Monthly Archives: May 2012

Investigating the Past through Documentary Source Problems

“The traditional stay-at-home and mind-your-own-business policy laid down by [George] Washington was wise for a weak and struggling nation…”

–Henry Watterson, newspaper editor, interviewed in The New York Herald, June 22, 1898

Debra Schneider, social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School, comments on The Debate over the Philippines, 1898 – 1900, one of the many Documentary Source Problems created by Roland Marchand for his U.C. Davis students with modified versions for use in middle and high school class rooms.

I use this primary source investigation to introduce America’s imperialism at the end of the 19th century to my high school juniors in a U.S. history class. In fact, it was this documentary source problem that finally got me to teach this topic; these documents and the teaching methods were better than any others I had seen before then. I use documents from both the middle school and high school lessons, and guide the students with many questions from the middle school lesson.

Though it takes some work for students to make sense of the formal and old-fashioned language, this lesson never fails to intrigue and engage students with the powerful sentiments these documents express. Once we make sense of the documents’ meanings, we practice reading them aloud, to give expression and passion to the words. Students immediately identify the racism:  “Can we hope to close the flood-gates of immigration from the hordes of Chinese and the semi-savage races;”  the insincerity: “I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them;” how George Washington is being disrespected: “The traditional stay-at-home and mind-your-own-business policy laid down by [George] Washington was wise for a weak and struggling nation;” the pride: “We are taking our proper rank among the nations of the world,” and the abandonment of democratic principles: “You have no right at the cannon’s mouth to impose on an unwilling people your Declaration of Independence and your Constitution and your notions of freedom and notions of what is good.” The knowledge they construct with this lesson creates a good foundation for our study of American interventions for the rest of the 20th century.

As a way to have students “do history” we encourage you to consider using lessons from our collection of Documentary Source Problems. Each one includes background text,  one or more investigative or guiding questions, and some activities to help students analyze the document excerpts and form conclusions.  Let us know about your favorites!

Debra Schneider is a social studies teacher at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, California, and a fellow of the U.C .Davis History Project and the Great Valley Writing Project.


Advertisements Capture Cultural Norms

McCall's Magazine, 1946

Today we have new commentary on advertisements from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

Advertisements are an excellent way to engage students in historical thinking as they provide an opportunity for students to identify historical events and ideas and analyze their meaning.  In particular, ads are a great way to discuss cultural norms.  One example from the Marchand Collection, is the 1946 advertisement for McCall’s Magazine featuring a mother reading Lives of Great Men to her adolescent son all the while the father, perhaps, perches high above them both.  The caption reads, “HE shapes the mind” while “SHE shapes the character.”  It echoes perfectly the 1940s and 1950s reinforcement of traditional gender roles that followed the turmoil of World War II and reflects the anxieties of the conflict between the US and Soviet Union.  Stability was paramount during the Cold War.  Both sides vied for control of newly emerging free nations and sought to present their path—communism or capitalism—as the clear choice for rule.  To ensure stability at home during this tenuous time, a culture of consensus or conformity asked the population to agree on traditional gender roles for men and women that celebrated women’s domesticity.  This ‘domestic containment’ confined women to the home where they were charged with creating a safe haven for the family.  Linking national security and traditional gender roles, the United States sought safety both abroad and at home.  Men and women worked together for a singular purpose.  As the ad states, “Man and woman are in partnership—each with an essentially different role to play in preparing an oncoming generation for the business of living.”  Domestic containment of the 1940s-1950s did not necessarily relegate women to a subservient position to their husbands.  Rather, it attempted to create a partnership–women as experts of the domestic realm, men as the authority of the public sphere.

In addition to domestic containment, the ad addresses the presence of specialist and self-help literature in the 1940s and 1950s.  The ad argues, “McCall’s is a magazine women really live by—and for that reason, a potent medium for moving ideas into women’s minds,” a sentiment shared by other advertisers and writers of popular help books of the era.  Magazines such as McCall’s and books such as Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care (1946) found a ready and willing audience of women searching for help in ‘professionalizing’ their role as wife and mother.  McCall’s Magazine guided “Women’s Thinking” as it served “her specialized interests in homemaking and family life” just as Dr. Spock appealed to women’s interest in child rearing.

Finally, the ad is also useful for reviewing important roles for women throughout US history.  Examples include republican motherhood, the cult of domesticity, and separate spheres.  Revolutionary ideas of republican motherhood are echoed here, as mothers (the purveyors of morality and responsibility) were tasked with creating good Republican citizens.  It also harks back to the cult of domesticity and separate spheres of the middle nineteenth century that gave women power and influence over the private sphere or the home.  Linking ideas across time helps students see patterns in history and aids information retention.

