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Faculty mentor schoolteachers at Humanities Texas June Institute

Department of History faculty participated in the continuing education institutes for middle and high school teachers on the Forty Acres organized by Humanities Texas on June 5-8, 2011.

Posted: June 21, 2011
Prof. Tiffany Gill

Prof. Tiffany Gill

The Department of History, the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Library and Museum, The University of Texas' (UT) College of Liberal Arts (COLA), and Humanities Texas (HTX) teamed up to provide one of 2011’s six institutes for Texas teachers. HTX organized the institute as part of the We the People initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities and was made possible with support from the State of Texas.

Four members of the Department of History's award-winning faculty along with professors from Stanford, UT Dallas, University of Houston, and Texas A&M University worked with 43 Texas middle and high school teachers to provide strategies, tools, and content to teach American History from the Civil War to the present. With the theme of "The Making of Modern America", there were plenty of lively break out sessions that followed the lectures.

HTX Director Michael L. Gillette got the institute underway on Sunday afternoon. Introductions followed by LBJ Library Deputy Director Tina Houston, COLA Dean Randy Diehl and Department of History Chair Alan Tully. Associate Professor Erika Bsumek and graduate student Neel Baumgardner coordinated the event with HTX, COLA and the Department of History.

Presentations, panel discussions, and small group workshops were held in meeting rooms at the library over the next three days. Each historian provided historical sources and documents, bibliographies of books, articles, and online resources for further study to aid readers as they begin to create a curriculum addressing new statewide standards.

Prof. David Oshinsky addresses school teachers at Humanities Texas summer institute at LBJ Library and Museum

Prof. David Oshinsky addresses the middle and high school teachers at Humanities Texas institute

History Department Professor H.W. "Bill" Brands started things off with a talk titled "How the Rich Got Rich: The Gilded Age in America." Brands used Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller as three examples that described how early American capitalists altered the shape of America's economic landscape. In the 30 years that followed the end of the Civil War, the population boomed, consumption grew rapidly and the national economy soared.

Bsumek followed on Monday morning with her talk titled "Populism, the Railroads, and the West" and detailed not just what populists believed but how they envisioned their role as one tied to the history of technical innovation and the American West.

Two years before Fredrick Jackson Turner asserted in 1893 that the frontier was a key component in the continued development of democracy and economic growth, populists speculated that the frontier facilitated more than democracy, it also fostered the kinds of reform movements that were necessary to avoid corruption.

While many believe that the civil rights movement started in the 1950s, Associate Professor of History Tiffany Gill demonstrated that events of the '50s were linked to efforts of previous generations of activists. In a talk titled "African Americans, the Color Line, and the Long Civil Rights Movement, 1920-1960", Gill illustrated that while the '50s was a catapulting decade for the movement, understanding what happened in preceding decades is essential to understanding capstone civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education.

Professor Brands continued with a talk titled "The Progressive Era", where he discussed the connections and differences between the populists and progressives. He used a selection from Jacob Riis' book, How the Other Half Lives to highlight the impact of muckrakers in the period.

Distinguished Teaching Professor David Oshinsky gave two talks titled "The 1950s" and "Delayed Justice: Tracking the Infamous Civil Rights Murders in the 'Mississippi Burning' Case."

Keeping the audience spellbound, Oshinsky linked his own experience as a child growing up on the eve of the polio epidemic to his 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Polio: An American Story, about the race to the vaccine. While fear of the Cold War cast a shadow on the lives of many Americans it was just one aspect of the American experience in the 1950s. He noted, in turn, that in the '50s, the effects of polio — and its eradication — on American minds and bodies should not be underestimated, nor should it be forgotten.

Humanities Texas Institute school teachers, June 5-8, 2011

Texas middle and high school teachers gather for group photo at the LBJ Library and Museum

He also recounted his harrowing experience in 1998 when he, his son, and a New York Times photographer visited the preacher Edgar Ray Killen, suspect in the Mississippi Files case.

Teachers left excited to share and incorporate into lesson plans and share their new learning experience with its fresh insights and perspectives. One middle school teacher wrote to Michael Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas, to express her appreciation for the excellent institute, "I can't wait for school to start so I can use all of the information I have learned!"

"Thank you to all the presenters for giving me great information to take back to my students. My batteries have been recharged… This has been the greatest professional development I have ever attended."

Another attendee wrote, "The most stimulating and useful professional development available!"

Additional comments on UT's Department of History professors:

Brands
"Brands never fails to intellectually entertain. Amazing."

"Professor Brands's lecture was outstanding. A very charismatic individual to set the tone for an exciting few days."

Bsumek
"Connected dots on this sometimes confusing time period. Very formidable info."

"Wonderful; my students deconstruct Turner's Frontier Thesis, now they can compare it with Dunning’s."

Gill
"Thoroughly enjoyed Tiffany Gill — she definitely needs to make it back to Humanities Texas!"

Oshinsky
"Speaker takes the 'marshmallow' of the 1950s and reminds us that so much more of true substance occurred in that decade.”

"So very brave; truly deserving of the admiration of every human. People talk about those who simply fall into being in the right place at the right time to make a difference. Oshinsky put himself in the right place 'for such a time as this.' What a gift it is for us to have met and to have heard him."

UT's History Department faculty participated in two other HTX institutes in June: Bill Brands in the El Paso program, and Mark Lawrence in Laredo and El Paso.

Photos by Charles Bogel

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