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Orangeburg Massacre 1968

I did not know about this.


Social Reality

“I love America, but I fear Amerika: the globalist society formed of consumerism, liberal democracy and a hedonistic society.”

Assessing Reagan at 100

American Dreams: The United States Since 1945

I enjoyed the different layers of American history that H. W. Brands explains in his book, American Dreams: The United States since 1945.  Economic, social, military, diplomatic, and religious tie-ins offer an understanding of how the different presidencies and policies shaped the United States, seemingly near the precipice of her incline, or actually on her decline.  Brands does not dig deeply into these reasons but does expansively cover issues.  All of which create a block, in a quilt, that is overlain with transparent tie-ins that show how history is not static; it cannot be explained in just one arena but rather ebbs and flows, always having a connection with politics, religion, patriotism, economics, industry, education, race, and equality, to name a few.

This book gives insight into how each decision in early administrations; from Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the beginnings of the Obama election and administration are tied together.  As an undergraduate student of history, I focused my studies on other regions – China, Russia, Japan, the Middle East, but never much on the Americas.  Reading Brands’ description about the United States’ role in rebuilding Europe and Japan; and how that policies and mind-sets affected my grandparent’s and my mother’s generations, and subsequently mine, as well as my six-year-old son’s generation helps me connect the dots with my own history.

I think of the consumerism, waste, consumption of oil in so many types of products, environmentalism, and the instant gratification that the majority of citizens currently partake in can be traced back to the policies of the last seventy years.  This has had such a huge impact on our country, our mindsets, and the world.  The Marshall Plan, the Cold War, Detente, the New Deal, Camelot, the Great Society.  I felt Brands “American Dreams” to be a primer for priming the pump on learning, in more depth, the causes and effects that brought America to the place that she is currently at.  And leaves the reader thinking about what can be done to counterbalance or improve the prior decisions and how it can impact the people of the United States, as well as the world.

The maintenance of the industrial life that had been created by the demands of the war and how that energy was rolled into post war construction in our country and abroad.  The governmental systems that were put into play – social security, retirement, medical, and how those systems affected American businesses and the benefit packages given to their employees.  The rise and impact of unions in the American workplace and the subsequent economic impact unions had on the middle class American life.  Foreign policies enacted by Democrats and Republicans that directly impacted and shaped the role the United States would play in world politics.  The dismantling of the European Colonial system in the 1950’s and how the United States stepped up into filling the potential void left by the departure of England, France, and the Netherlands in the Far East, the Middle East, and northern Africa.  H. W. Brands discusses all of these topics and the ramifications of choices and decisions.


That is what is needed to have a new section going….took forever to figure this one out.  This blogging experience will be different than the ones for the expeditions.

David McCullough’s The Great Bridge, chronicles the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.  McCullough gives several reasons as to why the bridge is historically significant and showcased late 19th century technology.  John Roebling, designer and engineer of the bridge, along with his son Washington Roebling created the masterpiece that is a symbol of Brooklyn and America.  Technology, commerce, and politics all played a role in this colossal undertaking in American history.

John Roebling, a German immigrant and engineer, had successfully overseen the creation of several suspension aqueducts in Pennsylvania.  Through this work, he developed his unique technique of attaching cables to iron eyebars embedded in masonry, that “he would use in every bridge he built thereafter.”  Going wire by wire, the cables were strung in place, very similar to how his future bridges would be.  (p. 50).  The Allegheny River Bridge was the first to use his idea in which “…. cables had been spun on the bridge itself by a traveling wheel that went back and forth, stringing the wire over the towers, from shore to shore…”(p. 65) This idea was what he planned to use in building the bridge over the East River.  The Niagara Bridge, “…the first truly modern suspension bridge…. was where … Roebling had demonstrated…that the principles of suspension could be applied with perfect safety even to something so heavy as a locomotive and railroad, and…. had a profound effect of the whole evolution of bridge designs.”  (p. 74) The stays, which created a gigantic web, came down from the suspenders, connecting cables to the roadway.  “Every diagonal stay, …formed the hypotenuse of a right triangle…. and thus provided tremendous stability….” (p. 67)

William Roebling, after leaving service in the Civil War, joined his father in 1859 and helped complete the Cincinnati Bridge.  Afterwards, John sent William and his wife, Emily, to travel extensively through Europe learning about iron works, metallurgy developments -especially the new Bessemer steel process, the wire-making process, and pneumatic caissons.  William had a brilliant memory and wrote extensive and detailed letters to his father about all of the technical processes he was learning about and being exposed to.  William and his knowledge base became an important part of the design process that his father John incorporated into his plans and schematics.   The Brooklyn Bridge was to be the largest suspension bridge in the world, lengthwise and width wise. The bridge needed to be constructed in such a manner that water traffic below would not be constricted.   John died from complications of lockjaw, due to an accident that caught his foot and crushed his toes, which had to be amputated.  At this point, William took over Chief Engineer duties.  William said later in life, he was “the only living man who had practical experience to build those great cables,” had studied pneumatic foundations and caissons, was not afraid of the 106′ below water level, and he had had assisted in his father’s design and “was therefore familiar with his ideas and the with whole project – and no one else was.” (p. 100).  As such, William took over command of building the Brooklyn Bridge.

