The Civil War Draft Riots at 150 – A Public Event

2013 June 17
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by Josh Brown


Remembering and Depicting the Largest
Civil Insurrection in the Nation’s History

MONDAY, JULY 15, 2013   ◊   6:30 PM


The New York Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 were the deadliest civil disturbances in American history. At least 120 people were killed during the violent insurrection that exposed deep racial and class division in the city. In recent years historians, filmmakers, and writers have portrayed the riots from a variety of perspectives. On the 150th anniversary of the cataclysmic event that devastated the city, historian Craig Steven Wilder moderates a discussion about the visual and literary representations of the Draft Riots with celebrated documentary filmmaker Ric Burns, novelist Kevin Baker, and historian Joshua Brown of the American Society History Project.

Co-sponsored by the American Social History Project, Gotham Center for New York City History, and the Ph.D. Program in History at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Presented in conjunction with Activist New York.

Reservations required. $6 Museum members, $8 seniors and students, $12 general public
For more information or to register by phone, please call 917-492-3395

FDR’s Tree Army [now on Vimeo]

2013 March 13
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We know that unfortunately for some of you, your school blocks YouTube. So if you want to use any of our resources on our YouTube channel, you’re left to find other ways [or other resources].

We’re not going to be abandon ship, but we have thought about putting some of our resources up on Vimeo in addition to YouTube. Below, watch through Vimeo, FDR’s Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps, a short <10 minute piece about the New Deal relief program and the young men who worked in the CCC camps.

FDR’s Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps from American Social History Project on Vimeo.

If you’re a teacher, can you get Vimeo in your classroom? Is this a temporary solution? Is there another better way for us to make these materials available? Comment and let us know!

December Roundup

2012 December 19
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Firstly, a Happy Holidays to you and your families. Before we prepare for the New Year, December’s has been a busy month for ASHP.

NEH LogoBridging Historias

We recently announced that we received a grant from the NEH to support the Bridging Historias through Latino History and Culture project.

The project, proposed by the American Social History Project (ASHP) in partnership with Queensborough Community College (QCC) as part of the NEH Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges Initiative. The program will be held at the City University of New York Graduate Center from Summer 2013 through Spring 2015. Bridging Historias will develop curricular materials that will deepen and expand the teaching and understanding of Latino/a history and culture across the humanities disciplines.

Stay tuned throughout 2013 for more updates.

Josh BrownStudies in the Visual Culture of the American Civil War

Executive Director Josh Brown won an NEH fellowship to support his writing of his book tentatively titled Studies in the Visual Culture of the American Civil War.

 The book will encompass the lessons learned over the course of his more than three decades of scholarship, and  “will provide new information to enhance scholarship in related disciplines as it also offers historians an example of sound methodology for the incorporation of visual evidence.” More on the announcement on the Graduate Center homepage, and stay tuned throughout 2013 and 2014 for updates on the process.

Freedom's Unfinished RevolutionLincoln, Lincoln and Fredom’s Unfinished Revolution

Between 2013 being the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the award season celebration of Spielberg’s biopic on Lincoln, “freedom,” “emancipation” and “Lincoln” are being actively discussed all over.

A small piece on the Huffington Post this past week paid mention to ASHP’s book Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution, suggesting it a good alternative to the narrative in most high school textbooks. We quote:

With rare exceptions — like the American Social History Project’s fineFreedom’s Unfinished Revolution — middle and high school textbooks fail to credit the real anti-slavery heroes in this story: the enslaved themselves, along with their black and white abolitionist allies. While early in the conflict Lincoln was offering verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners, the enslaved were doing everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery, impressing Union generals with their courage, skill, and knowledge — ultimately forcing Lincoln to reverse his early policy of returning those fleeing slavery and, in time, leading the president to embrace their entry into the war as soldiers. The actions of the formerly enslaved even turned some white Union soldiers into abolitionists.



