Shedding Content: A List of Things Lost and Gained

I’m back! After a semester of maternity leave, I was thrilled to get back in the classroom.  Don’t get me wrong, my seven month old is cute and cuddly, but I really like college kids.

Before the summer break, I contemplated on this blog about shedding content in favor of emphasizing analytical skills and modern day understandings of the past.  I also discussed rooting my syllabus in places instead of a straight chronological march.

I implemented both of those strategies this fall and while it is too early to tell if the course will be successful, I can already tell that the outcome of this version of the survey will be different than previous iterations of the course.  Mondays and Wednesdays are devoted to mini-lectures and primary source analysis while Fridays focus on how Americans have interpreted this historical period in history and memory.  I’m looking forward to sharing my conclusions with you later in the year, but today I want to start cataloging some of the losses and gains in regards to content.

Many of my colleagues talk about the dilemma of losing content.  I’ve heard other academics mourn the loss of topics and the challenge of changing testing strategies when content is no longer the goal of a course.  But, I’ve often found myself perplexed by exactly how much content they were shedding.  Could a course hold together without discussing Bacon’s Rebellion? Without discussing Bacon’s Rebellion and the Alien and Sedition Acts? Where, in other words, is the tipping point?  How little content is too little?

So, in week 4 here is a non-comprehensive look at content gained and lost in my survey course:

Things we have covered:

European ideas about colonization (especially through the lens of depictions of animals)

The Tempest as a product of the Atlantic World

The creation and failure of Roanoke Colony

Why people today care about Roanoke

Jamestown and what the presence of “secret Catholics” in that colony might mean

Colonial Salem

Colonial captivity narratives

The Salem Witch Trials

How/why modern day Salem uses the witch trials for tourism

Confederate monuments

The colonial fur trade

Colonial Albany


Indigenous People’s history before contact

King Philip’s War

The Colonial Great Lakes

Contemporary depictions of Indigenous People

The Stono Rebellion

The Atlantic slave system


Things we have not covered:

European motivations for colonization

European technology for colonization

The headright system (ok, I gave them a super quick description of this)

Bacon’s Rebellion

Plymouth Colony

The Half-way Covenant

Ann Hutchinson

A really awesome lecture on the formation of knowledge and its impact on the Salem Witch Hysteria

Comparing the physical realities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia

The Glorious Revolution in America

The Tuscarora Wars


Even though I have a pretty nice lesson on Bacon’s Rebellion and King Philip’s War that I didn’t get to use, I haven’t missed Bacon’s Rebellion yet.  My students have really enjoyed spending more time on the colonial Great Lakes, on interactions between indigenous groups and on those groups and Europeans.  I have enjoyed the follow up questions I’ve gotten; thoughtful questions about where mixed race people fit into colonial society, the interaction between culture and laws, and the cultural make up of New England fishermen.  Students have sent me news articles and volunteered their experiences at historic houses.

I’m dreading the next few weeks.  We have to talk about things that I love to get detailed about—the American Revolution, the Constitution, and Westward Expansion.  I’m not sure that I will continue to enjoy dropping content. But, I think I will finally have time to explore why these topics matter with my students.  And I am really excited about that.  On Friday, we get to talk about maroon colonies, slave revolts, and the memory of slavery.  I’m excited about that too.

Have you shed content? What hurt? What didn’t

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