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas, an event that shocked the nation and has continued to be a source of intrigue for many Americans, as evidenced by the federal government’s recent release of thousands of documents related to the assassination. But how did the events unfold on that day, and how did the news filter through to the American public?

The Gilder Lehrman Collection holds a document that provides insight into the turmoil on November 22: a copy of the Dow Jones ticker tape that tells the story of Kennedy’s assassination in real time. The ticker tape, which reports on the entire day of the assassination, announces concrete news items, including the official pronouncement of Kennedy’s death, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson taking of the oath of office. These facts are interjected with moments of speculation and confusion, as the conditions of the president and vice president are at first unclear, and the police hunt for suspects. Watch Curator Beth Huffer discuss the ticker tape in the video below.

You can read excerpts from the ticker tape here.

Kennedy’s presidency, though cut short, marked a shift in American society and politics, both at home and abroad. Kennedy’s inaugural address, in which he famously told Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country,” set the tone for an era of an intensifying Cold War, a Civil Rights Movement that was gathering momentum in the face of racial injustice, and a youthful energy that would dominate American culture through the sixties. Among the accomplishments that ushered in new American participation in international development, particularly among young people, was the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961.


Follow the links below for more resources on John F. Kennedy and his presidency. Then test your knowledge with our quiz or sign up for our self-paced course on the Kennedy presidency.

Videos

The Origins of the Vietnam War

Featured Primary Sources

JFK on the containment of Communism, 1952
John Kennedy compares US and Soviet military power, 1953
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, 1961



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Rebecca Berry, West Virginia, and Robert Prichard, Missouri

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Rebecca Berry and Robert Prichard:


Rebecca Berry, Morgantown High School
2017 West Virginia History Teacher of the Year

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
My hometown of Ambridge, PA is about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh and was home to the American Bridge Company. Before closing, the American Bridge Company produced steel that was used to build the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.

What is the last great history book you read?
Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787 by Catherine Drinker Bowen.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
The Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall).

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
Benjamin Franklin.

Who is your favorite historian?
Miss Windisch, my history teacher in high school who inspired me to become a teacher.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
Lincoln or Matewan.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
The Constitutional Era



Robert Prichard, St. Clair High School
2017 Missouri History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
Early in my career, when a phone was installed in my room, my second hour, which was a very close group, decided the next time someone missed class, we would call and check on them. So when Becky missed class, we called her as class began. When she answered groggily we found out she had blown out her ACL in a late-night away volleyball game. None of us knew she had spent the night in the ER (pre-social media), and was on heavy painkillers. We felt terrible, and had a card and flowers when she returned. No more phone calls to missing students. Today Becky is my son’s kindergarten teacher!

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
In the early 20th century, a St. Louis shoe company wanted to build a factory in the area, and several towns along what was Route 66 competed for the factory. My home town put together the quickest and best bid, winning the factory site. St. Clair flourished, while the other towns are now ghost towns.

What is the last great history book you read?
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

Who is your favorite historian?
James McPherson.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
Band of Brothers

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
The US Civil War.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
The Sixties

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
Teaching is a calling. They are so very many reasons not to get into education today, but if you feel that passion, nothing else will satisfy. If you are certain that is what you wish to do, you should follow that path.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
Theodore Roosevelt, because he came from the privileged class, yet took pains to move America toward a more economically equal footing in his time.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Matthew Heys, Nebraska

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Matthew Heys:


Matthew Heys, Millard West High School
2017 Nebraska History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
I’m sure there are too many of these to pick just one. I have reached a point in my career where several of my former students have, themselves, entered the profession. That is a powerful moment for an educator, when you see everything come full circle like that.

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
Today I’m very much a Nebraskan, but I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, so I’ll share a little oddity from “The Lou.” In March of 1803 St. Louis remained under Spanish administration, even though America’s acquisition of Louisiana from Napoleon was just days away. The surrounding region had been nominally French for some time, but actual governance in St. Louis was still subject to Spanish supervision. Civic leaders concluded that St. Louis could not become “American” until, if only briefly, it revisited its French roots. So in a grand ritual spanning 48 hours and involving everyone from the Spanish territorial governor to Lewis and Clark, as well as representatives of France, of course, the Spanish flag was lowered, the French tricolor raised (for about a day), and then it, too, was ceremonially displaced—this time by the stars and stripes. Each raising and lowering proved to be a great excuse for solemn pronouncements, optimistic toasts, occasional fireworks, etc.—and given the fact that Lewis and Clark were headed in my direction next (Omaha), I still feel justified each year in celebrating Three Flags Day from afar.

What is the last great history book you read?
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I had a chance in 2010 to visit the Crimea. The Livadia Palace Museum where the Big Three’s final WWII summit (the Yalta Conference) took place is amazing. The docents acknowledge that many of the original furnishings and artifacts have been lost, but it remains a place where you can descend a flight of stairs and look at the toys of the last Romanov crown prince one minute and stand a few feet from where FDR, Stalin, and Churchill shaped the postwar world the next. It feels like the entire twentieth century smashed into one parlor.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
Trust your mentors, but do not discount the value of inexperience. I am sure, having taught almost twenty-five years, I would cringe if I could travel back and see how poorly designed some of my early lessons were, or how ill-prepared I was, in some respects, for teaching. But I also know there are some approaches from those days that—with a lot of adaptation, to be sure—nevertheless survive now. A lot of early teaching does involve, unfortunately, watching a lesson plan self-destruct. But you’d be surprised how often the solution you improvise out of that scenario becomes a technique you can return to again and again.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be, and why?
I have watched too much Doctor Who to be comfortable taking this risk. I know I would do something seemingly innocuous, like lose a contact lens in imperial Persia, and create the preconditions for some terrible, apocalyptic event to unfold when I returned to the present.

Who is your favorite historian?
Barbara Tuchman.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
My favorite historical series is The Day the Universe Changed, and my favorite historical film is A Time for Burning.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
Reconstruction. I get a lot of grief for this, because many of my students want us to linger within the Civil War, whereas my priority is always to spend a lot of time in Reconstruction.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Amy Diegel, Hawaii

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Amy Diegel:



Amy Diegel, Mililani Waena Elementary School
2017 Hawaii History Teacher of the Year

What is the last great history book you read?
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. History has always been written by the victors, and I appreciate how this book shows balance and gives credence to much-overlooked aspects of the people and events that have shaped this country. It forces the reader to consider a more encompassing view of not only history, but of life, which inspires me to teach my fourth and fifth grade National History Day students about balance in their own interpretations and analysis of history.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
My favorite historical site is Pearl Harbor—specifically, the Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri. It’s pretty incredible to be standing in the very place the United States joined World War II. The oil slick from the USS Arizona is visible on the surface of the harbor water and is enchantingly beautiful. The way it ebbs and flows is nothing short of balletic . . . but under such beauty lies something so somber and haunting. Standing in the memorial itself is to become entrenched in its history, and fills your heart so full of emotion, it comes out through your eyes by way of tears.

Who is your favorite historian?
Sarah Vowell—what wouldn’t I give to spend an afternoon with her. How cool it is to tell the students I teach that the voice of Violet in The Incredibles has made history funny and engaging for millions of adults! Somehow, it makes history cooler for them too.

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
Teaching one of my students how to yell in the library at her teacher was one of my favorite and funniest memories of teaching. My student had researched Emmeline Pankhurst for her National History Day project and was preparing a performance for the district competition. We held sessions in the library twice a week, so this became her rehearsal space. One adjective she used to describe Emmeline Pankhurst was “militant”—well, if you are going to be militant about something, you need to be vocal and passionate in what you say and how you act. I told her she had to yell as if she was at a rally at Hyde Park and needed to convince others of her convictions. So for the next half hour, we both screamed rally cries at the top of our lungs in the library. At the district competition, she made the judges jump out of their seats due to her sheer volume.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
I likenGlory, directed by Edward Zwick. The soundtrack makes it seem like it’s real ghosts singing through the orchestral arrangement, demanding that their stories be told. It was about so much more than war, and highlights parts of history that others have made small.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
Because I teach drama to elementary school students, I try to align my lessons with what they are learning in their classrooms or topics that I think they would find fascinating. One lesson my students enjoy is on Shakespeare and Elizabethan England. Students pick cards when entering the classroom and depending on the number, they get assigned to be the royalty, the gentry, the yeoman, or the peasants. They get pretty into their roles. Royalty gets certain perks during the lesson, like eating popcorn in class and sitting on thrones, but come to realize that they are only able to stay in power with the support of the other three groups.

Another favorite lesson is on the Stamp Act and other events that led to the Revolutionary War. Students get to have candy (“Yay!”), but are “taxed” heavily and have it steadily taken away (“Not fair!”). Through their increasing disappointment and watching their candy stashes dwindle, they develop empathy with the colonists and their plight. We use those experiences to make a more emotionally accurate tableau vivant to show and act out the events leading up to the Revolutionary War.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: CherylAnne Amendola, New Jersey

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet CherylAnne Amendola:



CherylAnne Amendola, Montclair Kimberley Academy
2017 New Jersey History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
Every year I ask my students to memorize the preamble of the Constitution by singing the School House Rock version. It is totally optional, but if they do it I bake them a cake, or cupcakes, or cookies, or a special request, like candy sushi. One student was absent the day his class performed, so when he returned he played his rendition of “We The People” on the trumpet before the class joined in with him, singing the words. It was awesome!

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
There is a tavern in town (now a dentist’s office) built around 1770. George Washington mentions John Dods tavern in several letters as a reference point for directions for Revolutionary soldiers.

What is the last great history book you read?
Most Blessed of the Patriarchs by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
This is so hard! Do I have to pick just one? I love the Tower of London, The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg (the living museum!) and Monticello, to name a few. I’ve also enjoyed visiting Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
Do it. I wasn’t sure, either, but it is such a rewarding profession. You can change lives, save lives, and open hearts. Every year you teach, but it is different depending on the students you have and where you allow them to take you.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be, and why?
Another hard question, GLI! Harriet Jacobs, because her narrative is so comprehensive, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking. I’d like to talk to her about it if she’d let me. I’d want to meet Thomas Jefferson, the “American Sphinx” himself. I want him to explain “all men are created equal” and his views on slavery. I need to know once and for all how he could write such a beautiful phrase but live such a cursed life, and he could hopefully explain that best. I’d also like to meet Henry Clay to pick up some pointers about how to get people to compromise.

Who is your favorite historian?
Peter Onuf, hands down, followed closely by Annette Gordon-Reed. I’ve been reading a lot of Maxine N. Laurie’s work about New Jersey, too, and she is also interesting.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
1776. I know, I know. It’s not really an historical film or series, but it sure is fun!

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
The colonial period and American Revolution, followed closely by the early federal period. I also like to dabble in World War II. It would’ve been cool to have been a part of the greatest generation.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
Honestly, they tend to enjoy what I enjoy.  As long as I bring excitement into the room, it usually catches on. Currently, though, they’re enjoying learning about America’s first political parties because we use the music from Hamilton to make it fun.

 


Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Rebecca Moll, Arkansas

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Rebecca Moll:



Rebecca Moll, Haas Hall Academy
2017 Arkansas History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?I thought I had a brilliant idea to get my students to research and dig deeper into history by having a “Tea Time,” so that we could “gossip” about the Harding administration and all of the scandals. It turned out that the assignment coincided with the release of President Harding’s letters to his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips. Needless to say high school students found those more interesting than the Teapot Dome Scandal.
 

