The challenges and joys of teaching USII in the age of Trump

This fall I am teaching the US History II (1870-present) for the first time in almost a decade. Oh boy. Typically I teach the European History II survey course that covers twenty-seven countries over five centuries. I jumped at this opportunity to teach the history of just one country over 140 years.

When I last taught USII, it was while I was simultaneously teaching at four different colleges. To maintain my sanity back then (and with a newborn on my hands), I stuck to a textbook-aligned plan that allowed for minimal flexibility. I had my stock lectures and themes and led primarily teacher-centered classes.

Things are going to be different this time around. My students will explore US History as it relates to some of the most pressing issues of today: namely race, immigration, and ethnicity. News coverage is saturated with Trump pronouncements about “building a wall” and halting Muslim immigration, as well as his “look at my African-American” comment at a recent rally. I can’t see any other way to teach USII without addressing the history behind these remarks and why they get so much traction today.

First stop, We’re History and The Junto. 

PS I found inspiration in this AHA Perspectives article:







Continuing the conversation…

OK, everyone, summer is near and we will soon have a bit more time to explore teaching with digital history. I’m going to pick up where I left off in March and blog about my experiences with some of the tools that were presented at the conference.

In the past two weeks I have received queries from conference participants regarding the digital tools from on March 18. One was about Brian Croxall’s app on the Battle of Atlanta. The other was on Heather Cox Richardson’s magazine We’re History. So, I’ll address those first. I welcome you to join me…

Oh, by the way, when you create a new post it is helpful if you check off the category it fits under. You can also add a new category if need be. Also, consider adding tags related to your post. These shortcuts should help us all use this blog more effectively.


Mapping with CartoDB

Have some data you’d like to map using CartoDB? This post will walk you through the process.

These instructions assume you are using the  list of geocoded conference participant towns that you will find here (csv format). Just download the file to your machine.

Of course you are very welcome to use any other geocoded dataset you happen to have lying around. (If your data describes countries or street addresses but is not yet geocoded, CartoDB will – in theory – be able to handle geocoding them automatically. I hope to add a post on that sometime soon.)

Here goes.

  1. First, create an account on CartoDB ( To create an account you will need to provide a name and an email address. That’s all.
  2. Once you have an account and are logged in, look at the blue banner at the top – you will see your username. Use the dropdown arrow to select “Datasets”.
  3. Then click on the green “New Dataset” button.
  4. Drag your csv file over from Windows Explorer or navigate to it.
  5. At the bottom of the screen you will see a green “Connect Data” button – click.
  6. You should now see the data in “dataview”.

Want to map it?

  1. At the center of the blue banner on the top of the screen, click on “Map view”.
  2. At the lower left of the map screen you will see that CartoDB is suggesting two possible ways of looking at your data. Click on “Show”. Your choices are Heatmap or Bubble. Click on Heatmap.
  3. Doesn’t that look fancy? Sure does. Zoom in and out a few times to get a sense of how the heatmap changes.
  4. Now let’s look at the data in another way. Look at the vertical column on the right side of the screen. Click on the paintbrush icon (“wizards”).
  5. Use the arrows to navigate to “Bubble”. You will see that the “column” is automatically set to visualize the “latitude” field, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Use the dropdown arrow to select “participants”. Now the bubble size will be determined by the number of participants from each location.
  6. You can play with the settings. Change the bubble radius or color or stroke type until you like the way everything looks.
  7. Just below the paintbrush icon click on the “infowindow” icon. This is where you control what a user will see when they click on a point on your map. I’ll toggle on “school”, “state”, and “town”. You can change the order in which they appear by resting the cursor on the label until you see the 4-arrowed icon and dragging the field up or down.
  8. Click anywhere on the map itself to make the editing box fold away.

Taking It Up a Notch

  1. Let’s pretend you are making a map of towns that sent more than one participant to the conference. You need to filter your data. Toward the bottom of the vertical editing column you will see a graph icon. Rest your cursor – the “filters” label will show up. Click on the icon.
  2. To filter on # of participants, select the participants column.
  3. Drag the slider to the right until the display reads 2.00-4.00.
  4. Click anywhere on the map itself to minimize the editing box.

