Results from the First Test Post-Survey

The first test, like most of my survey tests, was a short-essay ID test, with terms taken from (and arranged by) the textbook chapters, supplemented with theory terms and a few names from the lectures. Twelve terms (out of 25 choices, out of about 50 terms on the study guide) over a 50-minute class.

The class after the first test, I did a short anonymous survey to see how people felt about the event. I feel reasonably good about the first question, though their views may change once they’ve actually seen grades: it suggests, though, that I prepped them appropriately for the kind of work. Question 2 is pretty typical results, it seems to me, though the “studied regularly” number should be higher given that I’ve assigned regular homework this semester which feeds directly into the test. The third question results are interesting: there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between amount of study time and expected grade (I’ve not actually performed any statistical tests on this data, though; N=28); the distribution of answers is a little more optimistic than my test results tend to be, but I won’t know until they’re graded. The comments are not particularly surprising, overall.

Quick Post-Test Survey

1. The test was

0%                  a. a cakewalk

15%                b. easier than I expected

60%                c. about as hard as I expected

20%                d. harder than I expected

5%                  e. impossible

2. I studied for the test

7.5%              a. not at all

15%                b. a little

25%                c. right before the test

20%                d. several hours in the week leading up to the test

7.5%              e. off and on for a few weeks

25%                f. every week, as part of regular homework

3. I think I got a grade of

10%                a. F

10%                b. D

27%                c. C

33%                d. B

20%                e. A

Other comments or thoughts?

  • Had problems with dates
  • I think 50 minutes for covering 12 definitions fully is not OK
  • Multiple choice?
  • Tough, but well rounded
  • Seeing my grade will help me study for the next test
  • Too many words on the study guide
  • I’m guessing that if I had studied more I would have had a better outcome.
  • Dates threw me off a lot.
  • So many things on first list but not on the test, that it caused me to not learn the subjects
  • I didn’t have the book long enough to study the material
  • Ran out of time. Need about 15-20 minutes more, or learn to write less or faster.
  • Not a good form/type of test.
  • Unrealistic.


Teaching the US Declaration of Independence in a World History context

Philly 2012 - Congress Hall - House DeskJoseph Adelman has a nice post on how he teaches the US Declaration of Independence in his early US survey — he reads it aloud; with the class standing, as in an 18th century church or town meeting — and I thought I might offer another perspective, since I use the same document in my World Since 1500 course.

For the last few iterations of the course, I’ve had students’ primary source readings focus on the rising tradition of rights in Western, then World, civilization.  So I have them read the US Declaration as part of a group, along with the English Bill Of Rights and the French Declaration Of Rights Of Man And Citizen. (Later in the semester, they read the UN’s Declaration of Universal Human Rights).  This is in the context of a discussion of revolutionary change, following one on the Western Enlightenment.

When we talk about the Declaration, it serves as focal evidence for talking about the American Revolution, and I talk about historiography. (I talk about historiography a lot in World History, as it turns out, but my favorite bits are this one on the US Revolution and the Fall of Rome, where the historiography just layers and layers….) There are many ways to see the US Revolution — I’m increasingly fond of the “creole” generational theory, myself, as it helps situate it in the context of the Latin American revolutions, and connects it to post-colonialism, a little — and I point out that there’s evidence for most of them right in the text of the Declaration itself.

In particular, I raise the question of just how revolutionary the American Revolution was. The famous preamble is a classic statement of Enlightenment principles about humanity and government, which suggests the power of new ideas and real change. The body of the document, though, lists grievances based, in large part, on the earlier English Bill of Rights, and the structure of the whole Declaration follows closely on that example, which suggests less revolutionary aims and more an attempt to conserve rights already in existence against changing circumstances. And, of course, I have to talk about the Seven Years’ War, the tax and mercantilist policies which were driving much of the tension between the colonies and the Crown, and the extent to which many of Founding Fathers were involved in import and export related businesses.

Philly 2012 - Liberty Hall - Liberty Bell - FrontI point out that the “all men” of the Declaration was limited in effect, and that the attempt to preserve the self-governance of the colonies against royal interference largely succeeded in the short term, as the states continued to govern themselves and only slowly to create coordinated or national policies. In this it was also conservative, rather than liberalizing. But the Constitution, when it came to be, embodied Montesquieu’s tripartite scheme, which is clearly foreshadowed in the complaints of the Declaration, and maintained an elected executive and legislature, a political experiment of the most ambitious sort. Well, ambitious if you discount the even more radical political experiments of the French, which began at that very moment, and the example of which helped to solidify some of the more conservative elements of American leadership.

I have little patience for those who would fetishize the Founding Fathers and the Constitution as written, turn them into an icon of secular faith in American Exceptionalism. But I’m always impressed, as I work through this material, with the way in which the intellectual and political resources of the moment were marshalled into the Declaration, and the tensions of the moment were balanced into an effective and productive evolving Constitutional system. But clearly my presentation cuts against the grain of American exceptionalism: the American Revolution shows clear evidence of Enlightenment thought, English civic tradition, post-colonial pride, economic competition, and a desire for social stability which meant that very little changed in most people’s lives as a result.