Revisionist History (updated…Spring 2011)

And here are some more results from my first big adventure into grading this semester (the previous blog, “Finding Out if My Students are Actually Learning Anything…,” only included answers to one particular question).  Not surprisingly, some of my students can be very creative in their responses to the exam questions, especially when it’s clear that they suffered what politely can be called a “brain lock” when taking the exam in class (and I’ve been there, done that—and am sympathetic to their plight).  But at the same time, I do wonder what they are thinking when they are providing these responses, especially the students in my United States History since 1877 class who have take-home exams.  One lovely scholar wrote a wonderful explanation of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.  Unfortunately for him, that was not one of the terms to be defined on this exam.  Two others wrote about the Sherman Silver Purchase Act when defining the Sherman Antitrust Act.  And the vast majority of students who wrote about James McParlan (the Pinkerton detective who infiltrated the Molly Maguires and gathered information that led to their demise) referred to him as “secret agent man.”

The time pressure of an in-class exam obviously affected a couple of students in the History of the Early Republic class who thought John Fries was a tax collector, instead of the leader of a tax revolt.  Then there are the four students who thought that the Quasi War (the undeclared naval war with France in 1798 that contributed to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts) occurred while Thomas Jefferson was president.

Anyway…here are the latest entries in my students amusing, insightful, and entertaining responses to exam questions.  As one student has suggested, maybe I should compile all these into a book…but for now, this will have to do.  Enjoy—and if you have any questions about what should be the correct answer, feel free to contact me (or post a comment; you might not be the only person who wonders about the correct answer).  The original spelling and grammar have been retained, and no names are attached to the following examples to protect the anonymity of the students who submitted these interpretations of the past.

John D. Rockefeller was the first main industrial leader, founding the Standard Oil Company after being a butcher, bakers, and candlestick maker.

Pendleton Act:  The presidents elected after this act added seats so the people they wanted would not be removed.  This modernized the nation, but brought about questions if this was actually a good thing.

Carnegie was a man that came to America from Scotland that made himself wealthy in the steel industry.  While in the industry he greatly cut the cost of steal to help out the Americans.

I think that the double header was a good invention and step up in the railroad industry.  The double header was two engines that would pull a train.  This would make the train cars travel much faster and got good where they needed to be much quicker. (N.B.:  Uh, it also cut the workforce by 50% and made those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs do twice as much work).

Many people played a part in the rise of big business in the late 19th century, people like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Alexander Hamilton, J. P. Morgan, James B. Duke.

John D. Rockefeller bought his oil straight from the rigs and barreled it himself.

The poor work condition lead to many strikes, like the Great strike of 1877, which lead to shorter work days, better wages, and safer work zones.

The U.S. then closed the Golden door, which allowed little to no ingrates to enter the country.

They also developed pools which were larger sections of rail that were all controlled by the same companies.

Andrew Carnegie showed how just cause you were a different race didn’t mean you couldn’t be a successful individual.

Between 1877 and 1900 America was focused on becoming more global.  There were several reasons we wanted to expand such as gold in the Venezuela region.  We also wanted Hawaii because it was a good place for a coaling station for our new navy and ships bound for Asia.  We ended up taking Hawaii over for a place to fuel and store our new navy.  Also England wanted it which would result in them being closer to us which we did not want.  We also ended up with Alaska.

Olney Doctrine:  was a message to Great Britain saying to get out of a territory near Venezuela.  Significance:  we ended up losing most of the land

Omaha Platform:  It was a group of farmers and the Populist Party which got together and made rules for the big business and the railroad in Omaha Nebraska.

Also after the Civil War, there became this new found sense of national pride, especially in the North.  We were no longer the bastard child of Great Britain.

Another important change during the late 1800s was the formation of Labor Unions, which essentially started with Agrarian protest which set up an alliance of farmers looking out for farmers rights.

Cross of Gold speech:  a speech that William Jennings Bryan relating everything he was saying to religion.  The significance of this was that he used this to gain supporters in the Democratic Party and to see how important religion was to the people.

In 1887 the United States worked out a treaty to have exclusive rights to have a naval base at Pearly Harbor.

Ida Tarbell:   A women who was a Mudraker.

In 1800, the United States stayed much to herself and out of the way of France, UK.  The only time we get involved was with the Barbary Coast Pirates in N. Africa and then when they moved to the British West Indies.

So the federalists of 1800 got things moving toward the direction of the United States we know today, along with many more mini-revolutions along the way.

Hamilton was born into destitute poverty.

And the students in History of Pennsylvania also amazed me with their views of the past:

Economically, PA quite pluralistic because of all the different currencies between cultures.  The Native Americans used wampum and animal skins and pelts, some countries used pounds and marks and other currency like livestock of farm animals.

 Most religion in Europe was Roman Catholic so countries like Scott-irish, Welch, English practiced it.

Europe was engulfed in civil war which was particularly disruptive to cultivation of crops and scarcity of land.

Since the Quakers were conscious objectors to religious, political or civil persecution they did not establish a national church where worship was obligatory unlike the C.O.E.

Gilbert Tennent was a leading exponent of the Great Awakening.  He was a fiery orator and preacher whose greatest sermon “Dangers of a unconverted congregation” compaired the Biblical New Testament Pharasees to those of his ministry who were unbaptized.  (N.B.:  Tennent’s sermon was “Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry”)

Durham boats developed in Easton PA were developed as shallow draft boats down on the Susquehanna since it is harder to go up current than down when returning up stream.  (N.B.:  Durham boats were used on the Delaware River)

Henry Melchior Muhlenburg was a German Luthern missionary to the Colonies who is responsible for establishing the Luther Church in North America.  He was also the first person to write a complaint about slavery in America in 1688.  (N.B.:  Muhlenberg was born in 1711; Francis Daniel Pastorius authored the anti-slavery protest in 1688)

Durham boats:  Pennsylvanians were not allowed to use their timber and build boats.  Instead that had to ship their timber to England and have they boat built there to prophet the boating industry in England.

