Tuesday, July 14, 2015
I found my first History Lab of the semester vexing but promising. The premise of the History Labs in general was to provide students with an open-ended question, a question that could be answered in various ways, a question that students were capable of answering in a 75-minute class period. This meant that I would not ask questions for which I was committed to a specific answer. Finding this sort of question, focused on the content I needed the History Lab to cover, proved fairly difficult.
The focus of the first History Lab was sixteenth-century encounters between Native Americans and Europeans. This is content I generally cover in lecture, where I reinforce the diversity of indigenous American nations and their sovereign claim to territory, and introduce European debates regarding this sovereignty. In an ideal world, the History Lab would cover all of these topics as well, but if I could set up the assignment to cover at least part, I could lecture on the rest. The open-ended and critical nature of the debate I wanted to have hampered me here, though, because I could not have students debate whether indigenous nations had sovereignty (because they did and do), I could not have them simply describe the many political systems of the American continents (because that is not a debate), I could not have them choose a side in European debates (because students would all choose one side or be required to argue for positions we now find reprehensible), and so on. I also had to find documents that were available and accessible to students.
Here is what I came up with, annotated with my critiques and additions for next time: