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Why Study State History?

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  • Randy Patton History
    this discussion comes from the Georgia history list by way of H-Local, but the points/concerns expressed seem applicable to Alabama--indeed, as one poster
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 1999
      this discussion comes from the Georgia history list by way of H-Local, but the
      points/concerns expressed seem applicable to Alabama--indeed, as one poster
      notes--to all artificial political entities...aj wright

      ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
      Things have been a bit slow, so I thought I would post the following series
      of messages. This discussion occurred a few eeeks ago on the Georgia
      History list (non H-Net), and I thought that many of the issues raised
      would be appropriate for our list. I would also like to add a query. One
      of the messages below is from a Georgia Humanities Council official who
      describes the cahnges in the state mandate for Georgia History. What is
      the status of state history in the public schools and universities in other
      parts of the country? What about provincial history in Canada? Are such
      courses as Michigan history, Ohio history, or Wisconsin studies
      commonplace, required, or non-existent in the public shools and in higher

      Randy Patton

      To: GAHIST-L@...
      From: Bob Wilson <bwilson@...>
      Subject: Why Study Georgia?
      I would like to pose a question to my colleagues on the list that you might
      ponder a bit over the break. I've been scratching my head over this and
      could use some sage insights from subscribers.. The question is this:
      What rationale might you devise to justify the study of Georgia as a
      cultural, socio-economic, regional entity? The question is not simply
      about the study of Georgia history--that seems, without being too
      Jeffersonian, to be self-evident. But since this geographical space we
      call Georgia was, to a large extent, artificially created, can one justify
      something called Georgia Studies? Does the whole state have sufficient
      coherence as a region to try to sum it up or interpret it? (Obviously
      Georgia history has a substantial explanatory role in crafting any
      response, but Georgia Studies naturally implies even broader modes of
      analysis--everything from music to geology). Is the broad study of Georgia
      a sensible, or even defensible enterprise? I thank you very much in
      advance for any reflections on this subject.

      Bob Wilson
      Professor of History
      Georgia College & State University
      Milledgeville, Georgia

      From: "Lee Formwalt" <lformwal@...>
      To: "Georgia History Discussion List" <GAHIST-L@...>
      Subject: Re: WHY STUDY GEORGIA?
      Date: Sun, 21 Mar 1999 17:43:00 -0500

      The points you raise are quite legitimate. But I think they apply to almost
      all political entities, including counties and nations. In most
      cases, their boundaries are artificial. Similarly, the way we divide

      the past into periods is artificial. Hence Jeffersonian America
      deals with an artificially contrived time period in an artificially
      contrived area. As long as we are aware of that and let our
      students/readers know that--as well as why we choose to deal with
      the subject within those geographical and chronolgical boundaries--
      I think it's justifiable. Some might argue that the very existence of the
      state justifies the study of everything within its boundaries--even if the
      geology, biology, agriculture, culture, etc. should overlap those
      regions in SC, NC, TN, AL, and FL on GA's borders
      Lee Formwalt

      Subject: Why Study Georgia?
      To: GAHIST-L@...

      I would like to second Lee Formwalt's comments and speak in support of
      local and nearby studies in general. It seems to me that that is what most
      history is. When Tacitus or Plutarch or Thucydides wrote history it was
      essentially the story of their own people. A century ago a lot of what
      passed for U.S. history was little more than the history of New England.
      What separates good history from bad is not its breath geographically, but
      its ability to transcend time and place and say something about human
      nature in general. The advantage of nearby studies is that the sources are
      close at hand, and students can identify with the places and names they
      encounter in their studies.

      For the last five years I have been offering a team-taught course with a
      colleague from the English department. The title is Georgia
      History/Georgia Literature, and I have grown increasingly impressed with
      the quality of the literature produced by Georgians, from Augustus Baldwin
      Longstreet, Joel Chandler Harris, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Sidney Lanier to
      Margaret Mitchell, Erskine Caldwell, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers
      to contemporary writers such as Alice Walker and Mary Hood. There are also
      some wonderful stories penned by virtually forgotten authors, such as
      William Tappan Thompson and Will Harben. All these authors were products
      of a time and place, and none can be totally understood without reference
      to their Georgia background, yet all have managed to transcend their
      background in the best part of their writings. Georgians have also made
      significant contributions in the fine arts. I am thinking particularly
      about the great gospel writer, Thomas A. Dorsey ("Precious Lord," etc.),
      originally from Villa Rica.

