5 history books you’ll actually like!

I know, I know, once you graduate from college you never want to read another history book again!  But I honestly believe that understanding more about history actually makes you a better HUMAN.  Here are five of my favorite history books that are interesting and easy to read.  What is your favorite history book?

how to take notes in college history classes

I have good news for those of you who hate to take notes.

I am a compulsive note-taker, but I have been doing it wrong.  I just completed my ninth year of college (Bachelors + Bible college + teaching credential + Masters) and I have boxes of binders and notebooks full of the copious notes I took for dozens and dozens of courses.  I always think that I’m going to go back and flip through a notebook and find some profound and/or useful nugget of information, but I have yet to do so.  I kind of enjoy taking lecture notes, and it helps me to interact with a text to take notes as I read, but there is a better way.

As far as I know, this will only be useful for history students.  In your upper division courses, you will probably receive a massive required reading list of monographs and articles, and it will be impossible to read every single word and take notes on every single section.  Fortunately, your professors won’t actually expect you to know every minute detail of every text they assign.  There are certain aspects of a text, however, that you will want to make sure you are familiar with.

Oftentimes, my binder full of notes didn’t include these crucial elements.  But this semester I was teaching full time, in grad school, completing a super annoyingly time-consuming aspect of teacher preparation, and teaching music lessons after school.  So I desperately needed a way to streamline my note-taking and reading.  Here is what I started doing:

noteddd

You can download this form by clicking the on the file below.  Sorry it looks so small on screen!

Notes

If you are reading a monograph or an article for a discussion course, or even to incorporate into a short paper or book review, one page of notes should be enough.  The important thing is that you are taking purposeful and relevant notes, and those will help you more than my notebooks full of fun facts.

Title & Author: self-explanatory

Argument: If you don’t know what the author’s argument is, no amount of quotes or details is going to help you.  Nail down the main argument.  You will find this in the Introduction.  What is the author trying to prove in this book or article?  If you do understand the argument, you will be able to interact with any other portion of the book.  (Note: This method will only work for a monograph, not for a synthesis. A monograph contains an argument, while a synthesis is just an overall history of a topic.)

Historiography: Historiography is (for lack of a better explanation) the history of the history.  What have other people written about this topic already?  Is your author trying to prove them wrong, or add a missing piece to the story?  Is this a relatively new field of history, such as the importance of animals in combat in WWI?  Or, you might have a fairly old monograph, and you will need to take the timing into consideration.  Is this a book about race, written before the Civil Rights era?  Address any relevant issues in your notes so that they can inform your reading and analysis.

Categories of Analysis: A category of analysis is a lens through which a historian looks at an event.  You might read an article about women during WWII.  The  category of analysis, then, is probably gender.  Other examples of categories of analysis are race, labor, economics, migration, change over time, agriculture, social history, etc.  The categories of analysis are usually related to the argument.  If an author argues that horses were vital to the success of the Comanche tribe against the Spanish, then husbandry is a category of analysis.  Chapter titles are usually your best hint for recognizing categories of analysis.

Methodology: How did this author conduct his or her research, or structure the book?  Sometimes authors will do a comparative study and compare two seemingly different things, and prove that they are similar.  Or an author will do a case study and show how an individual story can shed light on an entire event/ situation.  Oftentimes the author will explain the methodology explicitly in the Introduction.

Evidence: What did the author use to prove his or her argument?  Census records, diaries, presidential speeches?  The evidence usually consists of primary source documents.  You can be critical of the evidence, too.  Did the author use enough sources?  Were these sources credible?  If you are writing a book review, you will definitely want to be mindful of the evidence the author chose to include.

Other notes: Here is where I get to indulge in a little trivia gathering, or jot down interesting quotes.  I can’t just quit cold turkey!

Side note: This is a great way to outline your own papers as well.  When you don’t have these elements worked out, you tend to have writer’s block at 3:00am the night before the paper is due.

Here is an example of some of my notes from last semester…

mynotes

My professor specifically only wanted one page of notes for two articles, so I had to adjust my format a little.  But with just half a page of notes per article, I was able to fully engage in classroom discussion and I had a clear understanding of the material.

Let me know if this is useful! 🙂

book review–Cherokee Women: Gender & Cultural Change, 1700-1835

While I am a teacher, I am also a graduate student in the top-rated History department at CSU Fullerton.  I am privileged to read some outstanding monographs, some of which have been very useful and relevant to my teaching.  I’ll do the heavy lifting of reading 500 pages a week, and I’ll share the best of what I find with you here.  If you teach 8th grade US History, this book provides some great background knowledge for your chapter on Jackson’s presidency.

 

Theda Perdue. Cherokee Women: Gender and Cultural Change, 1700-1835. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

CW

 

In traditional Cherokee culture, the sun represents woman and the moon represents man. The two serve separate purposes, yet they balance each other and are both necessary for survival. In Cherokee Women: Gender and Cultural Change, 1700-1835, Theda Perdue highlights this separate, but equally essential, aspect of women’s status within the Cherokee community. She traces the persistence and adaptations of Cherokee women as their tribe became increasingly intertwined with Americans. Perdue argues that Cherokee women had always maintained a significant and distinct position of power within Cherokee culture, and while contact with Americans threatened women’s status more directly than it threatened men’s, Cherokee women were agents of cultural conservatism, persistence and adaptation.

Perdue is dissatisfied with the historiography of Native Americans, and Native American women in particular, as they are often hidden in the shadows. She intends for this book to influence gender history, and ethnohistory as well. Perdue applies the strategy of upstreaming in order to follow cultural patterns from the present to illuminate this shadowy history of Cherokee women.

From oral histories and Cherokee legends (to which Perdue assigns equal credence as explorer diaries, missionary school records, and trade correspondence), it is clear that Cherokee women operated and controlled the agricultural realm fairly independently. Lineage was traced through mothers, and women had complete control over households. Men would move in with their wife’s family, and were often away from home, hunting. The Cherokee placed great emphasis on balance between the genders, and there was no hierarchical structure of men over women.

The Cherokee’s first significant interaction with European settlers was through the rapidly growing deerskin trade. Perdue asserts that in order to fulfill the challenges of this new contact, men entered a modern sphere of commercialism and a market economy, while women, who still maintained the farms, were the conservators of traditional values. Soon, however, women adapted to using European iron farm tools, and for the first time they became dependent on men to hunt successfully (for deerskins or slaves) and trade for those items. In this new trading structure, Cherokee women maintained their traditional duties yet modified some of their practices.

Perdue shows how elements of Henry Knox’s plan to “civilize” Native Americans through land ownership and farming also forced Cherokee women to simultaneously preserve traditions, adapt to new realities, and give up political influence. Because all aspects of agriculture were the women’s domain, they became responsible for animal husbandry, while the men continued to participate in wars and trade. Cherokee women incorporated their new task into their culture, but simultaneously began to lose their governing power as male warriors rose in political status. Again, Perdue underscores the agency that women demonstrated in fighting to maintain essential gender balance, while also adapting external changes.