Commerce and profit were huge factors behind the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.  New York was filled with politicians and businessmen who understood the value of the bridge in pure monetary consideration.  Current traffic on the ferries were making upwards of one thousand trips per day, full of passengers who spent the good part of the day on the ferry.   Wintertime could see the ferries closed in by ice, making travel downright impossible, and stranding passengers on either side.  Brooklyn, in the 19th century had a busier seaport, better schools, lower taxes and cheaper gas rates than New York, and the local government was thought to be honest.  At the time, Brooklyn was the third largest city in the United States.  It was just logical that Brooklyn and New York be connected by the greatest engineering feat of the time.

Technology at the end of the 19th century was beginning to boom.  Electricity was being unveiled at the 1892 World’s Fair in Chicago.  Alexander Graham Bell and his predecessors were playing with the forerunner to the telephone.  The “iron horse” was crisscrossing the growing, young country.  The use of pneumatic caissons and its related technology was put into use for the first time in the United States.  One caisson was almost 17, 000 square feet, and the other one was not much smaller (p. 189).  The bridge utilized the up and coming Bessemer steel process; a material that would give rise to New York’s skyline – skyscrapers.  Medicine would benefit from the construction of the bridge due to the “caisson disease”, or “the bends” from being down at deep levels with compressed air.  Dr. Andrew H. Smith presented suggestions for future projects of the same nature in his 1873 report to the New York Bridge Company.  “The concept of the apparatus described by Smith…. is precisely the same as the so-called “hospital lock” used for modern bridge and tunnel construction, whenever men are working compressed air.” (p. 322)

A great deal of the early work was primarily constructed under water and under ground.  The citizens of the area were not able to see anything changing, and questioned how money was being spent and wondering if anything was actually happening.   Visual proof to the public about the construction would take longer than anticipated; putting the job over cost, while many people lost their lives and others became permanently disabled (p. 335, 336).  Yet when the bridge was completed, people in New York City were finally connected in a manner that would allow year-around travel to and fro.

With the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, no longer were people and commerce at the mercy of the elements.  The grand opening of the bridge was celebrated on May 23, 1883, with Emily Roebling being the first person to be officially given a ride across the Brooklyn Bridge; all of the costs, problems, deaths, and tragedy forgotten.  The growth of Brooklyn was destined to happen, as Manhattan was already extremely populated, and the successful completion of the bridge allowed this to freely happen.  The end result was the uniting of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island with Manhattan, creating the Greater New York.  And one of the greatest engineering feats in modern American history was complete.

This week I have been reflecting on my experiences in New York and how they have affected me and changes I will make in my teaching.  First and foremost, many thanks to our fearless leaders for all of the planning, thought, and coordination that went into this expedition.  The trip went very smoothly; sites and speakers were well thought out and knowledgeable.  I enjoyed this trip much more than my first introduction to NYC twenty years ago and have certainly learned and saw much more than my previous trip.  My only frustration is with iPhoto acting up, and not being able to fully access all of my photos at this point; it was a major hinderance in my blogging and is still not fixed.

The first thing that strikes me is the layering of New York City and the state.  This layering reaches through history, through immigration and ethnicity, through the growth of our country, and through the advent of technology.  NYC is a perfect place for examining the influence that a city has had on our country and on the world.  Many threads were interwoven during our entire trip, as everything was inter-related on some level.  We covered a broad spectrum of American history – the American Revolution, Slavery, Abolitionists, Suffragettes and Women’s Rights, New York City life for the wealthy of the Gilded Age, the middle class, and the poverty-stricken immigrants, the influence that power and politics plays on communities, baseball, two branches of the famous Roosevelt families – Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ellis Island, just to name a few of our topics.

We were introduced to many wonderful museums, but time did not allow us to delve into them very deeply – breadth, not depth.  But we now know what is available for further trips to New York.  All of the museums have expertly, well done websites, that will allow me to bring a touch of New York into my classes, for student exploration and offer me resources to use for my lessons. Due to the sheer volume of information that was shared  with us, the hard part for me is narrowing down what I want to write my lesson on……women’s rights, slavery, the Eire Canal, immigration, child labor, sweatshops, TR, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, baseball and its affects on African Americans and women.  There are unlimited possibilities but I do know that the resources, knowledge and experiences will be put to use throughout the years in my classroom.

