Tag Archives: History education

Historical Methods: The Carlisle School

At Geneseo, we do not offer the US and Western Civ surveys. Instead of focusing on coverage, we emphasize and teach the analytical, writing, and research skills of the discipline. All majors are required to take two sophomore seminars. The first is in research methods, the other historiography. The courses are taught by all the department faculty in an area of their specialty. This coming semester, I will be offering the research methods course on the history of American Indian boarding schools. The syllabus follows.

History 302           Fall 2023

Research: American Indian Boarding Schools      

Instructor: Michael Oberg Meeting Times: MW, 8:30-10:10, Fraser 104 Office Hours, MW 12:30-1:45, Doty 208 Email: oberg@geneseo.edu Phone: (585)245-5730 Website and Blog: michaelleroyoberg.com

Required Readings:             Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center.

David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928, revised edition, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2020).

 Genevieve Bell, “Telling Stories Out of School: Remembering the Carlisle Indian Industrial Schook, 1879-1918,” Ph.D diss., Stanford University, 1998 (Available on Brightspace).

  Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 10th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020).

Course Description:  This section of the history department’s required course in research methods will focus on American Indian boarding schools, part of a systematic assault launched on Indigenous identity beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. There are Boarding Schools still open today.  The heyday of the Boarding School Era ran from 1879 until 1918, the years when the Carlisle Indian Industrial School operated in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Tens of thousands of young Native Americans passed through these institutions, and they played a highly significant role in shaping Native American identity today.  Over the course of the semester, you will read about these institutions, learn and apply your research skills to studying them, and produce a significant work of original, primary source research based upon the sources you will read.  Because of the availability of sources, we will focus on Carlisle, the largest of the federally-run schools.

By the end of the semester, I would like you to have improved and developed substantially in the following areas:

  •             * Your ability to write clearly, correctly, and persuasively in English * Your ability to identify, locate, and analyze secondary sources related to your research question.
  •             * Your ability to construct and advance an argument supported by primary source research.
  •             * Your ability to debate complicated historical topics verbally in a seminar setting.

Participation: I want to emphasize the importance of participation. I view my courses fundamentally as conversations and these conversations can only succeed when each person pulls his or her share of the load.  This seminar relies on your contributions, and our conversations will depend on your thoughtful inquiry and respectful exchange.  We are all here to learn, and I encourage you to join in the discussion with this in mind. Participation is more than attendance.  As you will see from the attached grading agreement, after four missed classes you will not be able to earn any grade higher than a D for the course. 

Discussion Schedule:

28 August          Introduction to the Course                          Reading: Rampolla, Chapter 1; Adams, Preface, Prologue; Oberg, “Just Kids.”

30 August          The Long Legacy of Federal Boarding Schools Reading: Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, May 2022. This is a long document. Do your best to read and digest those parts of its contents that interest you.

6 September      What Can We Know About Federal Indian Boarding Schools? Reading: Rampolla, Chapter 2; Adams, Part One; Images of the Carlisle Boarding School

11 September     What Can We Know About Federal Indian Boarding Schools? (continued). Reading: Adams, Part Two; Carlisle Publications (Under the “Indian School Titles” tab, click on “Carlisle Arrow, The (1908-1917)” and then click “Apply.” Read, cover to cover, any two editions of The Carlisle Arrow. Poke around through other publications as well so that you arrive at some familiarity for the sorts of public documents Carlisle produced.

13 September     What Can We Know about Federal Indian Boarding Schools? (continued). Reading, Adams, Part Three; Carlisle’s bureaucracy and record-keeping.

18 September     What Can We Know about Federal Indian Boarding Schools? (continued). Reading: Adams, Part 4 and Conclusion; Carlisle Student Records (Pick any Nation from that drop-down menu.  Read at least 5 student files and be prepared to talk about what you learned.  Make sure you choose student records from different years). Please provide me with a list of the students whose files you read by Sunday at noon.

20 September     Mandatory Individual Conferences                           Reading: Rampolla, Chapters 4-6.

25 September     Topic Statements and Preliminary Bibliography Due! Reading: Rampolla, Chapter 7; Brenda J. Child, “The Boarding School as Metaphor,” Journal of American Indian Education, 57 (Spring 2018), 37-57.  This article is available through JSTOR. Please download a copy, read it, and have it with you in class. Child provides the perspectives of an Indigenous historian writing about residential schools.

27 September     Research Updates:  What have you learned, what have you added to your bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates. Reading: Frank Vitale IV, “Counting Carlisle’s Casualties: Defining Student Death at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1879-1918,” American Indian Quarterly, 44 (Fall 2020), 383-414.

