Telling the American Story in Small Moments

Course InstructorAnnette Atkins, Emerita Professor of History at Saint John's University/College of Saint Benedict, is the author of three books including Creating Minnesota:  A History from the Inside Out (2007).  She invites people to redefine what "history" is and means and why it matters.  Her most recent book, The State We're In (Minnesota Historical Society, 2010) is a collection of papers on the occasion of Minnesota's 150th anniversary of statehood.  Annette also talks history with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Course Information:  Wednesdays, September 24-October 15, 2014, 1:00-3:00 p.m., O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium, UST St. Paul Campus

Course Description: When we look back on our lives, most of can identify “key moments,” occasions when a decision was made, a direction turned, an idea changed, a life realigned.  These include the “big” events, of course – falling in love, losing a parent, having a child – they also usually include other considerably smaller, but significant moments nonetheless: a book read, an argument had, a chance remark overheard.  These moments can have a powerful impact on our understandings of ourselves, indeed on our identities.

History is like that, just more generalized.  We learn many of the nation’s “key moments” in school, in public holidays, on postage stamps: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Gettysburg, the March on Washington.  But the nation, too, is shaped by many, many smaller moments.  In this series of four lecture/discussions we will explore four of these moments: the sailing of the Merchant’s Hope (1635); the assignment of Army Surgeon John Emerson to Fort Snelling (1833); Lucy and Albert Parsons’ organization of a Chicago May Day demonstration (1886); the cross-country trip taken by Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower (1919).  We’ll “drill down” into each of these, exploring roots and branches, emphasizing effects of what must have seemed incidental, perhaps even accidental at the time.

Registration fee for the series:  $50.00 per person (4 week series)

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To register by check or cash through the mail or in-person, click on this link for the printable registration formFall 2014 Printable Registration Form

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Detailed Course Syllabus (subject to change):

September 24

In the 1635, the Merchant’s Hope set sail from Gravesend in England bound for the Virginia Colony.  Its passenger list includes the names of 75 passengers.  Each of those men and women made an individual decision that we can’t quite know, but together those decisions, we might argue shaped the economy, society, and identity of Virginia.  We will also look at the passenger list of a 1635 ship that went to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

October 1 Temporarily in Saint Louis just before his trip up the Mississippi River to take his position as Army Surgeon at Fort Snelling, Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott.  Scott, born into slavery in Virginia, was between 30 and 40 years old.  Emerson did not need a field slave and the Fort’s environment was racially complex – making for a quite different experience of slavery for Scott than he would have had in the deep south.  Emerson’s transfer to Mississippi (and the marriage of Scott to Harriet Robinson, another Fort Snelling slave), prompted the Scotts to protest.  Following the death of Emerson the Scotts sued for their freedom in a case that made its way to the US Supreme Court with explosive consequences.
October 8

The Parsons helped organize a May Day parade in Chicago in 1886 in support of the eight-hour work day.  A series of labor meetings over the next few days helped coalesce American labor union activism and sharpened the fears of the anti-unionists.  On May 4 at a relatively small gathering policemen waded in with sticks flying then someone threw a stick of dynamite (thrower’s identity still unknown) into the middle of the melee.  The “Haymarket Riot” resulted in the deaths of both policemen and activists, in the arrest and conviction and hanging of labor people, and a powerful legacy of union/anti-union conflict (indeed, one might call it low-grade warfare).

October 15 In 1919 Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower was part of an Army cross-country expedition that took nearly two months to go from Washington, DC.  Over thirty years later, President Dwight Eisenhower succeeded in his push for the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1954 and the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act in 1956.  This week we’ll explore the state of those roads in 1919 and the larger (indeed overwhelming) task of creating a system of roads that could accommodate the revolution that Henry Ford’s Fords were causing.  Unlike Europe with its ancient legacy of roads, the US had to build on a network of Indian paths and shortish wagon trails from farm to water or railway.