Finish the Job

  1. In the upper right corner, click on “Visualize”
  2. Click “Create Map”
  3. In the bottom left you will see “Change basemap” and “Options”. Explore.
  4. In the upper left you will see “Add element”. Here is where you can add a map title, annotations, images, etc.
  5. When you are satisfied, click “Publish” in the upper right. Now you can harvest the URL or embed code for your map. That’s it!


On Wrangling

Elli Mylonas is undoubtedly a treasure for faculty and students at Brown. If only I had someone like her to help me devise the most effective ways to digitally expand my scholarship on German-Jewish refugees and to create and curate my findings. Elli, can we clone you for Massachusetts State University faculty?

I absolutely love working at Framingham State, but boy, I could sure use a wrangler like Elli.


Do you need a Harvard degree to crowdsource historical inquiry with your students?

Hope not… So, Jamie McFadden is doing amazing things with Harvard graduate and undergraduate students. The use of wikis to create a collaborative space among students who are not sitting in the same classroom is impressive. I want to give that a try, for sure. I wonder if a social studies department at a middle/high school could crowdsource a grade-wide project this way. They could try something similar like looking at news-coverage of Pearl Harbor or 9/11. I need to think more about this one. Any heads of department, Social Studies Curriculum Coordinators, or classroom teachers out there who want to brainstorm with me?

BTW, while I was digging around to learn more about what Jamie is doing with his students I came across this incredible collection of resources on Russian and European history created by his group at the Davis Center. Check out the footage of a Russian women’s suffrage protest from 1917. I’ll be using this to teach about suffrage, the Russian Revolution, and media in the early 20th century…  Davis Center Digital Resources


Overwhelmed and Inspired by DPLA

Thanks to Samantha Gibson, I will now be forfeiting endless hours of my life to the DPLA.  Where to begin…The Digital Public Library of America is incomparable in its scope and in the possibilities it holds. I thought the Digital Commonwealth- everything from Massachusetts’ museums, historical societies, and archives was mesmerizing. Just search the town you live or work in if you are from MA- you’ve been warned.

But the DPLA is another beast entirely. How many of us have used the holdings of the Smithsonian or Library of Congress to spice up our teaching?  Now, students can practically do research on any topic in the world that they are interested in and find original sources about it. I finally have a place to send the students who ask me how to find legitimate primary sources relating to the history of such wide-ranging topics as carrier pigeons and scrap-booking  (I was literally asked about both of these things just last week). Google just wasn’t cutting it.

I don’t even know where to begin with DPLA, but perhaps it will be easiest to pour through the topic collections for educators that Samantha showed us. I’m teaching an Intro to US History II course in the fall and will absolutely have the students using DPLA. I may even have them create their own geo-tours with the software Brian Croxall created and annotate them with images from DPLA. There goes the month of July. Watch this space…


How to geocode lots (and lots) of points

Want to take a crack at mapping a set of points from an Excel spreadsheet?

Excellent. You need to do 2 things. First, geocode your data (in other words, assign latitude and longitude to each point). Second, map it on CartoDB. This post will walk through the first process, step by step. (Please note that this process will work with town/state data, or with street addresses.)

If you have a small number of points, you can hunt down the lat/longs individually (see the “Basic Geocoding” post. If your data describes lots of points on the map AND they are located in the United States, BatchGeo will do the work for you. Here’s how:

  1. Get your data here:
  2. Save it to your computer and/or open the Excel file.
  3. Copy the contents (on a PC, just control+ A to select, then control+c to copy)
  4. go to
  5. paste your data in the box (click in the box, then control+v)
  6. Wait until it shows up. Then click “Map now”.
  7. If BatchGeo tells you your data lacks column names, don’t worry. Just click “ok”.
  8. Wait for BatchGeo to work its magic. It will geocode all 50 rows.
  9. Click “Save and Continue”
  10. Give your map a name (it doesn’t really matter) and enter your email address. Then “Save map”. Then “Ok”.
  11. Now you will see then map of your data. Great. But how do you get it out of BatchGeo? Scroll to the very bottom of the screen. Click on “Download XXX Google Earth (KML)”.

You now have everything you need. (As long as you know where your downloaded data went on your computer – most likely into the “Downloads” folder.) Your geocoded data is in KML format. You can open it right up in Google Earth or your favorite GIS software. If you want to map it in CartoDB, see the Mapping with CartoDB post.