Teaching Boston Massacre

Hey all,

I have recently been asked to write a lesson plan on the Boston Massacre (for a potential job opportunity).  Specifically, it is supposed to be designed for an honors 8th grade social studies class.  As I sat and pondered about how best to challenge honor’s level students, I realized that I had to get to the heart of who I am as a history major.

That being said, first thing I wanted to do for my students is provide them with a question to help them relate to the content.  For those of you familiar with the Boston Massacre, you know that there was debate over who started the massacre.  Was it the soldiers or the unruly mob?  So I ask the students to consider how they choose who to trust when two friends are in an argument and telling different stories.  Then I lay the groundwork for the Boston Massacre — the who, what, where, when, and why.  However, I do not go into extreme depth here.

Why did I not give them all the information on this event?  Because I want my students to learn that sometimes history is complicated.  As a result, I was source searching and found this awesome page by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  It has several primary sources with questions accomanying them.  I took a few primary sources from the site, and designed my own questions to serve as a guiding force for the students.

Then the students are going to take the answers to their questions, and their own views on the sources and write what they actually think happened at the Boston Massacre.  It is my hope that as students analyze the primary sources, they will engage with a world different from their own, and see how the past can come alive when it is given a voice.  It should also teach them that sometimes, historians have to read sources and try to determine bias and reliability.

All in all, I hope this is a more effective way of teaching my students about this story, because they are now involved in it.  I want them to help see one of the key tasks of the historian — analyzing primary sources.  Hopefully they’ll have some fun along the way since I’m letting them work with a partner.


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Meet me in Saint Louis

This past week, I was in Saint Louis, Missouri visiting my best friend in her new(ish) home at Fontbonne University. Her father is beginning his second year as president of this university, so I traveled to see some of this historic city for the first time. While there, I had two interesting experiences, the first of which occurred when we went to the arch. The Saint Louis Arch, in addition to being very tall and a landmark memorial, has a spectacular view of both Saint Louis and the Mississippi when you go to the top. In order to get to the top, you have to ride in a very small moving bomb shelter built for five people. While riding this up to the top, I was engaged in an interesting conversation with an older couple who were from Pennsylvania of all places. The man had served in the Marines and instantly began telling me about his time at war once we began to move. After talking for several minutes, his wife asked my friend and I what we do. When I told her that I study history, she had the reaction that I have come to expect from people. First, the look of disgust came to her face, immediately followed by “I only took history because I had to.” I’ve gotten pretty good at reacting to this response, smiling and acting understanding because so many people feel this way about history. I’m just glad that I’ve never felt this way.

Coming back down from the top of the arch, we had a conversation that was almost entirely opposite. The couple we were with were younger and from Texas. At first, they were quiet, but we asked them where they were from and the woman began talking instantly. Interestingly enough, the first comment out of the man was “Do you like the history of the city?” My friend was so taken aback that she had to ask him to repeat himself. It’s always a little shocking and exciting to hear people who actually like history and want to talk about it. He and I began talking about the city’s history and then he suggested that I travel to Texas because I would love the history there. It was very exciting and strange to get polar opposite reactions to history in the course of one day. But, after the usual discouragement I feel when I hear someone talking about disliking history, I was glad to hear from someone who loves it and wanted to talk about it while stuck in a bomb shelter. Maybe someday people will be more positive about history, just like this man, and appreciate all that this incredible city has to offer, including the view from the arch:

View of Saint Louis

View of Saint Louis

View of the Mississippi

View of the Mississippi

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Endings and Beginnings

I’m so happy to continue being Reckless as my time at Messiah comes to a close and to journey with all the readers here as I finish my time as an undergraduate. I have one semester left before I enter the “real world,” and, while this is a stressful time, I am excited for all that the future holds. Between now and graduation, I have a lot of work to do: finish and present my honors project, finish my coursework (including historiography and a very exciting class on walking), finish my work on the Digital Harrisburg team, and apply to graduate schools. This upcoming semester will be a time for wrapping things up and reflecting on my time and work at Messiah. I’ve done a lot in my time at school, and I hope to continue working hard and making an impact over the next five months.

