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Meet the Scholars: Dr. John Thornton

Over the next few weeks we will be featuring some of our subject experts and moderators on the blog.  This week we’ve asked our participants a few questions about how they have incorporated the themes of gender, race, and contact into their scholarship and teaching.   [twocol_one]Image[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]Name:   John K. Thornton Institutional Affiliation:  Boston University Title/Position Held:  Professor Scholarly Interests:  History of West Central Africa, African Diaspora, Atlantic History[/twocol_one_last]         How has your exposure to the conference and the themes stemming from our conversation (commemoration, race, gender, class, relationships between native people and Europeans and Africans, etc.) impacted your own research?  My research on this topic began when I read Engel Sluiter’s article identifying the Portuguese vessel that brought the first Africans to Virginia.  I wrote my own article on the African background of those “20 and odd Negroes” in the William and Mary Quarterly.  From this research on African background, I published, along with Linda Heywood, our book on the “Angolan Wave” that carried Africans to the English and Dutch colonies in the Americas in the same period.  Independent of these researches, I also was working on Atlantic History, studying how Europeans, Africans, and indigenous Americans encountered and shaped each other.  Since 1995, I have been teaching a course on Atlantic history with a focus on this period and on cultural encounters.  Cambridge University Press is publishing (print versions out in September) my book A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1350-1830. If you teach, have you started incorporating the events and themes of 1619 into your classes? How?  My Atlantic history course tries to deal with encounters and engagements in all the Atlantic world, Africa, America and Europe, and the back and forth of influences.  A lot of this work is comparative, so the 1619 events enter into my classes through studying other encounters, such as those of the Spanish and Portuguese in earlier periods and in various circumstances. How do you think we should commemorate 1619 in our community? I believe that it is vital to focus more attention than is usually given to the African component of American society.  It is also important, I think to take some of the focus away from slavery (or from the role of Africans as laborers) and more into the cultural interactions.  We can highlight what Africa has given all Americans as a way of shaping our culture over time.

History and Place: The Importance of Connection to the Physical World When Engaging in Intellectual Pursuit

When leafing through the most recent issue of the Magazine of History (the OAH’s monthly journal), I was struck by an article by Dustin Meeker on the power of place in teaching history. Those of us who are avid visitors to historic sites probably think that the importance of place in studying and teaching history is obvious, but in the age of shrinking budgets for education at all levels means trips out of the classroom are rare treats.  So how do we bring a sense of place to our teaching without leaving the classroom?  Meeker advocates taking students to libraries and archives and encouraging them to do research on local sites and events to engage them with a sense of place.  But that kind of research trip is not always possible. One of the faculty members in NSU’s history department, Arnold Modlin, instructor of Geography, came up with a great idea for connecting students to the history of the places around them.  Norfolk State University’s campus is close to the border between the city of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and Witchduck Road, the source of many urban legends in the Tidewater Region. He had his students in his Introduction to Geography class research the history of Witchduck Road and how it got its name (it was named for the first and only witch tried in Virginia, Grace Sherwood).  The assignment introduced students to the idea of tomography, the layers of names and associations assigned to a particular place or geographical feature. Students, many of whom grew up in the Tidewater region, knew the stories surrounding Witchduck Road and the supposed hauntings, but few knew the real and tragic story of Grace Sherwood. Resources: Meeker, Dustin. “National History Day and the Power of Place: Researching the History of Your State or Community.” Organization of American Historians Magazine of History 26:3 (July 2012): 19-24.

Welcome to 1619: The Making of America Blog

Welcome to the blog for 1619: The Making of America, a conference held by Norfolk State University examining the repercussions and interactions of the three groups of people who made America.