Faculty and students from the History Department recently participated in the Democracy at Work events on campus. Drs. Carenen and Balcerski offered open classrooms about the elections of 1800, 1896, and 1932, department faculty and students from History Club organized a Presidents and First Ladies trivia game, and department faculty and students attended events on campus.
Dr. Carenen’s open classroom examined the historical context of the 1896 and 1932 presidential elections and what they might tell us about the current presidential election. She argued that all three elections shared two things in common: the use of fear and scapegoating as a useful political tool and the idea of the political “outsider” as the new “insider.” William Jennings Bryan scapegoated Republican businessmen and Wall Street while the Populists sometimes scapegoated Jews; Franklin Delano Roosevelt engaged in little scapegoating but pointed to “fear itself” as America’s primary enemy, while the Republicans feared FDR’s inexperience and authoritative response to the depression. Donald Trump has scapegoated immigrants and has used fear of terrorism and crime to motivate Americans; while Clinton has argued that the only thing we have to fear is Trump himself. Likewise, Bryan was a political outsider, while FDR claimed no economic expertise or knowledge, and both Trump and Bernie Sanders built their campaigns on being “outsiders” to a corrupt political system, embodied to many Americans by the ultimate political insider, Hillary Clinton.
Dr. Carenen at her open classroom on the elections of 1896 and 1932:
Dr. Balcerski’s open classroom considered the pivotal presidential election year of 1800, when the Federalist incumbent President John Adams faced the Democratic-Republican challenger (and sitting Vice-President) in a rematch from the 1796 presidential election. Jefferson defeated Adams, but because of the ambiguous nature of the Constitution, a deadlock ensued between Jefferson and his presumed Vice-President, Aaron Burr (finally, Jefferson was elected President and Burr elected Vice-President, with the Twelfth Amendment subsequently passed to clarify the procedure). Called by historians the “Revolution of 1800” for its historic transfer of power from Adams to Jefferson, the election still offers us many lessons, most importantly, how Americans must always stand ready to safeguard our cherished democracy in times of turbulent transition. Students walked away better prepared to place the current election cycle in the long, often times divisive tradition of past event.
Dr. Balcerski at his open classroom on the election of 1800:
In addition, Dr. Balcerski organized a History game that was played by some 100 students, faculty, and administrators at the tent outside of Webb Hall (President Nuñez stopped by at one point). The game tested knowledge of both the Presidents and the First Ladies in an interactive fashion: students placed the correct name to the portrait of the President or place the portrait of the President to the portrait of the First Lady. Prizes of candy and presidential rulers were awarded for correct responses. History faculty members Drs. Thomas Balcerski, Anna Kirchmann, and Scott Moore and majors Patrick Thomson, Claire Tensa, and Adrianna Mihalek from the History Club helped to run the event.
Students play the Presidential History game with History Club helping out:
Students pose for the camera, all smiles while playing the First Ladies Puzzle:
Finally, history majors attended the student presidential debate; the opening of the opening reception of the exhibit, “Visualizing Democracy: Political Cartoons of the 2016 Election,” and the public event, “The Immigrant Project: A Multi-media, Oral Story Telling Performance,” both at the Fine Arts Instructional Building; and various other open classrooms around campus. It was a great week for U.S. History at Eastern.
History majors attend the opening reception for “Visualizing Democracy: Political Cartoons of the 2016 Election”: