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Reconstruction: Assignment


U.S. History Reconstruction Pop-up Museum

DUE: Friday, January 31, 2020


For this project, our class will answer the call of the attached editorial (see below) to develop a pop-up museum about Reconstruction. This pop-up museum, which will consist of several exhibits, will be briefly displayed on our campus for the Bentley Community. In tackling this project, you will want to contemplate how your exhibit will answer the question of how we should remember this complex era. Using this museum exhibit, how would you work to educate visitors so they can make an informed evaluation of events from this period?


The project will include both individual and group work. Each component will be evaluated for your demonstration of historical knowledge, analysis, use of evidence, design, and originality. Your project must include the following required components:

1) Consultation with Ms. Bogas, completed by Friday, January 24 (individual work; 5%). You are required to have a 5-10 minute individual meeting with Ms. Bogas to show her at least 2 secondary sources, 1 primary source, and 1 visual source already in your NoodleTools bibliography. Ideally, one of your secondary sources should be a journal article or other non-reference work (meaning, not an encyclopedia entry). These may not be the final sources you use in your bibliography; part of the purpose of this meeting is to evaluate your preliminary choices. Please “share” your NoodleTools bibliography with the class “Reconstruction.” Please schedule your consultation on January 9th, 10th, 11th, or 14th.

2) Bibliography in NoodleTools, due by the beginning of class on Monday, January 27 (individual work; 10%): You should consult both primary and secondary sources in order to gain a comprehensive and detailed understanding of your specific topic. At minimum, this bibliography should include three visual primary sources, three written primary sources, and three secondary sources. At least 2 of the sources are required to be from one of Bentley's databases, preferably an ebook or journal article. Wikipedia can and should be consulted when you begin your research, but it may not count as one of your cited sources. Please consult the library research guide[1] that Ms. Bogas has created for you to access many credible sources.

3) Exhibit Display installed in the Commons by the beginning of Flex on Friday, January 31 (group work; 30%):

Each group is responsible for creating an exhibit for this pop-up museum. Your group’s exhibit will be on a specific topic related to Reconstruction. You will be assigned one of the following topical areas: politics; culture; economy; society; or law. Within your group’s exhibit there will be multiple displays. Each display has an image, object, possibly an audiovisual component, or more than one of these things.  These images, objects, and/or audiovisual pieces will be accompanied by explanatory placards stating what each thing is and placing these things in historical context.

When planning your exhibit with its various displays, you want to make sure you conceive of the exhibit as more than the sum of its parts. That is, there should be visual and narrative coherence to what you design and create. Make sure that you are telling a bigger story about the aspect of Reconstruction that you have been asked to address. The pieces of the larger exhibit should not feel random. Instead, each element should be clearly part of a cohesive and well-rounded whole that conveys a historical message and understanding. Members of the Bentley community should walk away from your exhibit and the overall pop-up museum feeling like they have some sense of the major processes at work in the Reconstruction period. Therefore, your group ought to consider questions such as the following: How should reconstruction be remembered and represented? Which experiences of Reconstruction will you choose to highlight? How will you visually and narratively represent significant moments and figures?

  1. Images/objects/multimedia:
    1. Your group will create several visual displays, and each group member should contribute 1-2 displays. These displays will be part of your group’s topical exhibit for the pop-up museum. Therefore the displays should reflect your exhibit and its relevant sub-topics. Visual objects might be images from periodicals, photographs of physical artifacts, artistic depictions, reproductions of letters, the text of legislation, historical texts, 3D dioramas, sound and/or visual recordings of historians or reenactors, other interactive multimedia, etc. Get creative! Think about what will be intriguing, enlightening, or thought provoking for our community. How will you capture and hold people’s attention so that they not only learn about this history, but remember what they have learned. Each display must be accompanied by a small placard (see below)
  2. Print elements:
    1. Large Placard: Including a title for your exhibit and an overarching narrative with a clear thesis about how these objects help us understand the legacy of Reconstruction, especially regarding your group’s topic. This should be about 3-4 paragraphs long and once printed up it should be visually appealing and about the size of a large poster.
    2. Small placards: These should accompany each of the displays in your group’s exhibit. These are explanation of individual pieces on display. (150-300 words per placard)
      1. What is the object? (name/description, creator/author (if applicable), date of object, etc)
      2. Historical context
      3. Significance
      4. Bibliographic references
    3. Brochure for visitors to take with them (you need to make at least 30 copies)
      1. Title of your exhibit
      2. Summary or synopsis of your thesis and overall message (100 words)
      3. Highlights from your exhibit, including all images and objects with brief descriptions
      4. List of group members but also other contributors and sponsors (be imaginative about who these might be)
      5. Recommended further reading for your visitors


5) Presentation, in class Monday February 3 (group work; 15%)

Your job, as a group, is to find and present connections between your individual projects under the broad category you’ve been assigned. You’ll have about 5 minutes in class to give your presentations; focus not just on presenting your individual research, but also on making connections among your individual topics.




Each small group will be assigned a broad category, as follows. Within each broad category, there are any number of specific topics that you can research individually. I’ve given you a list specific topics to use, and your group is responsible for assigning individual topics. If there is a topic not listed that you would like to research, please consult with your teacher.


Broad categories and individual topics:

1. Politics and Political Enfranchisement

  • Reconstruction Act
  • Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments
  • Presidential Reconstruction
  • Black political officeholders
  • Radical Republicans
  • Impeachment of President Johnson
  • Bargain of 1877


2. Society and Social Policy

  • The Freedmen’s Bureau (Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands)
  • Military Reconstruction policy
  • White Terrorism/Ku Klux Klan
  • Union Leagues
  • Race riots (for example, the Memphis Riot of 1866)
  • Immigration and nativism (Immigrant labor, tensions between immigrant groups and newly freed slaves, rise of nativism)
  • Reconstruction and woman suffrage (1865-1890s)


3. Laws and Citizen’s Rights

  • Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments
  • Civil Rights Bill of 1866; Civil Rights Act of 1875
  • Black Codes
  • Convict Lease System
  • Enforcement Acts


4. Culture, Religion, and Education

  • Schools and Universities (Fisk University, Hampton Institute, Howard University; missionary society schools and public schooling in the South)
  • Political art, cartoons, & illustrations in newspapers & magazines
  • The Black press (The American Freedman, The Colored American, The Colored Citizen, and others)
  • Black churches (African Methodist Episcopal Church; Colored Methodist Episcopal Church; black Baptist churches)
  • White-controlled religious institutions
  • Music (folk music, protest songs, spirituals, musicals, minstrel shows)


5. Economics, Labor, and Landowning

  • Industrialization
  • Carpetbaggers
  • Sharecropping
  • Crop liens
  • Land reform
  • Sea Islands Experiment
  • Railroad construction






In-class plan:

Tasks to be completed by the end of class:

Homework for next class:

Week 5



January 16/17


Distribute project assignment.

Begin researching your topic.

Read project assignment and make note of due dates.


Make sure you have started your preliminary research.

For Tuesday/Wednesday Jan 21/22

-Read and annotate Give Me Liberty!, pp. 442-454.

-Consult with your small groups via email or a shared Google doc to choose individual topics.

Week 6

Tuesday/ Wednesday

January 21/22

Presentation by Ms. Bogas.


Begin research and work on NoodleTools bibliography.

Meet with Ms. Bogas by Friday January 24

(you can meet with her during class time today if you’re ready).


Public speaking exercise (time permitting).

Make sure each group member has an individual topic at the beginning of class.


Continue  your individual research (starting with your bibliography) and prepare to meet with Ms. Bogas by next Monday.

For Thursday/Friday:

-Read and annotate Give Me Liberty!, pp. 454-466;

-Continue research; make sure you’re on track to have a complete bibliography no later than Monday, January 27

Thursday/ Friday

January 23/24

Individual work on projects.

You can meet with Ms. Bogas during class time.

You must meet with Ms. Bogas by the end of the day on Friday, January 24

For Monday:

-Read Give Me Liberty!, pp. 466-473.

-Continue research; begin planning your placards and visual elements

Week 7

Monday January 27

Individual work on projects

You should have an outline/draft for your large placard by the end of class

Bibliography due at the beginning of class.

Work on visual elements and placards

Tuesday/ Wednesday

January 28/29

Individual work on projects.

You should have drafts of all placards by the end of class.

The exhibit must be installed in the commons by the start of Flex on Friday January 31.

Thursday/ Friday

January 30/31

Finish projects and get them installed in the commons.

Visual component due at the beginning of class.

-Read Give Me Liberty!, pp. 476-493.

