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History Dept. faculty participate in Humanities Texas workshops for schoolteachers

AUSTIN, Texas -June 15, 2009- What better venue to study "The U.S. Constitution and American History" than at the 36th President's Library and Museum at The University of Texas at Austin--LBJ country.

Posted: June 17, 2009
Schoolteachers attending Humanities Texas institute at LBJ Library and Museum

Schoolteachers attending Humanities Texas institute at LBJ Library and Museum

And who better to present lectures to 42 schoolteachers that Humanities Texas selected from 75 applicants, than the university's faculty—particularly historians.

The opening event to this four-day workshop started on Sunday, June 7, 2009 with a welcome from Acting Director of the LBJ Library and Museum, Tina Houston and Executive Director of Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanitites (NEH), Michael Gillette. Opening remarks were also given by the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Randy Diehl. The institute was sponsored by Humanities Texas, the LBJ Library and Museum, and the College of Liberal Arts.

On Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2002, the NEH created the "We the People" initiative as part of their mission to foster better teaching and the study of American history and culture. To that end, Humanities Texas sponsors two workshops a year on the same topic but in different areas of the state. The first institute for this year on the topic "The U.S. Constitution and American History" was held in Austin and the second one is being held in San Antonio this week.

Prof. Mark Lawrence discusses the Pentagon Papers and Watergate cases as being events that caused the courts and Congress to check executive power in early 1970sPHOTO CAPTION: Prof. Mark Lawrence discusses the Pentagon Papers and Watergate cases as being events that caused the courts and Congress to check executive power in early 1970s

Although lectures were presented by professors from various universities across the nation, they were predominately from the hosting university. And on Tuesday, the lineup was predominately the university's History Department faculty including,

  • George Forgie, associate chair and distinguished teaching professor, spoke on "From Dred Scott to the Fifteenth Amendment,"
  • David Oshinsky, distinguished teaching professor and the Jack S. Blanton Chair in History, discussed "Individual Liberties in Times of Crisis,"
  • H.W. Brands, the Dickson, Allen, Anderson Centennial Professor in History Professor, lectured on "FDR, the Courts, and the Constitution," and the following day,
  • Mark Lawrence, associate professor, talked about "The Constitution and the Limits of Executive Power: The Pentagon Papers and Watergate."

Forgie discussed the Dred Scott case (1857) and the Civil War era amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, designated the freed people as citizens, and barred states from denying the right to vote on account of race. Although placing these amendments in their historical context, Forgie also addressed the central role the Fourteenth Amendment plays in current controversial issues, such as abortion and gay rights.

Oshinsky talked about First Amendment protections and abuses in time of crisis. He focused on events during World War I, especially the crackdown on political dissenters, and World War II, particularly the internment of Japanese Americans. He also spoke about the Patriot Act, noting that the current debate between former Vice-President Cheney and members of the Obama administration over issues of freedom and security has a long history--one that is essential for students to understand.

Brands explained the furor Roosevelt provoked by his Supreme Court reform scheme of 1937--why FDR thought the court needed new blood, why most Americans reacted negatively to the court-packing proposal, and how Roosevelt lost the battle over his court plan but won the war over the role of government in American life.

Lawrence discussed the Pentagon Papers and Watergate cases, placing the two episodes within the broad effort by the courts and Congress to check executive power during the early 1970s. He emphasized especially that the Vietnam War, widely perceived as a mistaken policy initiative by the Johnson administration, left many Americans anxious about unchecked presidential authority.

Schoolteachers are welcomed to the workshop and library in the Great Hall at the LBJ LibraryPHOTO CAPTION: Schoolteachers are welcomed to the workshop and library in the Great Hall at the LBJ Library

When the Nixon administration sought to prevent newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers and refused to turn over the Watergate tapes, the Supreme Court ruled that it was overstepping the limits of its constitutional authority, dealing Nixon major defeats that continue to affect how Americans understand the limits of executive power down to the present.

Participants of the workshop from all over the state asked multiple questions provoking more discussion of the material presented by the award-winning professors. They were keenly interested in how to take the information and present it to their own students.

Humanities Texas has been conducting these workshops to support schoolteachers professional development and bring them into contact with professors with the most current research knowledge since 2004.

Surveys of previous teachers who have participated have given very positive reviews on how much it increased their own knowledge of the subject by getting to hear from faculty who are doing ongoing research, followed by Q and A and break-out discussion sessions. They have also said it helped them improve their own curricula, thereby increasing their students' enthusiasm and mastery of the subject as well.

Photos by Charles Bogel

Related Links:
Assoc. Prof. George Forgie
Prof. David Oshinsky
Prof. H.W. Brands
Assoc. Prof. Mark Lawrence
More on Humanitites Texas' "The U.S. Constitution and American History" institute
About Humanities Texas
We the People initiative by National Endowment for the Humanities
Constitution of the United States

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