This summer has been my first opportunity to begin wrapping things up. With pipe organs constantly on the brain, I have been continuing my work on my honors project and listening to a lot of organ music. I will be writing a thesis and giving a presentation on my research, so there will likely be many forthcoming posts on this work. In addition to reading for fun (a foreign concept during the school year), practicing my French horn, and watching a lot of Criminal Minds, I have been hard at work for the Digital Harrisburg team. Thus far this summer, I have completed entering the 1910 Harrisburg Census and I am about two weeks away from finishing the 1920 Harrisburg Census. I have been working on this project for a year and a half now, and I am very ready to pass the torch in the coming semester.

While the end of my time at Messiah is fast-approaching and I have a lot of work to do, I am thrilled about the beginning of new things for my life, especially graduate school. I have been privileged to receive a top-notch education and preparation for the future. The courses I have taken at Messiah have given me factual knowledge and skills that will help me as I move forward. I’m eager to be able to put the knowledge I’ve acquired to good use as I graduate and move on to new beginnings.

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The Need For Narrative History

I like to read.  I read all sorts of things.  I love reading Christian fiction books, theology type books, history books (duh), and of course my favorite types of books, SciFi.  When I read history books, my favorite are ones that have deep analysis but also craft a masterful story — authors like Edmund Morgan and Robert Remini stand out to me as two of the greats in this regard.

Earlier today, I was sitting on a chair in the living room after finishing an interesting book, Mudhouse Sabbath, about a Christian convert who used to be Jewish, and discussing some of the rituals and their spiritual value.  It was a deep book that helped me consider a lot of cultural practices.  After finishing that book (only 142 pages), I then picked up a book on the “state” bodies of the Crusades.  I bought the book in the Spring of my junior year when I was writing a paper on the economic history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and thought that I would read through the entirety of the book. . . And I could not even make it through the first chapter.  Sure the book was full of intellectual thoughts — things that usually I appreciate.  But sometimes, as a reader I just want a book on history that crafts the story for me, where I can just be a passenger as a historian guides me through their interpretation of the past.

Narrative history has its place in our discipline.  Often times, narrative historians are thrown to the side as only glorified storytellers.  However, they deserve more credit than that.  They find a way to take the dense information that we read through and help set up a frame of how the events likely unfolded and make is appealing to people from all walks of life.  When friends, relatives, coworkers, and others tell me the history books they read, often times they are by narrative historians.  Though they are not always following the five C’s (thanks Sam Wineburg) or adhering to a historicist mindset, they interpret the past in a way unique and fun.  Where we as historians often love the nuances of the past let’s be honest here, most people just want to believe that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and Abe Lincoln never told a lie.  Narrative historians have this inherent ability to make the vast complexities of history simplified (though sometimes over simplified) and understandable for everyone.

Often times I think of narrative history kind of like the greeters you meet at church.  When you walk in, there are incredibly nice people who say hello, ask your name, and give you a bulletin.  Then as you sit in your chair/pew/bench/etc. and service starts you begin to dive into the meet and potatoes.  Narrative history greets you and prepares you to dive into the vast landscape of history.

I find narrative history vastly important — though I know my classmates at Messiah may disagree with me.  They help develop history and draw people in.  It is a friendly face, a gentle soul, a bulletin into the intricacies of a whole new world.


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Bringing It Back

Hey Friends,

A lot has happened since I’ve last written on this site.  I finished an amazing student teaching experience, I wrapped up an incredible time at Messiah College studying history, and I am now a college grad waiting for my “big boy” job.  All this time though, I have been thinking of this blog, and how much joy it brought me.  I am very excited to be back on, and am hoping to pick up Reckless Historians where I left off at the end of my Junior Year, and hoping to be much more consistent posting.

Having a degree in history I am convinced is one of the most rewarding opportunities.  Something about the classical study of humans and human events just stands out as special.  Perhaps now people know my opinion on history enough, but I am no longer asked “Phil what are you going to do with history?” because I have sought to teach those around me about the incredible power in a history degree.