2 October          Mandatory Individual Conferences

4 October          Setting Things Right: Discussion of Apologies, Acknowledgments and Reparations Reading: Oberg, “Your Territorial Acknowledgment is Not Enough;” Elizabeth Ellis and Rose Stremlau, “Land Acknowledgments: Helpful, Harmful, Hopeful,” Perspectives on History, 60 (November 2022), 24-26 (on Brightspace); Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape, (St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), Chapter 4 (Brightspace)

11 October        Progress Reports: What have you learned, what have you added to our bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates. Reading: Mikaëla M. Adams, “`A Very Serious and Perplexing Epidemic of Grippe’: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 at the Haskell Institute,” American Indian Quarterly, 44 (Winter 2020), 1-35. (available on America: History and Life).

16 October        Other Residential School Projects: Reading: Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project; Sherman Indian Museum Collection; National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (University of Manitoba).

18 October        Child Removal in Comparative Perspective Reading: Margaret Jacobs, A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), Excerpts, on Brightspace.

23 October        Progress Reports: What have you learned, what have you added to your bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates                         Revised Bibliography Due

25 October        Mandatory Individual Conferences

30 October        Opening Paragraphs Due.  Please bring enough copies for everybody in the class.

1 November      Mandatory Individual Conferences

6 November      Outlines Due.

8   November    Mandatory Individual Conferences

13 November     Progress Reports: What have you learned, what have you added to your bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates

15 November     Mandatory Individual Conferences.

20 November     Outings Reading: Kevin Whalen, “Indian School, Company Town: Outing Workers from Sherman Institute at Fontana Farms Company,” Pacific Historical Review, 86 (May 2017), 290-321.

27 November     Discussion Drafts

29 November     Discussion Drafts

4  December      Discussion Drafts

6 December       Discussion Drafts

11 December     Final Papers Due

13 December     Meetings: Discussion of Final Grades


  1. Topic Statement and Initial Bibliography Due:  In a solid paragraph, describe the topic on which you would like to conduct research this semester, and a construct a preliminary bibliography in proper format listing the primary and secondary sources you will need to answer the questions you are asking. You can not have a thesis yet: you have not done the research necessary for that. But you can have a sense of the question, or questions, which you would like to try to answer. Due 25 September.
  2. Revised Bibliography Due: You should demonstrate that you have competently used JSTOR, America: History and Life, and the citations and bibliographies in the scholarly sources you have read to expand your bibliography.  Due 23 October.
  3. Opening Paragraphs: Please bring a draft of an opening paragraph. I assume you will likely make changes to this as you move forward and complete your project, but I do want you to bring something so that we can discuss writing and how to engage your readers most effectively. Due 30 October.
  4. Outlines Due.  Bring copies for everyone in class.  The more detailed your outline, the better. Due 6 November.
  5. Discussion Drafts:  A complete draft of your paper with footnotes accurately cited.  You will submit it on a Google Doc that will go on a shared drive accessible to your classmates.  We will read each draft closely, make suggestions, and work to improve your paper.
  6. Final Draft: This should require no elaboration.  Your final draft, formatted properly, is due on 11 December.  Because of the narrow span of time between our last meeting and the final exam period, I cannot allow any extensions for the final draft.

The Right’s War on History

There is a guy named Bob Lonsberry who has hosted a local right-wing radio show here in Rochester for many years.  I have mentioned him before on this blog in response to his tweets some months back about Columbus Day.  Lonsberry, who about a decade and a half ago was suspended from his job for referring to the city’s African-American mayor as “a monkey,” and who whole-heartedly endorsed the Clown Prince of Mar-A-Lago’s characterization of those parts of the world where people aren’t white as “shitholes,” recently tried to read Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello. The book won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, deservedly so in my view.  But Lonsberry gave up after attempting to read it, he tweeted, because “the America hatred was just too much. The next generation of historians will probably have to spend most of their careers scrubbing the bias of this generation of historians.”

My purpose here is not to beat up on Lonsberry, but on the type of thinking he expressed in this tweet. It is a style of reactionary thought with which historians commonly have to contend.  We always have and, I suspect, we always will.  We had better prepare our students for engaging in this debate.

When I began my teaching career almost a quarter-century ago in Montana, I waded into the controversy over the National History Standards released by UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools.  I had seen Lynne Cheney’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal proclaiming “The End of History,” and, for reasons I cannot entirely explain, I somehow stumbled across an episode of Rush Limbaugh’s television program (Yeah, he had one) where he sat at his desk tearing pages out of a US history textbook.  That, he said, was what liberal college professors were doing to American history.

I ordered a copy of the Standards, read them, and realized quite quickly that the National History Standards did nothing more than bring together a list of subjects that its creators felt students ought to know about the American past. It brought together what historians of the United States had been talking about and writing about for a generation. What lunatics like Limbaugh and ideologues like Cheney denounced as “politically correct” was, in my view, a more historically accurate recasting of American history that wrestled with the complexity of the nation’s past. And, yes, that included wrestling with some of the darkness in the historical record.  Students ought to understand slavery, in all its complexity, and they ought to know that the growth and expansion of the United States came at the expense of millions of native peoples who succumbed to epidemic disease, were dispossessed, or destroyed in war.

So I wrote an op-ed in the Billings Gazette. It received some applause, and made for me some friends, but I also got plenty of really ugly hate mail. For there has always been a tension when it comes to teaching American history.  For some, history ought to form the foundation of American civic education, and in that sense its cardinal purpose is to instill in students a love of country and patriotism.  Casting a critical gaze at the United States, in this view, undercuts that goal.  At another level, however, history is an academic discipline, the study of continuity and change, measured across time and space, in peoples, institutions and cultures. Civics vs. the imperatives of the discipline of history. Historians ask questions about the past and conduct research and collect the evidence necessary to answer these questions. Historians ask questions about all sorts of things, and almost any document or artifact can become, in this way, a historical source, even the tweets of a right-wing radio talk show host.  Sometimes these questions force us historians to look evil in the face, to stare into the darkness, and to ask, “Why?”  And that can be an unsettling question.

I have taught for a long time. Because I teach early American history and Native American history, I end up telling some pretty horrifying stories to my students. In my early American courses, I talk about slavery, an institution which enriched white people and which simply could not have existed without the pervasive and systematic use of violence.  To explain the sinister ways that slavery corrupted everything it touched, how the cancer that was this institution bored its way into the dark heart of this continent, I talk about Jefferson, about how this great intellect, when it came to slavery, spent his time wondering aloud about the odor of Africans, their sexual ardor, the location of their color in their skin.  Slavery twisted and corrupted him.  And I tell the students, because I have to, that the author of the “Declaration of Independence,” who believed that “all men were created equal,” owned his in-laws and had a sexual relationship with his slave.  That Jefferson owned and exploited Hemings was not news to historians–the evidence was out there. But Annette Gordon-Reed in her first book proved that case beyond reasonable doubt, and in her second, the book that Bob Lonsberry thought was filled with “America hatred,” she explained, among other things, why we should care.

Look, when I tell my students these stories or, better, when they read them on their own in an assignment or as part of their research, they are disturbed by the viciousness and the violence they uncover.  But they tell me every single semester that they are appalled that these stories were hidden from them by their high school teachers. They feel like they were cheated or misled. High school teachers: if you lie to your students, or feed them patriotic propaganda, and they will remember you and judge you harshly.

The kind of sentiment expressed by Bob Lonsberry—we who study the past have seen it before. It is a standard conservative critique, boiled down to a few characters, of the entire historical enterprise.  But it is pernicious and racist, and we should work harder than we do now to counter it.

In 2009 I left Geneseo briefly to teach at the University of Houston. I arrived at the time the Texas state education agency was reconsidering its American history standards.  The state became the butt of jokes for a proposed set of standards that white-washed American history, diminished the cruelty of slavery, and mentioned the state’s complicated history with its native peoples not at all.  There were other problems, too numerous to mention here.  I organized a discussion of the new standards. My colleagues in the history department were extraordinarily supportive, as were the school of education at UH and the director of the University’s Honors College.  One of the proponents of the new social studies framework had said on television that “a bad day in the United States is better than a good day anywhere else,” and that history education ought to reflect that.  It should convey to students the success of the American experiment.  I invited the conservative members of the education commission to come to UH and participate. I told them that they should have their voices heard.  They had been in the past quick to denounce what they saw as “politically correct history,” so perhaps they would be willing to make their case.  But they would not do it.  They made excuses, but I did not believe them.  They were, quite simply, afraid to engage in an honest debate.

And that’s the thing that bothers me so much. You do not have to like what you read.  You can dislike a book because you do not like the author’s style, or because it does not interest you. All of that is fine.   But if you are going to dismiss a work of scholarship because it is “politically correct” or because it is “anti-American” or because it manifests too much “America-hating,” then make your case.  Come up with some evidence.  Engage in a dialogue.  Construct and argument. It is not unreasonable to ask those in the public eye to explain their reasoning, to cite the evidence that leads them to believe what they believe.  It is what intellectually mature people do.  I realize that is a sort of behavior is not modeled much these days.  But I have not lost hope. When Lonsberry dismissed The Hemingses of Monticello for its “America hating” I tweeted back at him, asking him to cite one example of the problem he identified, one factually incorrect statement or claim not supported by evidence in that book.  He did not reply, and I realize he might be a busy guy. Still, to dismiss a book because you think it is politically correct and to not provide evidence is, to put it bluntly, chickenshit.  It is an intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt way to suggest that you do not think American children should learn about people of color and that you do not want to hear about the horrors of the past.