Jefferson Recap The lecture

October 22, 2003


Jefferson Recap

The lecture on Thomas Jefferson went well, but I had seriously overprepared and did not get past the early 1790s in either class.

I spent a few minutes at the start handing back midterms (median C+/B-, 3 A, 3 F, generally good) and giving them the "this contains offensive words, the author presents her characters offensively, we know it is offensive, tell me why Stowe is doing this with her characters" speech about Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I organized Jefferson around "why does he matter" so that I could conclude that Jefferson's use of "The Earth Belongs to the Living" encouraged the nation to turn from worship of a dead set of documents to a live and constantly changing understanding of the founding ideology.

The tall woman in the afternoon class pointed out the ironies in this after class - living constitution is normally associated with John Marshall, Jefferson was a strict constructionist when in the opposition. I reminded her that Jefferson grounded his constitutional thought in natural law - need to remember to put that in on Thursday - and that his strict construction was somewhat tactical.

I did the usual narrative of his life, focused on his ideas, and so on. I added something to the outline (it is now in the outline for next semester) where I talked about Jefferson's inability to speak in public. In his one speech in the House of Burgesses, he panic'd. His throat choked up, he squeaked, and people laughed at him. I put this into a gender context, arguing that public speaking, proving yourself and bending others to your will, was an essential part of turn of the century masculinity and a central part of education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. TJ could not do it. So, he displaced his masculinity from his voice and gesture into his pen. He wrote incessently, he proved himself and bent others to his will in letters and in personal conversation, and his wrist was his public organ. This let me set up Head and the Heart by focusing on the opening paragraph where he talks about his sprained wrist keeping him up all night - while with Maria he had hurt the body part that expressed his public masculinity, this hurt reminded him of his likely deathbed promise to his wife, and TJ broke off the flirtation in Head and Heart.

I moved Sally Hemings up. I might well have spent too much time on TJ's family and romantic life. I know we spent a lot of time looking at Head and the Heart - not sure if it was worth their time to plow through that. I know I got bored when I re-read it. I did not go into much depth on Sally Hemings and his second family, did not give the pop psyche of "his wife's spit and image, but black and not married so does not count (and the kids can not contest inheritance)." I am not sure if I should squeeze that into Thursday. Probably not; we need to move on.

I tried to do the French Revolution quickly. I need to check to see where I gave the French Revolution in other semesters; it crowded TJ to have to explain the rev althought the time pressure kept me from getting bogged down in the details. I did the quick Financial Crisis --> Political Crisis --> National Assembly --> King Loses Control --> Series of Governments --> Terror and Robespierre (very brief) --> Directory. It was all pretty sketchy, just enough to make the point that TJ was in France at the start of the Rev, and from then on whenever he heard about it he imagined the early days of reasoned debate and not the later period of civil war, scorched earth atrocities, and guillotines in the streets. Put French Rev dates on the board again for Thursday to help give context to the Adams-Madison lecture.

Morning section made it to 1795, afternoon section stopped in 1793. For both I was able to give Joanne Freeman's take on how to practice politics, but in both it was a little short and obscure. Give that again on Thursday.

We stopped in 1795 and then jumped to five minutes on why TJ matters. I had set up Jefferson and slavery in the second ten minutes. The kids read Jefferson's "Fire Bell in the Night" from 1820 but we did not get to talk about it. Use that when we get to 1820 next week. I need to remember that I do not need to talk about everything we read.

What I did not do was give the blow-by-blow of 1794. That is twice now in this era that I have skipped the hardcore review, the first being the Imperial Crisis. I need to think on this: are they better off having me explain Citizen Genet, Democrat-Republican Clubs, and the Jay Treaty or are they better off having me explain writing letters, gossip, and the personalities of the guys? The first is better for the weak students, the second for the strong students. Based on the midterm results, I need to reach out more to the weak students. But, based on class attendance and the midterm results, most of the weak students have been voting with their feet, not attending class, and digging themselves in even deeper holes. Most of the regular faces scored a B or better; most of the strange faces scored a C or lower.

How can I make class more compelling for the weaker students, and how can I grab their attention at the start of the semester so they get into the habit of coming to class?

This was notes for me, sorry readers. It helped me plan my class for tomorrow.

Edit - added paragraph on wrist

And back to work.

Posted by Red Ted at October 22, 2003 10:13 AM | TrackBack