      So why not study our local geniuses, as part of Georgia history and
      culture? We all know that Georgians have a lot in their collective history
      to live down. But Georgia studies could also instill pride in Georgia
      students, when they realize how much local people have accomplished.

      Tom Scott
      Kennesaw State University

      From: "Joan C. Browning" <oma00013@...>
      To: <GAHIST-L@...>
      Subject: Georgia Studies
      Date: Tue, 23 Mar 1999 08:46:58 -0500

      Bob Wilson poses a most intriguing question: "What rationale might you
      devise to justify the study of Georgia as a cultural, socio-economic,

      regional entity in Georgia Studies which implies the study of not merely
      history but broader modes of analysis everything from music to geology;
      does the State of Georgia have sufficient coherence as a region to try to
      sum it up or interpret it?"

      The question of regional studies has been on my mind. For about a decade,
      I've been part of the Shenandoah Valley Regional Studies Seminar, a loose
      collection of us who struggle with the question of a regional identity of
      Tidewater's "backcountry." Ignoring political boundaries, what is a
      region? (Some regionalists identify my part of the world, West Virginia,
      as "back of the backcountry.")

      I've wrestled with Georgia as a significant region of study in my
      experiences in trying to write autobiography. As I write, I realize that I
      am shaped directly and immediately, not in the abstract, by all the
      disciplines encompassed in Georgia Studies: history, economics, gender
      studies, politics, culture, religion, geology, agriculture. What did I
      know and when did I know it? What did I not know then that, now knowing,
      makes my "coming of age" experiences make more sense? I found that I can
      answer the question, "What brought you to the freedom movement?" only by
      using those two most Southern traits: I must put myself in a specific
      place, Telfair County, Georgia, and I must know everything about that
      places' past, its past I knew and its past hidden from me. I also must
      understand my mother's family from northwest Georgia. Thus I have engaged
      in a highly idiosyncratic "Georgia studies."

      Lee Formwalt makes the case that any political entity merits study as long
      as we acknowledge that that's the basis of our study. Tom Scott says that
      Georgia studies could remind us of our local geniuses and instill pride
      when we realize how much local people have accomplished. (Tom, in my
      two-room school when we studied Georgia history, I remember being taught
      that we Georgians have much to be modest about. Perhaps inculcating
      appropriate modesty is a worthy educational goal.)

      The temptation in local or regional studies is to find those local
      geniuses, local firsts, bests, exceptions, particularities that tend to
      show this as a unique place. In the case of Georgia, though, I believe
      that the state offers the opportunity to show a more complex picture of how
      human beings engage with environment over historic time and how the issues
      of the larger civilization play out in the lives of named people.

      Georgia's late European settlement allows historians to see how the
      colonists' values played out after they were refined by a century of New
      World experience. Georgia offers something unique in European settlements,
      namely, it was largely a charity ward for English farmers forced into
      London by the Enclosure Laws. It was meant as a worker's second chance, so
      slavery was not permitted. It was settled in part on religious grounds, so
      keep out the booze. And it was settled also in part a defense against the
      Spanish. Then, as opportunists poured in from the Carolinas and Virginia,
      slavery came to be. How did the plantation economy play across Georgia's
      varied geography? Who came to different sections, why, and what did they

      do there? How did class differences regionalize within Georgia, how did
      different backgrounds and different hopes lend tension to questions of
      secession, railroad subsidies, convict leasing? How did elected officials
      balance the needs of the unwashed masses and the industrial elites? How
      did the people's religions, Methodist and Baptist and unaffiliated
      congregations, express and influence notions of behaviour here and
      hereafter? Add now the home-made music and fine arts coming out of all
      this experience. And Tom, I agree wholeheartedly, that we may be
      instructed by Georgia writers, famous and ignored, who are products of time
      and place. Flannery O'Connor and Alice Walker are both rooted in that
      small middle Georgia place (Milledgeville and Eatonton), yet experience of
      place over time gives them such different artistic visions. Why? How?

      Georgia is such a mess, historically, politically, geologically. Study it
      to understand, in miniature, American experience, American tensions,
      conflicts, attempts at consensus.

      Joan C. Browning
      Papilion Lane Press
      P. O. Box 436
      Ronceverte WV 24970-0436

      From: Laura Thomson <lthomso@...>
      Reply-To: lthomso@...
      Organization: Georgia Humanities Council
      To: Georgia History Discussion List <GAHIST-L@...>
      Subject: Re: Why Study Georgia?
      This message is inspired by Bob Wilson's questions, but it doesn't answer them
      the way that Lee Formwalt and Tom Scott have done. I agree with them and
      not presume to add anything to their line of argument.

      What I want to raise is an awareness of a problem regarding the study of
      Georgia history/Georgia studies in the schools in our state. (Ed Jackson,
      please chime in here, and correct any parts of this that I've gotten wrong.)

      The old Quality Core Curriculum included a focus on Georgia history at the 4th
      grade level and Georgia Studies at the 8th grade level. The revised QCC has
      gotten rid of the 4th grade component, and substitutes American history split
      in half for the 4th and 5th grades. The 3rd graders are to study "community",
      so there is a kind of opportunity for Georgia topics there, though it's not
      emphasized in the same way as it used to be. The main shot students are going
      to get at Georgia history/Georgia Studies is the 8th grade.

      However, some of the curriculum coordinators are even concerned about there
      being a Georgia focus in 8th grade--why? Because students take the ITBS tests
      in the 8th grade, and the social studies content questions on the ITBS are
      American history oriented, rather than state history. Because of the extreme
      emphasis on test scores, teachers are being heavily encouraged to emphasize
      American history content in relation to Georgia history , so that the students
      will do better on these content questions.

      I know that common sense says that Georgia history should certainly be tied
      into American history, thus putting Georgia's stories in a broader context.
      However, I'm afraid that out of concern for test scores, the Georgia content

      may be less emphasized, and as lots of teachers come into our state who might
      not be as fluent in Georgia history, it would eventually be phased out, in
      favor of a version of social studies designed strictly to promote positive
      scores on the ITBS.

      It's ironic; we all know students learn better through hands-on activities;
      they retain more content longer, if they've "experienced" it. Yet the schools
      are evaluated by the test scores, and the social studies tests are designed to
      emphasize particular sets of content, making the teachers spend more time
      drilling the content and leaving less time for the hands on opportunities.

      Laura Thomson
      Georgia Humanities Council

      From: "Ed Jackson" <jackson@...>
      Organization: Carl Vinson Inst. of Govt., Univ. of Ga.

      To: Georgia History Discussion List <GAHIST-L@...>
      Subject: Re: Why Study Georgia?
      Why study Georgia? Laura Thomson is right--the state mandates it. Since
      the 1930s, the Georgia General Assembly has had a law requiring that
      everyone graduating from high school and college shall receive
      instruction in U.S. and Georgia history. They also added a component on
      understanding the U.S. and Georgia constitutions.

      Each school system was free to implement this mandate as it pleased. In
      fact, Georgia had no statewide curriculum until the Quality Core
      Curriculum (QCC) was approved in 1989. Under the new curriculum, every
      public school system had to offer a year-long course at the 8th grade
      known as Georgia Studies. The curriculum established a number of
      knowledge and skills objectives in the areas of Georgia history, state
      and local government, geography, and culture. Additionally, students
      were introduced to Georgia in the 4th grade.

      In 1997, the Department of Education initiated a revision of QCC. There
      was still an 8th grade course known as Georgia Studies, but its scope
      was expanded to include more on the study of Georgia in the context of
      American history and government. [As an aside, Georgia pre-history
      (i.e., the various Indian cultures before white settlement) and much of
      the geography were eliminated, though some of us were successful in
      getting the prehistoric era back in.]

      As Laura points out, the ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) for 8th grade

      is not state oriented. Rather, it has questions about American
      government and history, and even questions about the Middle Ages and
      modern-day China. Many superintendents and school boards have been upset
      about the poor performance of Georgia 8th graders, so that was one
      origin of the greater emphasis on American government and history. Last
      year was social studies textbook adoption year, and several national
      publishers submitted their American history textbook (along with a
      supplement--one was only 32 pages--about Georgia). In none of the
      American history books I looked at were the majority of 8th-grade QCC
      objectives directly addressed. Rather it will be up to the teacher to
      make sure these are taught.

      However, last week, I read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that some
      Department of Education officials are considering abandoning the ITBS
      for a number of reasons--including its irrelevance to Georgia's
      statewide curriculum. Interestingly, the officials quoted indicated that

      Georgia instead would begin testing around the state QCC. That means,
      8th graders will be tested around the Georgia Studies curriculum. So
      that's a long way of saying that Georgia history should be studied in
      school if for no other reason than students will be tested on it in the
      state's future testing program.

      Another reason is that in terms of rate of growth, Georgia is the 3rd
      fastest growing state in the nation, the fastest growing state in the
      South, and the fastest growing state east of the Mississippi. In terms
      of actual numbers of new residents coming into the state, Georgia is
      currently fourth or fifth. My guess is that 30 to 40 percent of
      Georgians either were born in another state or their parents were. So,
      we have a lot of citizens who do not know about Georgia and its history,
      government, geography, and culture.

      Historians, hopefully, know why Columbus, Macon, and Augusta developed
      on rivers at the point those rivers crossed the Fall Line. But, how does
      the Fall Line -- or at least the forces that created it -- affect water
      availability in Georgia today? Why are there no natural lakes in Georgia
      and what have been the consequences of that fact? Why did many black
      Georgians move from rural areas to the larger cities? How has
      transportation affected Georgia's past and present? Why do over half of
      all Georgians live within 60 miles of Atlanta? Why are there so many
      military bases in the state? Quite simply, to understand the Georgia of
      today requires knowing how and why it got to where it is. The only way
      those who are Georgians by choice (instead of birth) will find out this
      story is through exposure to Georgia history, geography, government, and
      culture in the schools. And yes, I admit I'm biased.

      Ed Jackson
      Subject: Re: Why Study Georgia, Why Study Florida? (3 responses)
      To: GAHIST-L@...

      From: Nick Wynne <wynne@...>
      Subject: Re: Why Study Georgia?

      I have taken the liberty of rephrasing the question about the study of
      state and local history for the Today in Florida History list-serv.
      Interesingly, this is a "hot button" topic since the State of Florida
      mandates a single "unit" of Florida History in the 4th and 8th grades, but
      there are few courses available at the state's institutions of higher
      learning and NO requirement for any kind of Florida history course prior to
      graduation. Since 85% of Florida's 15.5 million people "come from
      somewhere else," this, I think, is a basic requirement, particularly for
      those who are elected or appointed to public office and who set policies or
      pass laws.

      Nick Wynne
      executive Director
      Florida Historical Society and moderator, "Today in Florida History"


      From: RTaylor234@...

      I think Dr. Wynne has posed the most important question that any historian can
      be asked. If the study of Florida's history and culture cannot be justified
      then all of us are engaged in a pleasant pursuit of fun facts and nothing

      For me Florida's rich past needs to be mined and explained in order to help
      foster a sense of community in our state. As has been pointed out in other
      responses most Floridians are indeed from somewhere else, and have yet to
      "connect" with the heritage of their new home. The children of these people,
      native Floridians all, often think of home as that place were their
      grandparents live up north. If we do not educate these young people from
      elementary school to college in the Florida story these same children will
      have no sense of the Sunshine State being their home. And the kids of the
      1990s will be the adults of the 21st century, and will then have to solve the
      problems of Florida. How can they do this without a sense of the state being
      "theirs" to preserve and protect?

      Florida historians in and out of the academic world must work to meet this
      daunting challenge. It will not be easy when in Florida a student can graduate
      from both high school and college without a state history course. Even more
      disturbing, I believe it is possible to obtain a teaching certificate here
      without ever taking a such a course.
      If Florida's long and varied past goes unexplored we will all suffer in the
      long run. The bottom line is that it is in our own self-interest to study
      Florida history.

      Robert A. Taylor
      Florida Institute of Technology,
      Tebeau-Field Library of Florida History

      From: James Cusick <jamcusi@...>

      I would agree with Dr. Taylor's assessment. Florida's population base will
      be composed of "newcommers" for many years in the future. The lack of
      long-term residential roots among much of the population poses a real
      challenge to historians.

      However, there is another good reason to teach and promote Florida history.
      In my opinion, if you understand the history of Florida, you understand the
      history of the United States. Whether it is early European expansion, Cold
      War/U.S.--Cuban relations, Indian Removal, environmentalism, frontier
      society, industrialization, race relations--the history of Florida is
      central to all of these.

      If ever there was a state that can teach us the follies and triumphs of
      human endeavors, Florida is it (although I think we come down heavier on the
      folly side than on the triumph side).


      Randall L. Patton
      Dept. of History & Philosophy
      Kennesaw State University
      Kennesaw, GA 30144-5591
      phone: 770-423-6714
      FAX: 770-423-6432
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