When I interview for teaching positions, I always seek to point out that at the end of the day, the most profound things I can teach my students are the transferable skills of history.  I want my students to be able to look at information and think critically about it.  More importantly, I want my students to learn the power of empathy.  As I watch the news and hear the talking heads go after each other, I am convinced that they have no concept of empathy, which in turn has inhibited the ability of younger generations to develop this skill.  I want my students to be immersed in a world entirely different from their own — Medieval Europe, African History, or even a different region of the United States — and I want them to understand how the people of this world work.  I am not asking for my students to fully accept everything that happened during these times — far from it — but rather I am asking them to at least understand why people in particular times made the decisions they did.

Since graduating college (wow has it really been almost 2 months?) I keep thinking back regularly to how my degree in history has transformed me into a major thinker, and how history has the profound ability to teach us that we are indeed not the center of the universe.

And all this to say that I am very happy to be back at Reckless Historians.  I recently read an old email sent to reckless historian’s email (recklesshistorian@gmail.com) and they thanked the blog “for promoting the positive aspects of history and encouraging history students.”  I want to firstly apologize for not emailing back this incredible reader, but also thank him and thank all of you for allowing me to use this window to pour into your lives the importance of history so that you all can experience the transformative power of history.

It’s good to be back, now let’s go continue to hone our thinking skills and seeing the impact of people throughout history.


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History from Non-Historians

Recently, I read Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men, the history of a group of men during World War II who were dedicated to recovering and protecting art that had been stolen or destroyed during conflicts. Throughout the war, the Nazis were focused not only on capturing Europe, but also on creating a massive collection of art. Hitler firmly believed that housing an art museum in his new world was necessary to mark his success. Additionally, this museum would show that he ran a civilized society, for nothing better shows civilization than an art museum. Over time, Hitler sent troops throughout Europe to collect famous artworks and transfer them to locations only known by the Nazis. Anything that they couldn’t collect, especially famous landmarks, would be destroyed.

It was then that Allied soldiers would step in. Forming a group of soldiers called the Monuments Men, or the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program (MFAA), these men were trained artists and art historians who were committed to recovering and protecting art that had been taken and monuments that had been destroyed. The story of these men was written by Robert M. Edsel, an American businessman, author, and art enthusiast with no training in archival research or historical writing. Despite this, his history is accurate and well-told. Readers were engaged by his writing, and a movie loosely based on his history was eventually made, giving a large public face to this small, often overlooked piece of history.

While many historians, especially those who have been working their whole lives in the field, tend to be hesitant to accept history written by non-historians, there are several positives to these kinds of writings. One is that they show that people outside the field of history are interested in researching and writing major works of history. Additionally, it becomes evident that people are interested in reading these histories. Other books, such as those written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, are well-read by the public and usually have a large public face. It is exciting to find that people are still interested in reading about history, particularly when written by those outside of the field. Why is that?

Largely, people want to read books that they can understand. History books written by historians have a tendency to be dry and difficult to read for those outside the field. History books written by historians can sometimes be daunting for the average reader. Historians also tend to be limited in their writings. For instance, you can find books written by historians on topics such as the social history of the French Revolution, but finding a book written generally about the French Revolution is a challenge. Those books tend to have hundreds of pages and are not very enticing. However, if you go to your local book store and look for a book on the French Revolution, you can easily find small, fun books that give you the highlights of the event and are usually entertaining and engaging. As a public history concentration at Messiah, this is something that I find interesting. One of my goals through history is to engage the public and have people stop saying “I hate history.” I hope that through writing engaging and exciting histories, such as Robert M. Edsel’s The Monuments Men, history can again become something enjoyable for all.

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History on TV – Another Perspective

Over this past summer, Phil wrote a post about history on TV, and in honor of the return of Downton Abbey tonight, let’s continue this conversation with a focus on this period drama. Taking place in the early 1900s, Downton Abbey focuses on the Crawley family and their household staff, whose lives are continually intersecting with mainline British history of the time: the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and the Spanish Influenza, to name a few. This show, though portraying other dramas, such as family troubles, money problems, and love triangles, still holds true to the history of the time and does a great job of portraying the life of those affected by these horrific events.

