Dr. Christopher Bilodeau, History
History 247: Early American History (1450-1765)
I devoted a section of my class, History 247, Early American History (1450-1765) to enhance my students’ understanding of “the Columbian Exchange”: the transfer of people, plants, animals, and microbes during the encounter between the Old World and New during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.
I spent four weeks of the class to immerse students into recent relevant scholarship. I used the time of the Valley & Ridge Faculty Workshop to formulate and finalize student readings and create a sequenced, scaffolded series of assignments that integrated readings, group work, class presentations, and essay writing to enable students to grapple with this monumental historical issue. I broke students up into two groups, based on Crosby’s elements of the Columbian Exchange—people, plants, animals, and pathogens—and assigning them a series of readings on each topic. Each group convened to formulate presentations and present their work on the theme to the rest of the class. Based on these readings and group work, students wrote an essay of five to six pages that analyzed a historical component of the theme they have chosen. I used this content on the Columbian Exchange to help students learn a series of important outcomes: to recognize that ecological and biological questions are open for historical interpretations and claims; to recognize as well the importance of sources other than common political or cultural texts in making historical meaning; to understand how powerful social and structural forces such as biology or agriculture or demography can have profound effects on human history; and to understand history in broad, one-hundred or two-hundred year segments, which forces students to ask different questions about the historical material.