Category Archives: Education

Hardtack 2017

One of the primary objectives in my Civil War class is to have the students understand and experience some of the things a typical soldier in the ranks might have experienced during the war. Of course, the kids do not get ticks or lice (thankfully), nor do they contract dysentery (also thankfully), further…no one is shooting at them (I am especially pleased about this one).

But there are a few things we can recreate. For example, I recently tasked them with a research project where the students read a number of soldiers’ letters and journals. From this point they assumed the identity of a soldier (Union or Confederate) and wrote a letter home.  The objective was not only to recreate an authentic look and feel but more importantly, voice the spirit of the times. You can check out the results HERE.

Last week I took a break from the more rigorous classroom work  – we formed ranks and marched to the school kitchen where we made…and then subsequently ate the Civil War delicacy: hardtack. To get them in the mood, I had them read an excerpt from John Billings’s 1887 Hardtack and Coffee – you can read the excerpt yourself HERE. I’ve included a recipe with the document. Trust me, it’s not very complicated.

So, we made it…we ate it…and some kids asked for seconds. Go figure.

As you all most surely know, this stuff – the standard Union soldier ration – was as hard as a rock. So, many would fry up some delightful (perhaps rancid) pork fat to help soften the concrete-hard cracker. Now, we didn’t do that. Those of you who know me will know why and those of you who do not – well…suffice it to say…that would not fly at my school. Instead, we soaked the hardtack in coffee, which is also a perfectly legit recreation of what an actual soldier might have done to ease the blow to his molars.

At any rate – teachers, take a break from the hard stuff (see what I did there) and put together this very hands-on project. You’ll get a lot of mileage out of it and your students will have a nice snack…who knows, they might even learn something 🙂

With compliments,

Keith

Music in the Classroom

When I was an undergrad at UCLA my Civil War professor, Joan Waugh, would open each class with martial music of the day…blaring from every speaker as the students filed into the room and took their seats.  I thought it was a great way to introduce the history – it got us in the mood, so to speak.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-06-12-amAnyway…I have continued that legacy with my own students, and it has become one of the staple features of my Civil War history course. I have had students send me music that they have found on their own and some have brought in different versions of the music they heard in class – we once had an impromptu sing-a-long break out to close the week.

So far – the class favorite has been Eating Goober Peas, a folk song probably originating the southern states  that was popular with Confederate soldiers…I would imagine that some Yankees joined in the chorus from time to time – or at least sampled the southern delicacy.

So – let’s all join in with this remarkable version – a duet featuring Burl Ives and Johnny Cash.

With compliments,

Keith

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Let the Games Begin

1 Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 6.59.15 AMThe classes are assigned, the lessons prepared, the haircut scheduled….and the students will be in their seats ready for me to drop some serious knowledge in less than two weeks. In the meantime – it’s faculty meetings and getting some tech straightened out.

To my fellow teachers – the fall semester is upon us. So…peace be with you. Have a great year!!

With compliments,

Keith

New Stuff from Keith Harris History

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 9.12.39 AMGreetings friends! Of course I have been up to all sorts of things so far this summer. As some of you already know, I have taken a position at a private prep-school here in LA…teaching US history, a sort of hybrid Western Civ course, and an honors course in Civil War and Reconstruction history. So I am stoked. But…I am not leaving the digital world. Not by a long shot. Office Hours, my free student resource geared to helping students with some of the more pressing questions, is still going strong – here’s the latest, on the 1963 Birmingham Campaign.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 2.37.06 PMI am also very excited about my US History podcast (you’ll get the name of it soon enough…), where I will talk with experts in US History, American Studies, and other areas of Americana. The launch date is September 1 and my first guests will include, Kevin Levin, Megan Kate Nelson, Robert Rakove, Julian Hayter, Christian McWirther, Heath Hardage Lee, and Robin Foster. Don’t be surprised if our conversations tend to kick up a fuss…I mean, those of you who know me should expect nothing less.

Lot’s going on, yes? Stay tuned and be sure to fill out the form when prompted to get notified just as soon as things get rolling!

With compliments,

Keith

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Video Clips – Send ’em In!

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 6.58.10 PMHi all – as you most certainly know, I offer a number of web-courses on United States history – you can check them out HERE. So far, the reviews have been very good…whether you are a buff or a student of history, I am sure you will get a lot out of them. At any rate…I am currently putting together a comprehensive course on the American Civil War and I need your help. Along with historical images, I am including video footage – trees, rivers, landscape vistas, battlefields – to enhance the narrative and bring the history to life.

Here’s the trouble – I live in Hollywood and the scenery around here is not particularly evocative when it comes to visualizing Civil War history. So I ask that you send in a 10-15 second video clip(s) of scenery…whatever you think looks cool. I am especially interested in videos showing southern-esque landscapes (Pennsylvania and Kentucky would be great too), without anything modern in the frame.

For your efforts, I offer to give you the course at no charge when it launches in early May. All I ask is that the camera is held steady – either stationary or panning – and you can see some sort of movement…such as leaves blowing in the wind or flowing water. Don’t concern yourself with the sound – I am dropping that out to add my own effects. You can send your videos HERE in an attachment.

Now’s your chance to go full Spielberg…and I will be forever grateful. Here’s a couple of examples for inspiration:

Thanks again!

With compliments,

Keith