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
The oldest house still standing in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is known as the Ridge House. Sarah Ridge moved to Fayetteville following her husband’s assassination in Indian Territory. Sarah’s husband was John Ridge, a leader in the Cherokee Nation that signed the Treaty of New Echota. When the Cherokee reached Indian Territory, members of the Ross faction set out to assassinate members of the Treaty Party. This left Sarah, her seven children, and their tutor to seek refuge in Fayetteville. As a result of their time in Fayetteville, the children’s tutor, Sophia Sawyer, established the Fayetteville Female Seminary. Sarah’s son John Rollin Ridge went on to become the first editor of the Sacramento Bee and is considered the first Native American novelist, for his book The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit. Sarah and John Ridge are also my great-great-great-great grandparents! 

What is the last great history book you read?
Recently, my students and I decided to start a rowing program at our high school, and when we met with the local rowing club, we were advised to read The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James BrownIt is a wonderful story about the University of Washington rowing team’s unlikely rise to represent the United States at the Berlin Games. American Experience has an episode called Boys of ’36.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has made a big impact on teaching US history in our region. The museum is set up as a timeline of US history from the colonial period to now. Many of the famous painting featured in textbooks now reside in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is a wonderful way to walk through history. My students can see Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington, and Theodore Robinson’s World’s Columbian Exposition, as well as work by modern artists like Andy Warhol.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
Chief Justice John Marshall, by far one of the most underrated political figures. The idea of judicial review is one of the greatest American constructs. I would want to thank him for his early rulings to allow the judicial branch to be an independent institution for the people of the United States.

Who is your favorite historian?
Dee Brown, Arkansan and author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
PBS American Experience!

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
US foreign policy is my all-time favorite topic! Every president has had their own idea on the US involvement abroad, but there is a more complex element when you add Congress and public opinion. Whether it was the Barbary Coast, the Philippines, Vietnam, or Kosovo, each president had a methodology in their decision making. I was fortunate enough to attend the GLI Teacher Seminar at the University of Texas on United States Foreign Policy since 1898, with Professor Jeremi Suri.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
My students really enjoy reenacting the disputes that led up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The students are paired with the various countries that were negotiating the closure of World War I. They really love the idea of creating an alternate ending that would result in greater strife or peace depending on the actors. Every year, the discussions are heated, and they never end the same. I like activities where you can engage the students in the idea of conflict resolution—that historical events are more complex than what is written on a page.  

 



Congratulations to Sara Ziemnik, the 2017 National History Teacher of the Year!

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is pleased to announce that Sara Ziemnik of Rocky River, Ohio, has been named the 2017 National History Teacher of the Year. Ziemnik will be honored at a ceremony in New York on November 8, where Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Eric Foner will present her with the award and a prize of $10,000.

Ziemnik has taught American history and world history for seventeen years at Rocky River High School, where she encourages her students to learn from one another, centering her classroom around debate, discussion, and inquisitive learning.

Rocky River High School principal Robert Winton praises Ziemnik as “a master at her craft,” and notes that in her classroom, “students are engaged through Socratic Seminars, role-playing and other creative ways to relay historical events to high school kids. She is able to teach rigorous content and hold high learning expectations all while keeping a smile on her students faces.”

Learn more about Sara Ziemnik in our press release and in her “Get to Know the History Teachers of the Year” Q&A!



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Katherine Harrell, Kansas & Lance VanderWorst, South Dakota

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Katherine Harrell and Lance VanderWorst:



Katherine Harrell, Tonganoxie Middle School
2017 Kansas History Teacher of the Year 

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
I live in Tonganoxie, Kansas, which is named after a Delaware Indian chief, whose name in the Delaware language translates to “shorty..

What is the last great history book you read?
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
Know that you will not get rich in this profession, but you will do very meaningful, positive, and enjoyable work.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
I would like to travel back and meet Thomas Jefferson. I’m fascinated by his intelligence, talents, and complexity. I would love to ask him various questions about his views on slavery and government.

Who is your favorite historian?
David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
The original Roots series.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
The Civil War.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
Like their teacher, the Civil War.



Lance VanderWorst, Herreid Independent School District
2017 South Dakota History Teacher of the Year

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
Watching the interaction between my students and our area veterans surrounding our school Veteran’s Day activities.

State one fun historical fact about the town you live in or grew up in.
The town of Herreid is named after South Dakota governor Charles N. Herreid. He became governor the same year that the town was founded (1901).

What is the last great history book you read?
Revolutionary Characters by Gordon S. Wood.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
I love the historic sites in and around Boston.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
You need to have a passion for helping kids, working with the public and your subject content area.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
George Washington. His leadership in leading a ragtag army to defeat the greatest military power on Earth was nothing short of miraculous.

Who is your favorite historian?
Gordon S. Wood.

What is your favorite historical film or series?
Sons of Liberty.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
The Revolutionary War era.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
Revolutionary War, Civil War, Indian Wars, World War II, and Vietnam.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Elise Cuevas, Mississippi

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Elise Cuevas:



Elise Cuevas, Our Lady Academy
2017 Mississippi History Teacher of the Year 

What is the last great history book you read?
Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, the story of the Rwandan genocide. While the genocide was not that long ago, nonetheless, it is historical. l read her story of determination, courage, and strength in one sitting.

What is your favorite historical site or museum?
My favorite historical site is the FDR memorial in Washington DC, but a place I love to visit is the Supreme Court. I am enamored with the work of the Supreme Court and wish I could be there for every decision day and every session of oral arguments.

If you could travel back in time and meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I or Anne Boleyn, because that time period has always intrigued me. They were both strong women who influenced government and politics. They had a voice in world dominated by men.

Who is your favorite historian?
Elie Wiesel is my favorite historian because I am inspired by his ability to turn an absolutely horrific event into an opportunity to inform people. To me, he is our greatest source of information about the Holocaust. He has spent his life re-living his near death experience, in hopes that it is never forgotten or ignored. Most people would have done everything to forget and move on.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I have many favorite topics. Some include the time of the founding fathers and the writing of the Constitution, the influence of the Supreme Court and its monumental decisions, and the Cold War.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
My students tend to be very interested in WWII and the Holocaust. That interest inspired a field trip to Europe with WWII and the Holocaust as the focus. We were able to visit key places integral to the war (the Berlin Wall, the diary of Anne Frank, and Auschwitz to name a few). Five students accompanied me on this trip. My students are also interested in things that affect them today, such as the Electoral College, Supreme Court decisions that impact the interpretation of the Bill of Rights, and elections. However, they generally perk up when I share stories of historical figures that you do not read in a normal history texts such as that Ruth Bader Ginsberg graduated top of her class but could not get a job because she was a woman or the fact that Lyndon B. Johnson held meetings with people while he was on the toilet. I spend a whole day sharing stories of pork-barrel projects in Congress. The students love those kinds of facts.



Elbridge Gerry and the Original Gerrymander

“The Gerrymander: A New Species of Monster,” Boston Gazette, March 26, 1812. (Library of Congress)

Elbridge Gerry—signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Constitutional Convention (follow the links to documents by and about Gerry in the Gilder Lehrman Collection), congressman, diplomat, governor, and vice president—had a distinguished political career, but his legacy largely rests on one word: gerrymander. 

Gerrymander refers to the act of manipulating the borders of a voting district to favor one party. This often results in serpentine, labyrinthine districts. The practice of gerrymandering has persisted with no clear rules on what constitutes acceptable versus illegal and overly partisan redistricting. This may change in October, when the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in Gill v. Whitford on the constitutionality of a redrawn district in Wisconsin. But where does the term—and the practice—originate?

In 1812, Massachusetts Democratic-Republicans drew up a plan for new voting districts to retain control of the state senate in upcoming elections. Governor Gerry, a Democratic-Republican, found the plan “disagreeable” but reluctantly signed it. The plan was mocked by the Boston Gazette, which depicted an affected district in Gerry’s home county of Essex as a salamander, calling it “The Gerry-mander.” The plan, though criticized, worked as intended. In the 1812 election, the Democratic-Republicans retained control of the state senate with 29 seats to the Federalists’ 11, although the party lost control of the state house of representatives, and Gerry lost his reelection bid.