For more from Katharine Kipp, see Enlisting the Citizen Consumer in World War II


Manhood and Success

From the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality

Bradley and the "Culture of Personality" click on image to see full version

Douglas and the "Culture of Character" click on image to see full version

Commentary from Tim Yates, former History Project staff member: The Marchand Collection offers a wealth of images that can be used in the classroom to illustrate and prompt discussion of what cultural historians mean when they abstractly describe the shift from a inner-directed nineteenth-century culture of character to an other-directed twentieth-century culture of personality.    The socioeconomic causes of this shift also involved other abstract historical concepts such as the shift from producerism to consumerism, for which the Marchand Collection also provides useful illustrations beyond the ads discussed in this post.  While Douglas and Bradley are both products of the longstanding American emphasis on self-improvement, they are different historical types.  Douglas represents the successful inner-directed producer come industrialist who helped Americans overcome scarcity through factory production.  Expanding factory operations enabled the kind of industrial mass-production pioneered by Henry Ford in the early twentieth century.  The productivity of nineteenth-century middle-class men such as Douglas led to the emergence after 1900 of middle-class men such as Bradley, who increasingly found themselves selling mass-produced goods or doing other kinds of white-collar work in the office environments of large corporations or public bureaucracies.  Success in many of the jobs created by mass production and consumption required other-directed management of social impressions.  Advertisers and self-improvement promoters offered twentieth-century self-makers a range of new solutions for the changing circumstances, solutions that centered on personality enhancement.  Explore the Marchand collection for examples of advertising appeals to personality enhancement as well as images depicting the rise of mass production.  This chapter of American history raises other historical questions that the Marchand Collection might help elucidate.  How did middle-class American women experience of the cultural shift from character to personality and the underlying shift from a producer-oriented to a consumption-oriented economy?  When and how did working-class and ethnic-minority groups experience this new twentieth-century culture?  How did the rise of a mass-production and mass-consumption economy shape American politics over the course of the twentieth century?  How does the nineteenth-century emphasis on character influence our society today?  How does the more recent culture of personality influence your life?


Douglas and the Culture of Character: This advertisement for W.L. Douglas shoes vividly illustrates popular nineteenth-century American ideas about manhood and success.  The ad promotes W.L. Douglas shoes in an appeal emphasizing the qualities of Douglas the shoemaker, a self-made man sincerely dedicated to the craft he began learning it as a young child.  Cultural historian Warren Susman has argued that nineteenth-century America “was a culture of character” rooted in “producer values” that idealized thrift, discipline, work, morality, duty, citizenship, and reputation.  Americans considered these qualities prerequisites for true success.  Douglas has these qualities.  He contrasts both the nineteenth-century drunkard who weakly squandered money and became a slave to alcohol, and the confidence man, who spent his energies in criminal schemes hinging on the cultivation of false social impressions.  Douglas is a hard-working man who has achieved self-mastery by directing his energies inward to develop discipline.  He frequently spends his days in Boston thriftily purchasing his own supplies to eliminate the  middleman costs, which, the ad assures readers, his stores do as well.  Upon returning from Boston, he often works alone late into the night.  Relentlessly efficient and productive, Douglas is a sincere man of character, and character translates into affordable shoes with quality.

“Bradley” and the Culture of Personality: This 1922 ad for “Nerve,” a series of six pocket-sized self-improvement courses created by William G. Clifford and promoted by Fairfield Publishers, Inc., offers a new narrative of success, one that differs from the W.L. Douglas shoe ad in historically important ways.  Here the individual–a man named Bradley–is subjected to a new set of psychological demands for self-mastery conveying a new model of success.  In this ad the language of character has been replaced with the new language of what Susman identifies as emerging culture of “personality,” which generated new models of success and manhood emphasizing self-confidence, self-realization, and self-gratification, and celebrating the kinds of impression manipulation that formerly signaled the immorality of the nineteenth-century confidence man. The ad informs readers that Bradley, who once lacked self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, has become a man whose “vividness and charm” magnetically attract “favorable attention,” and a man consequently awarded with a $12,000-a-year job. Whereas the Douglas ad featured imagery of individual productivity, this ad shows Bradley walking into a room and commanding favorable attention.  Bradley is a success because he is well-liked and charming.  His self-improvement bears little or no resemblance to Douglas’s thrift, hard work, and long-honed skills at producing a purchasable good.  Instead, Bradley is a success because he has “gain[ed] the self-assurance that strongly impresses people,” “overcome nervousness,” developed “an impressive and winning personality,” and mastered the ability to “deal with ‘big’ people as easily” as easily as he interacts with “his closest friends” by learning to “dominate and control” both “business and personal conditions.”

Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women:  A Study of Middle Class Culture, 1830-1870.
Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance:  A Cultural History of Advertising in America.
Roland Marchand, Advertising and the American Dream:  Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940.
Warren Susman, Culture as History:  The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (see especially “Personality and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture,” pgs. 271-285).

Timothy (Tim) Yates received his Ph.D.  in U.S. History in 2007 from U.C. Davis, where he worked for the History Project as a digitizer of images from Roland Marchand’s and Karen Halttunen’s teaching collections, a research assistant for summer programs, and a Teaching American History grant contributor.  Tim currently works as a consultant for ICF International analyzing the history of built environments for development projects requiring federal and/or state regulatory compliance.  Tim’s most notable recent work for ICF has consisted of researching and writing histories of National Historic Landmark sites and resources such as Mission San Gabriel and the Doyle Drive and Veterans Boulevard Highway Exchange (the south approach roads to the Golden Gate Bridge).