Penn wanting to start his own religion, where people were free from paying the king’s taxes and not forced to do things.

Naturalization Acts:  laws passed by PA Assembly allowing anyone already living in the colonies to come to PA and become a british citizen.

Charity Schools:  These schools were established for families that could not ford to paid for there childern’s education.  Which was mainly Quackers.  These schools were fund by the Church of England.  The Quackers were not forned of the religion and the belifes of the church.  (N.B.:  Charity Schools were the first attempt at bilingual education in North America).

 Charity Schools were set up by Anglicans in order to get Dutch to convert over to their religion.  Germans were poor and didn’t have enough money to go to school, so Anglicans created “Charity Schools” and would hire Anglican teachers and try to brainwash German kids.  It was unsuccessful because many Germans had to help on the farm at home, and didn’t go to school.

Out of these lovely entries–what do you think is the funniest (or, rather, the most absurd) interpretation of the past?


About Karen

History Professor. Baseball fan. Author of two books, one of which I force my students to buy and read. You want me on your Trivial Pursuit team.
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16 Responses to Revisionist History (updated…Spring 2011)

  1. Kate Sanders says:

    Oh yea, definately gave me a good laugh. I might even share some of these in PA and Colonial History…I am sure everyone else will get a kick out of them as well. The finals should be a hoot!

    • Karen says:

      This is just Exam #1–two more to go. And this list doesn’t include any from History of Pennsylvania; I haven’t finished grading those exams.

  2. Dan says:

    it makes me wonder what students are actually learning in high school… how they are able to pass anything. fast forward to college and this is the result? no wonder colleges cater to international students and bring them in by the droves… they are the upkeepers of the academic system… they are the ones who make the schools look good, at least on paper. i weep for the future.

  3. Karen says:

    Dan–One thing I have learned from observing student teachers is that they way students learn social studies/history is a lot different from when I was in high school. I took notes in HS history classes–and it wasn’t dictation, nor was it just copying outlines off the overhead projector (aka the 20th century version of PowerPoint slides). Now–that’s generally all they write, and they don’t know how to read the textbook (or where to look up the answers). One thing I’m going to include in my first year seminar next year is devoting at least one day on how to take notes in class, because they generally have no clue–and it’s often a recipe for disaster when it comes time for them to complete the take-home exams and they can consult these notes when preparing their responses.

    By the way, none of these entries have ever come from international students. It’s our “locally-grown” students who struggle with some of what I would consider the basic concepts of United States history.

  4. Beverly Tomek says:

    Oh the Quackers. Several of us in my department were just discussing this issue last week. Every semester we get Quackers. . . .

    And the Scottish side of me is somehow sort of amused at the notion of being of a different “race.” 🙂

    You should fix up some system where we can vote on the funniest and then give that students 3 or 4 points for winning.

    • Karen says:

      Good idea! I think I’ll repost the blog–and ask for people to comment on the one they thought was the funniest.

  5. Beverly Tomek says:

    I guess then the question becomes how to explain the “extra credit award” to the student. Do you say “Congratulations, you had the goofiest answer”?


    • Karen says:

      Do I really have to tell them? I handed back the exams last week, so it might be hard to track them down (well, I do know who wrote the unique stuff on the PA history exams). Actually–it won’t be that difficult; the take-home exams were checked for plagiarism…

      And I can just calculate the extra points at the end of the semester when I figure out their course grade. It’s not like I plan on awarding any trophies or certificates for this–don’t think that’s the kind of “awards ceremony” the university would support.

  6. Beverly Tomek says:

    Here’s my vote:

    “Andrew Carnegie showed how just cause you were a different race didn’t mean you couldn’t be a successful individual.”

  7. kristenr03 says:

    “John D. Rockefeller was the first main industrial leader, founding the Standard Oil Company after being a butcher, bakers, and candlestick maker.”

    That has to be one of the best ones. 🙂

  8. Paul Douglas Newman says:

    I once learned from a student that Magellan circumcized the globe with a 200 foot Clipper…

    • Karen says:

      My favorite still is the poor soul who informed me that the historical significance of the Donner Party was that they showed people the best way to migrate west to California.

  9. Paul Douglas Newman says:

    Oh, and for the record, as the son of a woman whose maiden name was MacGregor…Scots are a different SPECIES, not a different race…how else would you define a people who each Haggis and Sheep’s Head Stew?

    • Karen says:

      And, as someone whose ancestors made and ate scrapple (among other delicacies that I wouldn’t touch), I’m not one to call any other ethnic/national group a different race or species. Then again, I happen to be young enough that I missed out on my maternal grandmother’s famous pretzel soup for upset stomachs.

  10. jeannie says:

    Charity Schools: These schools were established for families that could not ford to paid for there childern’s education. Which was mainly Quackers. These schools were fund by the Church of England. The Quackers were not forned of the religion and the belifes of the church. (N.B.: Charity Schools were the first attempt at bilingual education in North America).

    I loved those Quackers. I can just see those ducks lining up to go to these Charity Schools.

  11. Karen says:

    Jeannie–Yes. Donald Duck dressed like the guy on the Quaker Oats box.

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