In the show’s pilot, the family receives the news that their relatives aboard the Titanic are now dead, and they struggle with this loss. As the show progresses, historical events of the day continue to intersect the everyday lives of these characters. The next major event is World War I. The show’s depiction of World War I is painful and at times, hard to watch, but an accurate depiction of both soldier and civilian life during this war. At the start of the war, members of the house are searching for a way to help. Initially, several men and one woman leave the Abbey to become soldiers and a nurse, respectively. Even those who stay at the house turn it into a hospital for soldiers who have been injured in the war. The show follows those characters who entered the battlefront, and it depicts life in the trenches.

article-2042215-0E09C92300000578-488_468x298While in the trenches, soldiers from the Abbey meet and fight together, although they continue to be placed in their previous societal roles. The upper class soldier, Matthew, remains upper class while those in the working class, Thomas and William, are fighting underneath the commands of Matthew, showing that class structure remained even in the midst of war. The brutality of the war is evident throughout the show, culminating in one of the show’s characters intentionally getting his hand shot by the Germans in order to escape the trenches and return to the Abbey.

Rob James-Collier as Thomas on Downton Abbey S02E02

On the home front, civilians at the Abbey have successfully converted a large part of the house into a hospital for injured soldiers returning from the war. One of the daughters of Lord Grantham, the owner of Downton Abbey, becomes a nurse and takes over the care of the soldiers who come to the Abbey for care.


The remaining two characters fighting in the war go missing, only to turn up at the Abbey’s hospital, where one of them dies and the other is paralyzed. At the end of the war, the house gathers together for a moment of silence to remember the lives of those lost which is followed by a celebration of the end of the war.


Following the end of the war, the show dealt with the outbreak of Spanish Influenza that struck the nation. Several members of the house are struck with the illness and although only one dies, the disease shakes household life, once again displaying how British citizens were affected by the historical events occurring at this time. It is encouraging to find a show that is incredibly popular and simultaneously does a great job of portraying history from several perspectives. I only hope that this trend continues.

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The Christmas Truce of 1914

One hundred years ago this Christmas, five months after the outbreak of World War I, a truce was happening on the Western front to celebrate Christmas in the midst of the war. Soldiers who had previously believed that this would be a brief war, were now beginning to understand just how lengthy and far-reaching this war would be. In one last moment of peace, the troops on both sides briefly paused the war to celebrate Christmas together.


Beginning on Christmas Eve, both British and German troops stopped their firing and began to sing Christmas carols. At the first light on Christmas day, German soldiers began to enter the No Man’s Land and greet British soldiers, saying “Merry Christmas” in the enemy’s language. British soldiers were at first wary of this and believed that it was going to be an attack, but when they saw that the Germans were without weapons, they began returning the Christmas wishes. All of the soldiers all emptied into the No Man’s Land and began to sing and exchange presents of plum pudding and cigars. In a letter to his wife that was later published in the Bucks Examiner on January 8, 1915, Rifleman J. Reading wrote, “During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: “Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come half way and you come the other half.” At 4 a.m part of their Band played some Christmas carols and “God save the King”, and “Home Sweet Home.” You could guess our feelings. Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream. We took advantage of the quiet day and brought our dead in” (Found here). There is a legend that the soldiers even started a friendly game of soccer, with Germany winning.


As a first-hand account recalls, “Their trenches were a blaze of Christmas trees, and our sentries were regaled for hours with the traditional Christmas songs of the Fatherland. Their officers even expressed annoyance the next day that some of these trees had been fired on, insisting that they were part almost of the sacred rite” (Found here). One of the most beautiful aspects of this day was the singing of carols, which could be heard for miles around. The most well-remembered song sung that day was Silent Night. Other songs were sung that day and can be found listed here, but none were as inspirational as Silent Night. To end this day of truce, soldiers were burying their dead on both sides along with prayers, particularly the 23rd Psalm.