Monday February 3

Present your exhibit to your class

Engage in the exhibits

Congratulations, you’re done!

OP-ED CONTRIBUTION: “Why We Need a National Monument to Reconstruction,” by Gregory P. Downs, Eric Foner, and Kate Masur (Dec. 14, 2016)[2]

Although Americans are already looking ahead to the next presidential administration, President Obama retains the power to shape his legacy and our nation in his remaining weeks in office. He has already used his final months to create several national monuments,[3] and we urge him to create another, one that will speak as much to the nation’s present and future as it does to its past: the first national monument dedicated to Reconstruction — the turbulent, misunderstood era after the Civil War — in Beaufort, S.C., which has one of the country’s highest concentrations of Reconstruction-related sites.

Work on the monument is already underway. Community leaders in Beaufort have submitted a formal request to the National Park Service for a monument that encompasses key sites of emancipation and postwar community-building. In May, two South Carolina representatives — James Clyburn, a Democrat, and Mark Sanford, a Republican — sponsored a resolution to establish a national monument to the Reconstruction era. And last month, a group of 17 historians who have been helping the National Park Service study Reconstruction, as well as the American Historical Association and other professional historical groups, endorsed this effort.

This is a crucial time to commemorate Reconstruction. The period after the Civil War created the modern United States: Three constitutional amendments ended slavery, created equal legal protection and birthright citizenship, and prohibited racial discrimination in voting laws. Four million formerly enslaved Americans reconstructed their families and communities, establishing thousands of churches and schools and civic organizations.

Reconstruction was the nation’s first great experiment in biracial democracy, with hundreds of thousands of black men able to vote for the first time, and significant numbers holding elective office. Largely for that reason, Southern planters led coups against local governments that supported Reconstruction, and went on to bar blacks and many poor whites from voting and to construct a system of Jim Crow racial exclusion.

The story of Reconstruction remains a rich and troubling one for a nation that prefers stories of progress over those of regression. It reminds us of the centrality of race-based slavery to our nation’s history; of the idealism of those, white and black, who sought to build a society based on racial equality upon the ashes of slavery; and of the violent overthrow of the experiment in biracial democracy. More broadly it reminds us that rights we sometimes take for granted can be taken away.

Nevertheless, Reconstruction often disappears from our national story. Historians long characterized it as a failure, disseminating myths of corruption or of African-American incapacity. Over the last half-century, scholars have overturned that interpretation, noting the extraordinary vitality and promise of Reconstruction, but this knowledge has too infrequently reached the public. Many Americans know nothing at all about the period.

A National Park Service monument to Reconstruction in Beaufort would be a significant step toward commemorating this crucial part of the nation’s history. After the Union victory[4] on Port Royal Sound in 1861, the scenic town of Beaufort and the surrounding Sea Islands was a rehearsal for Reconstruction. Former slaves on nearby St. Helena and Hilton Head Islands attended the Penn School established by Northern reformers, established religious services at Brick Baptist Church, created self-governing communities like Mitchelville[5] on Hilton Head Island and served alongside Harriet Tubman in the nearby Combahee ferry raid,[6] an 1863 foray into Confederate territory that liberated hundreds of slaves.

In alliance with some white Carolinians, they elected a war hero and former slave, Robert Smalls, to the state constitutional convention of 1868 and then to five terms in Congress. Smalls lived long enough to see the end of Reconstruction, defending civil and voting rights at the 1895 state constitutional convention that disfranchised African-Americans,[7] and maintaining a rare biracial alliance in Beaufort until his death in 1915.

Traces of this history remain around Beaufort. From the Penn Center at the old Penn School to the Brick Baptist Church to Smalls’s own home, visitors to the Reconstruction national monument would be able to stand where these historical actors stood and reckon with the legacy of their struggle for genuine freedom. A recent National Historic Landmark study found that Beaufort has the greatest density of important historical sites for Reconstruction in the country.

Without the changes of Reconstruction, Barack Obama could not have been elected president. And now the choice is his — under the Antiquities Act, he has the power to create a monument on sites designated by local officials. By acting upon this request from Beaufort, President Obama can bequeath to the nation a site where Americans can contemplate how the Civil War and the destruction of slavery changed the nation — and the long struggle for equal rights that followed.

Gregory P. Downs is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis; Eric Foner is a professor of history at Columbia; and Kate Masur is an associate professor of history at Northwestern.









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