Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tall Order

Nice work on the poster, today.  It's inspiring already. By June, we'll all be headed out on a road trip West, thanks to you.

As for my tall reading order, my admittedly possibly unrealistic goal would have us reading 630-ish pages in about 60 days. That's 10-plus per day, or about half as fast as of my most recent grad school schedule. If we're to approximate this goal we will have to be serious and smart about our time in and out of class.

For the short term, let's make a commitment to get through Chapter 12, right up to the brink of the Civil War, by Tuesday, 70-ish pages. I think you understand how pared down this gigantic textbook is, so I'm loathe to leave out any more than we absolutely must, and since today's America still reflects the repercussions of decisions made in these crucial years surrounding the Civil War, I am eager for you to digest well this particular part. We will write in class, so you can read and take notes at home.

So, Chapter 10 for tomorrow, and, of course, if you have time keep going. No need to answer the questions at the end of each section. Look at them before you read, though. Please take at least three notes per chapter about the most interesting period, event, fact, person or something else. If you want to put them on an electronic doc that would be great--or the blog, for that matter.

Western Trails Poster

Since I'm using a rubric that I couldn't quickly edit, I'll make the changes here:

Required Elements
Important geographic features, mountain ranges, rivers

All able to be seen from three feet away.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lessons from the Donner Party

You perhaps have thought of a few aphorisms to suit the lessons taught by the Donner Party's experience.

1. Write any you thought of in the comments section below. Give an example of who and how they went wrong. Or argue a point of your own using the events as your evidence.
The documentary we just watched opens with this paragraph from a French observer of American habits in the 1830s:

Alexis de Tocqueville (Actor, voice-over): It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor Americans pursue prosperity. Ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach as if they expected to stop living before they had relished them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them.
How would you boil his sentiments down to a few words? What aphorisms suit his observations?
2. How would they differ or align with those you wrote after seeing the documentary?

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Religion and money again combine to move the country west, often with dramatic results, as it with Mr. Lovejoy. The travails of Donner Party are an object lesson in wanderlust and hubris. While we prepare to watch the documentary about the Donner Party, please keep these questions in mind:

1. What reasons led James Reed and George Donner to take Hastings’ Cutoff? Why was their decision unwise?

2. What other factors contributed to the failure of their venture?

3. Was Lansford Hastings to blame for what happened to the Donner Party? How?

4. What traits did members of the Donner and Reed families possess? Support your answer with examples from the film.

5. How did people in the 1840s view the American West? How did the story of the Donner Party help to strike down the myth of frontier idealism?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Elijah Lovejoy

Read this short piece on Lovejoy. Find at least two other sources with additional information and post their links in the comments. Say who is the next "catalyst" character in the progress toward Civil War?