Saturday, February 23, 2008

A great read for American History Teachers and/or anyone interested in the American West!

I must agree with Helen Sellers that the TAH book discussions are an excellent resource. I enjoy reading the books, but I truly look forward to meeting with peers and hearing what others have to say. Over the past two years there has been a tremendous amount of scholarly debate and collegial dialogues. I, too, recommend these discussion groups for next year.

After reading Helen’s blog, I decided to promote the most recent read at the secondary level. The Reading/North Reading book discussion group met last month to discuss “Blood and Thunder; The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West” by Hampton Sides.

The book was a unanimous hit. Middle School teachers and High School teachers alike were praising this book. It is well written and brings this period of American history to life. Anyone teaching or interested in this era should consider reading it. Sides will hook you after the first few pages. It is over 500 pages, but I found it hard to put down!

As teachers, it is easy to discuss Manifest Destiny, the U.S.- Mexican War, Western Expansion, and the fate of Native Americans sandwiched in somewhere between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Sides not only brings these topics to life, but to the forefront. Sides shows the readers Kit Carson as an unparalleled scout, a soldier of the American West, and as a family man. We see a Carson marrying a Native American woman and understanding and respecting their culture. We also see his role in the Long Walk, the relocation of thousands of Navajos. His treatment of Kit Carson forces readers to confront the contradictions of his life. Is he an American Hero? Is he a vicious killer? Is he racist?

Our group had a lively discussion. In our assessment of Kit Carson, we found ourselves assessing the role of the United States in its quest for western expansion. Where we were uncomfortable and disturbed by many actions in the book, we were forced to recognize the realities of current policies and global issues today.

There are many resources available to teachers who are discussing this period of U.S. History. PBS is currently running two programs. One on Kit Carson, and the other on Buffalo Bill. Their website has teacher plans, video clips online, interactive maps, and much, much more.

Again, I highly recommend “Blood and Thunder”. I will never look at Manifest Destiny the same way. PBS American Experience: Kit Carson PBS American Experience: Buffalo Bill PBS U.S. Mexican War