Alfred F. Young

2012 November 7
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The historian Alfred Young died yesterday at the age of 87. I first met Al through Herb Gutman during the American Social History Project’s first year. Herb dragged Steve Brier and me up to an unusually crowded session of the Columbia University Early American Seminar where Al presented his work on George Robert Twelves Hewes, the Boston shoemaker and participant of/witness to the Boston Massacre and Tea Party, the subject of his groundbreaking 1981 article in the William and Mary Quarterly (which he later expanded into his 2000 book The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution). That evening, Al delineated the artisans’ world in eighteenth-century Boston and the stakes for and impact on the city’s working people in their participation in making the Revolution—all offered with his intimate knowledge of their lives and, still so unusual among U.S. historians, his vast awareness of the visual culture of the time and acuity in locating their presence in the details and shards of the pictorial record.

Out of that evening emerged one of our most cherished collaborations, with Al as primary advisor for our 1984 documentary Tea Party Etiquette. It was a very early ASHP effort, much of it composed of archival images uncovered by Al along with somewhat crude depictions of incidents in George Hewes’s life rendered by Kate Pfordresher and me (greatly enhanced by a sterling voice-over performance by the actor Victor Garber in the role of Hewes and music by the jazz saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom). Throughout its production, Al was an enthusiastic and imaginative collaborator, comfortable with the quirks of visual storytelling and creative in his thoughts about ways to transform academic prose into accessible dialogue. More than thirty years later Tea Party Etiquette is still one of our most sought-after programs.

Al was one of ASHP’s godfathers, to whom we often turned for advice and support throughout the years. Or simply for the pleasure of seeing him. I recall in particular a visit with him to the Corcoran Gallery in 1990 during an Organization of American Historians annual meeting in Washington, D.C., to view the Facing History exhibit on the image of African Americans in the fine arts from 1710 to 1940: an unforgettable learning experience, with Al brilliantly illuminating both the works of art and the labels’ interpretations—what I wouldn’t give to have a recording of that visit! And, a few short years ago, ASHP benefited from Al’s largesse when, as he and his wife Marilyn prepared to move to Durham,  he donated a large part of his stunning collection of revolutionary era exhibition catalogs and art history books to us.

Generous, observant, gracious, it was always a lovely experience to be around Al. We learned so much from him and are so much the better for having known him.

J. L. Bell at the estimable Boston 1775 blog has a wonderful tribute to Al here.


Five Years

2012 October 11
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by Ellen Noonan

Five years ago today, Roy Rosenzweig died. We here at ASHP think of him often and fondly, and his influence remains all over our work.

History Matters: The U.S. Survey on the Web was one of many collaborations between the Center for History and New Media and ASHP, and I remember long conference calls with Roy spent cooking up the Puzzled by the Past quizzes that were once a monthly (!) feature of the site. They were a bit of a challenge to create, made a little easier by Roy’s extensive library and memory for odd and funny historical details. Several involved presidential politics and history–you can see them herehere, and here.

I sometimes wish I could talk to Roy about the projects that ASHP has done in the past five years–especially the Mission U.S. game and HERB: Social History for Every Classroom, a lineal descendent of History Matters and named for Roy’s own advisor, Herb Gutman. Instead, I’ll drink a cup of coffee, eat an apple down past its core, and remember an extraordinary historian, mentor, and colleague.

Digital Media and Learning Competition Update

2012 September 29
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A few months ago ASHP/CML announced that we had won the 4th Digital Media and Learning Competition, and are now hard at work building a Badges for lifelong learning system based on our time-tested professional development.

Though we’ve been a bit quiet in this space on this front, we’ve been hard at work with a development team building the beta version of our website. ASHP’s Ellen Noonan was in Durham, North Carolina this past week for a conversation with other DML competition grantees.   In the video below Ellen along with David Langendoen gave an update on where the Who Built America? Badges for Teaching Disciplinary Literacy in History is trying to do and where we are.

Stay tuned in the coming months for more information. Please drop us a line at enoonan at gc dot cuny dot edu if you’re a U.S. history teacher interested in participating.

Who Built America on Up With Chris Hayes

2012 September 24
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This past weekend on Up w/ Chris Hayes, panelist and author Thomas Frank closed the segment by tying the the American Social History Project’s flagship textbook to the current dialogue about economic equity and the 2012 election. The clip below [after the commercial].

“He said this is a choice election. It Certainly is, okay. What you are seeing — do you remember this textbook they used to assign in college called Who Built America? It was a history of labor. We are turning that understanding completely upside down. Who Built America? The people in lower Manhattan, finance capital. We are the moocher and looters.”