Perhaps ironically, Gerry spent most of his political career as a moderate nonpartisan, viewing the growing political divide between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans with distaste and preferring to follow his own principles rather than those of either party. He refused to sign the US Constitution in 1787 on the grounds that it had no bill of rights, and then joined with anti-Federalists to pass the Bill of Rights in Congress. However, he went on to support the economic policies of Federalist Alexander Hamilton and served as a diplomat to France under Federalist president John Adams. It was only after Federalists blamed the  XYZ Affair on Gerry’s actions as a diplomat that he formally joined the Democratic-Republicans.



Get to Know the 2017 History Teachers of the Year: Aaron Weiss, Illinois

This year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recognized 52 State History Teachers of the Year for their tireless and innovative efforts to make history come alive for their students.

But who are they, really? We asked these talented teachers to answer a few questions about themselves and to reflect on the challenges and joys of teaching. We will feature a state winner every Tuesday and Thursday, so keep checking back to learn more about these outstanding educators!

This week, meet Aaron Weiss:



Aaron Weiss, Walter Payton College Prep
2017 Illinois History Teacher of the Year 

Do you have a favorite/funny memory from teaching?
I made the mistake of telling a class of 10th graders that I hate/am-afraid-of marshmallow Peeps.  They spent the next two years hiding them around my classroom to see if I’d notice. Before they graduated, they hung and hid about two hundred drawings of Peeps around the room before I got to school. They’re juniors in college now and I’m still finding them. It makes me smile when I open a book and a hand-drawn Peep falls out.

Do you have a favorite historical topic or era?
I like anything in history when I can discover how topics, people, or themes intersect or connect. One of the things I love about studying and teaching history is that every time I think I really understand a topic, I realize it’s even bigger and more complex than I knew.

Do your students have a favorite historical topic or era?
I’m always a little surprised at the overwhelming enthusiasm during our post-WWII/Cold War unit. I think it’s because it can be delightfully weird (duck-and-cover, HUAC drama, espionage, growth of suburbs) but it’s also a time when they can see our modern America coming into focus (America in the world, new and enduring methods of racial discrimination, new gender roles and definitions, as well as new strategies for confronting inequities and moving America closer to its ideals). They (and I) also like discovering how so many different themes and stories from the era (WWII demobilization, housing, anti-communism at home, family life, civil rights, politics, and student movements) were linked and influenced one another.

What is the last great history book you read?
The book that has stayed with me most in the past year is Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. Although it’s a novel, it captures entire eras of American history through recollections and stories of ordinary people. While it isn’t strictly a history book, it has greatly helped me frame and ponder American history with its themes of fathers and sons, anger and forgiveness, misunderstanding and figuring-it-out, inclusion and exclusion, and change and continuity, and how we perceive, judge, and forgive each other and ourselves. And best of all, it is set in Iowa, so it feels very familiar and reminds me of where I grew up. I have a Marilynne Robinson quotation hanging in my classroom: “I think the basis of democracy is a willingness to assume well about other people. You have to assume that basically people want to do the right thing.”

Who is your favorite historian?
Robert Johnston was my advisor in grad school at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He’s been an incredibly inspiring mentor as someone who infuses his historical work with modern connections and a belief that history must serve a modern purpose and can help us build a strong, inclusive democracy. Additionally, he cares deeply about teaching and sets an example of patient steering in the classroom. Working with Robert helped me crystallize many of my own beliefs and goals about the craft of teaching history.

What advice would you give to young people, in high school or college, who may be considering a career in education but are unsure?
There’s no such thing as a born teacher. Building a successful career in this job (like most rewarding jobs) takes intentional practice, self-reflection, and an expectation of continual growth. I’ve been teaching fifteen years, and there are a lot of things I feel like I’m just starting to figure out, and other things I haven’t even scratched the surface of. I say all of this as encouragement to new and prospective teachers, because it is okay to not have it all figured out right away (or after a decade-plus). But if this is something you care about, dive in and go for it. I can’t imagine a more interesting or rewarding life.