The truce would not last long, and would not be repeated on the following Christmases of the war, but it is important to remember this Christmas and the message it provides for us. So, while you’re celebrating with your families and friends this Christmas, remember the truce that occurred one hundred years ago and let it remind you of the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas from the Reckless Historians Team!

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I Study History, What Do You Expect?

I was recently talking to my friend about our latest obsession, Pentatonix. For those who don’t know, they’re an incredible a capella group and you can listen to them here, though they’re not the primary point of this post. In our conversation about this group, it became apparent that I knew a great deal of background information on the band that my friend did not. When she asked why I knew so much about them, all I could think was that I do my research. I’m a history major, what do you expect? I quickly realized that whenever I like something or something piques my interest, I have a tendency to look them up or do some digging. Particularly, I like to read about the history of whatever it is I’m interested in.

While this should honestly not surprise me, it did. I never realized how much history has permeated my life. When I’m interested in something, I instantly want to know the context behind it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a musical group or an actor in a movie I’m watching: I instantly want to know their background information. Some might say that this is creepy, but I truly do think that it’s because I study history. Every day I do research. I am constantly writing papers, doing research for a future paper, or, occasionally, doing research for fun (when the time presents itself). It’s gotten to the point where I love research. It’s probably my favorite part of the paper writing process. I love learning about everything and digging through tons of information to find that one thing that will make everything make sense. There really is nothing like it. And now that I’ve been doing research for a while and I’ve gotten to a place where I love it, I find myself wanting to research everything and anything.

Studying history truly makes you want to know everything, despite the fact that this is impossible. It makes you want to learn and read and study, even when it’s not a topic you’re particularly interested in. History’s amazing that way – it makes even the most mundane things fascinating. So, the next time you’re reading an article about your favorite author or musician, remember that history is a really awesome thing. Though, I am biased. I’m a history major, what do you expect?

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American Evangelicalism from a Catholic Perspective

Hi everyone!

I’m continuously apologizing for taking such long breaks in writing – this semester truly has been insane. This week alone, I’ve written several papers and presented at a conference, so I’m glad that I’ve found some time amidst the chaos to write.

This semester, I’m taking several interesting history courses, including the History of American Evangelicalism. This class has been quite the learning experience for me. As a Catholic attending a Christian College, it can be a challenge to find your place at school and to understand some of the practices and language of students. When registering for classes for this semester, I had no idea what I was going to be getting myself into when I registered for Evangelicalism. To be honest, it took me at least a month to be able to say the word “Evangelicalism.” When the class began, I was very concerned that I would not be able to make it through, and I seriously considered dropping. The class itself is very small, with four students, one auditor, and a student who sits in on the class. Though it is not the smallest class I have taken at Messiah, it is one of the smallest, and being the only Catholic in a course on religious history can be intimidating. I constantly struggle with finding where my voice fits into the conversation, and trying to understand the concepts placed before me. The initial conversations we were having in class left me confused and topics were entirely new to me. After a discussion with my professor, I quickly realized that I should remain in the class. In talking to Dr. Fea, the professor of this course, he took me back to the first class I ever took with him, Introduction to History. In this class, we discussed the idea that studying the past was like studying a foreign country – you don’t know the people or the places or the customs, but that’s exactly why you study them. Dr. Fea reminded me that American Evangelicalism was just like that for me – studying a foreign country.

Once I had gained some perspective on the class, I found myself really enjoying it. There are still days where I go into class thinking “I have no idea what the readings were about for today,” but I still felt compelled to read. I, fortunately, am able to leave class with a much better understanding of the readings and discussions. As this is a reading and discussion-based class, I have actually found myself taking the time to do an in-depth reading of the assignments, born out of both my desire to fully understand everything that is happening and a strong interest in the subject matter. The characters and topics we meet in this class are fascinating, and delving into this topic has taught me so much, not only about American Evangelicalism and how to say “Evangelicalism,” but also about American history itself. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will say that I am very thankful that I am taking this class.

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