Books, books, and more books…..I was able to get a wide variety of resources that I will be using in my classroom about the American Revolution, immigration, Women’s Rights, and the Underground Railroad.  I’m a sucker for good books and love when I can see them in the context of places that I’m visiting.  I’m excited to start creating some more differentiated lessons for my students because we will begin a clustering concept with our students this next school year which will allow a faster pace with the higher students, as well as creating more interesting PowerPoints for classroom use.  Another goal is to keep incorporating technology and the many websites that were introduced to us into my instruction, via web-quests and research activities.

For me, one of the most powerful parts of the trip was the submersion into NYC life.  Surprisingly, green spaces could be found here and there and I enjoyed wandering through, seeing the vegetation, landscaping, and birds.  Exploring Central Park and the oasis that it offers was heavenly.  I also reflected back to Chicago and the Worlds Fair, imagining the creator of Central Park, Frederick Olmsted, working in Chicago and how it must have been wandering through his creations outside of  the White Palace.  My senses enjoyed all I saw, from the rock work on walls, buildings, bridges, and pathways, to the water features and landscape architecture, to the tile work that was near the lake and the gazebos and bridges that surround it.  My imagination ran away, as I watched people enjoying the park in their chosen method, daydreaming about a different time, with women in their Sunday best, men dressed up and escorting the women on walkways throughout the park. Nannies walking with their charges in tow.  Thinking of people getting out of their sweltering apartments and coming to the park to hear a concert and socialize.

The sheer density of the buildings and people almost need to be experienced in order to understand.  I thought back to E.B. White’s writing about NYC.  I could see the city being a lonely place amidst the millions of people.  From taking the subway, to navigating the crowds, and jockeying for position in various places, the people keep to themselves, reading books or iPads, listening to their iPods, texting, or playing games.  When Donna, Connie, and I were at a store together, we talked to each and to the cashier; a few other people joined into our conversation, as it was apparent were visitors.  I think if we had each been there separately, this dialogue and laughter would not have happened, because people keep to themselves amidst the throngs.  An old friend lives in Harlem and he invited me to a friends house near the African Burial Grounds.  He was on the 14th floor and from his window you could see where the Twin Towers had been.  He recounted his experience of 9/11.  People you encountered in the hallway of his building did not normally greet each other, which I found odd, but I was told that my saying hi to people was taken as a bit odd or invasive.  Overall though, people in the city were helpful and generally friendly, although they did not generally make direct eye contact unless in a one on one situation.  The city runs with a smooth efficiency that can handle the masses.

As we were part of the masses during our walking tours and visits to museums, it was interesting to be part of the movement.  I don’t think the NYC experience would have been as rich, if we had not partaken in Ed O’Donnell’s walking tours.  These tours brought neighborhoods, history, architecture, technology, sociology, and economics into our consciousness, as well as how it is to navigate through the city like hundreds of thousands of people do at any given time.  This expedition was a powerful learning experience for me and will be reflected in my teachings in the classroom and in the making of connections to my students about our history, its people, and its nationhood.

A bittersweet day – the final day of our sightseeing!  As we wind our way through the hills and valleys of upstate New York, en route to Fort Ticonderoga, I’m trying to imagine the soldiers of the Continental Army, walking, riding, and moving artillery through the landscape.  Even now, more than two hundred years later, the land is thick with foliage.  I could not imagine trying to maneuver men and troops through the terrain, as well as dealing with the nature of the climate – freezing cold winters, hot and humid summers.  Rains to bog down any roads with mud.

Today offered a lot of new experiences for me….I finally understood the beauty of upstate New York – the rolling hills, the lush greenness, the rivers and lakes.  I was enthralled by the passing landscapes.  As we were driving in the bus towards Fort Ticonderoga, while “The Patriot” was playing, I was trying to imagine what it was like for the early founders of our country to trek through these lands on foot and by horseback, cutting paths thru the vegetation, trying to navigate the land, bringing back canons taken from the British to be used against them in the American Revolution.  I was pretty floored thinking about how much determination, strength, and will-power it took to accomplish everything that was done to defeat the British and to ultimately survive and thrive in the untamed lands of our fledgling country.

Our guide for the day was Jim Hughto.  Before putting on “The Patriot”, he reminded us that there were many historical inaccuracies in the movie, which he periodically pointed out.  Unfortunately one key thing I’ll remember about today, is that I really do not know many specific details about the American Revolution;  there were many points and topics that I was unfamiliar with, besides the most basic of information.

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As we drove to Saratoga, We could see Vermont on the other side of the river.  We were surrounded by the beauty of the Green Mountains the Adrirondacks, and the oldest mountains in North America, the Taconic Mountains.  The Adirondacks are still a newer mountain range, rising 1/4″ a year.  At Saratoga, Hughto showed us a few areas in the park.  One spot was where the battle that turned the tides for the American Revolution happened.