My Masters Thesis: “Rothschild Francis’ Fight for Virgin Islanders’ Civil Rights and Self-Government in an Age of U.S. Expansion, 1917-1931”

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Whenever I share fascinating primary source documents and intriguing stories about Rothschild Francis and his fight for Virgin Islanders’ civil rights, people ask where they can read more about him. I spent about four years asking the same question, and found myself in Washington DC in the Library of Congress basement for three days with microfiche files and delicate newspaper pages from the 1920’s. I chased documents from The Schomberg Library in Harlem to the New York Public Library in Manhattan. I spent hundreds of dollars on books from sellers in the US Virgin Islands, written by amateur USVI historians. I found relevant articles in academic databases, and some primary source documents from simple Google searches.

There are very few secondary sources about Rothschild Francis and the brilliant strategies he employed to attempt to secure Constitutional rights for his people. I realized that I, actually, could do something about this.

My masters research/thesis is one of the accomplishments in my life that I am most proud of. I was teaching full-time while I took in-person classes at a university an hour away from where I lived and worked, and when I defended my thesis and walked with my graduating class, I was 39 weeks pregnant with my son. Even though it took about four years and ended up being outrageously expensive, I loved the process of taking graduate level history courses and doing targeted research.

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I take pride in being a historian. Many of my classmates went on to pursue PhDs in History in order to become professors and to continue their research. I was tempted to follow this path as well, but even more than a historian, I am an educator. I want to make impeccable historical practices and intriguing research and sources available to K-12 teachers who don’t have access to WorldCat, university archives, and professor office hours. And I want our students to become amazing historians.

I have shared a lot of my masters journey and my USVI research online. Here is a YouTube video about the process of pursing my degree. I created this lesson about Rothschild Francis, and it’s available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I even made myself a custom t-shirt with Rothschild Francis quotes on it to wear when I teach my students about him!

I have never shared my actual thesis paper before because I thought that I would need to protect my research if I ever applied for a PhD program or a Caribbean history conference. I kept meaning to make a YouTube video where I read my thesis out loud so that people could hear it, but wouldn’t have access to the text.

But what would Rothschild Francis do in this situation? He studied US History and policy voraciously and then put everything he learned into editorials in his newspaper, The Emancipator. He wanted people to have access to everything that he knew, and he believed that information would empower his fellow Virgin Islanders.

So even though I am fiercely protective of this paper and everything that it represents to me, I think it should be accessible for free to anyone who wants to learn more about Rothschild Francis and the history of the Virgin Islands. This history is Caribbean History, is Black History, is US History, is political history, is biography. I hope this paper will help any educator who would like to incorporate Rothschild Francis’ story into their curriculum.

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Here are my two greatest accomplishments: my thesis about Rothschild Francis, and his great-great grandson. Enjoy!

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acrostic poem assessment (the north)

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To my delight and excitement, the chapter on the North is mostly social history.  We look at working conditions, economics, changing family structures, women’s roles, child labor, inventions, unionization, etc.  Some of my students seem to be a little restless for a battle to map out, or a president and vice president to memorize, but I love the opportunity to slow down a little bit and look at regional history.

However, I don’t think that a multiple choice test is necessarily the best way to test my students’ understanding of this content.  I decided to use an acrostic poem as their Chapter 11 assessment, and I was impressed with the information that they retained and were able to communicate.

The directions were to write a fact/detail about the North starting with each letter in “T-H-E N-O-R-T-H.”  Responses were worth 2 points each, for a total of 16.  If they wrote something totally uninspired, like “The North was in the north,” they would only receive one point.  Somewhere on the worksheet they were also required to draw an image of anything related to the North, worth 4 points.  Total, the test was worth 20 points.

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It was a very open-ended assessment, but students produced good work and were actually happy to do it.  I had been telling them all week that the Ch. 11 test was on Wednesday, but when I handed it out, they were so relieved they started laughing.  Even one of my most negative students said, “This is the best test ever!”  They were quiet as mice while they took it, and no one bothered to try and look at their neighbor’s test.

To them it seemed “easy,” but it actually required significant knowledge of Ch. 11, and it gave me a good sense of which details they retained the best.  The hand-drawn image offered my artistic students a chance to really shine, too.

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These examples aren’t perfect, but overall students’ scores were pretty high.  Quite a few of my students have IEP’s and have a lot of trouble passing tests, so it’s nice to give them a confidence boost every once in a while.  It’s definitely true that they need experience taking the kinds of rigorous tests that will be required in high school and beyond, but our school was also taking the SBAC state tests this week.  I figure they had had their fill of high stakes testing for the week!

I like the train on this one:

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And this one just made me laugh:

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The stick man overseer looks so angry!

The charm of acrostic poem assessments will surely wear off soon, but they are a nice tool to use every so often.  They are much more nuanced than multiple choice tests, and I enjoyed seeing Ch. 11 through my students’ eyes.

What are your favorite forms of alternative assessments?

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.

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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.