The full conversation transcript of the segment is available on the MSNBC website. 

Used in College classrooms then, and still now. For more information on Who Built America available from the ASHP website. 

Patriotic Celebrations

2012 July 4
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Preparing for an upcoming teacher seminar, I came across a speech by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens introducing the  14th amendment to the Constitution to the U.S. House of Representatives. A graduate school professor of mine once noted that while Americans like to reenact military battles, no one ever seems to want to reenact Freedmen’s Bureau schools. In that spirit, I thought I’d honor the July 4th holiday* by sharing the part of the Stevens speech where he lays out the radicalism of section 1 of the fourteenth amendment.

The first section prohibits the States from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, or unlawfully depriving them of life, liberty, or property, or of denying to any person within their jurisdiction the “equal” protection of the laws.

I can hardly believe that any person can be found who will not admit that every one of these provisions is just. They are all asserted, in some form or other, in our DECLARATION or organic law. But the Constitution limits only the action of Congress, and is not a limitation on the States. This amendment supplies that defect, and allows Congress to correct the unjust legislation of the States, so far that the law which operates upon one man shall operate equally upon all. Whatever law punishes a white man for a crime shall punish the black man precisely in the same way and to the same degree. Whatever law protects the white man shall afford “equal” protection to the black man.

—Thaddeus Stevens, introducing 14th amendment on the floor of the House [Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess. 2459 (May 8, 1866)]


*I’m aware that it’s customary to honor this holiday by reciting or reposting sections of the Declaration of Independence. I admire the Declaration for its radical notion of governments deriving their authority from the just consent of the governed (and, truly, for its unmatched tone of aggrieved audacity). I even, in a gesture toward commemorating the holiday, read sections of it aloud to my kids tonight at the dinner table. While my six year old expressed zero interest, my  nine year old was not only interested but asked me to also read her the Bill of Rights. We got through five before she lost interest as well, but I’m happy to be batting .500


Remembering Elizabeth Ewen

2012 June 1
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by Ellen Noonan
Jewish immigrants protest child labor, 1909.

Jewish immigrants protest child labor, 1909.

We sadly note the passing this week of our colleague and collaborator Liz Ewen. She wrote and co-wrote (often with her husband Stuart Ewen) great books of social and cultural history, including Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (1992), Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (2000), Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality (2006), and Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925 (1985). It was Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars that inspired us to embark on our 1993 documentary Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl. In her book, Liz chronicled the experiences and captured the voices of Jewish and Italian working-class women in the turn of the century city, evoking a pivotal time and place while also powerfully evaluating the new perceptions, passions, pastimes, and activism those young women engendered. Not only were we inspired by that wonderful book, we then had the golden opportunity to work closely with Liz as one of our historical advisors. Funding wasn’t always dependable, so Heaven was one of our more attenuated projects—but that added up to more time to learn from Liz, who had an innate feel for the perfect illustrative anecdote and a tactile sense of what relationships of work, family, community, and love were like for young women living on the Lower East Side a century ago. And then there was always that warm, wry smile, and throaty laugh. It was lovely to know her, to work with her, and we—and her many students at SUNY, Old Westbury—are the better for it.

ASHP Wins Digital Media and Learning Competition

2012 March 19
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by Leah Yale Potter

We’re pleased to announce that ASHP/CML is one of the winners of the 4th Digital Media and Learning Competition, held in collaboration with Mozilla, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and administered by HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory). This year’s competition focused on Badges for Lifelong Learning, and it awarded grants of up to $175,000 to projects designed to build digital badge systems that can help people learn new skills and demonstrate them to unlock job, educational, and civic opportunities.

Our project, Who Built America? Badges for Teaching Disciplinary Literacy in History, beat out 14 other finalists to be the only winner in the competition’s Teacher Mastery & Feedback division, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Working with Electric Funstuff (developer of the Mission: US online game) and Education Development Center/Center for Children and Technology (our longtime evaluation partners), the project takes ASHP/CML’s proven professional development methods and uses an online badge-earning system to build professional learning communities and promote social history and inquiry-based teaching methods. It also helps history teachers design instructional materials that will help their students meet the demands of the Common Core Standards.

We expect the project to launch this fall, so drop us a line at enoonan at gc dot cuny dot edu if you’re a U.S. history teacher interested in participating.