When I was your age…

Nearly everyone in my generation remembers when our schools first got computers. They were a type called Apple II GS. There were a few small computer labs in my school and you could play a few rudimentary math games (Number Crunchers) and such by inserting and loading the game from giant 5.5in floppy disks. They were slow, with pixilated graphics, bad/no sound…and we loved them.

By far the most beloved game, which enthralled us all with its graphics, storyline, and gameplay, was Oregon Trail. Obviously the game was created by some visionary genius who in an underhanded and sneaky way knew how to get children to care about the western migration of the 1800’s. We spent hours, no – days pretending we, as westward bound pioneers, were trying (and often failing) to make it to the west coast in 1848.

If you were a historian studying the early 1990’s in the United States one of the primary sources you would have to look at would be Oregon Trail. It was a cultural touchstone for an entire generation of kids; the first generation of kids to have computers readily available in school. Try, if you can, to put yourself in my (5-7 grade) shoes and imagine sitting at a clunky looking white box, screen glowing a pixilated green, two friends leaning over your shoulder whisper-shouting advice about how many oxen to buy, when to stop and rest, and – all importantly – whether or not to ford the river. It was obsessing.

Your assignment is to get to the west coast. Play Oregon Trail!..and love it.

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The Greatest Show on Earth?

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When I was very young (maybe 6 – 8) my family went through a phase during which we went to the circus every year. There are a lot of traveling circuses, but by far the biggest and probably most impressive was Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. They began each multi-hour performance with music and loud speakers blaring an announcer’s voice,

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Children of All Ages! Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!!!!

This was the circus we visited every year.

Much later I realized that the ‘Barnum’ in the circus’s name was for P.T. Barnum. Perhaps the most well known showman, promoter, and maybe conman in American history. Barnum was good at making money by creating a scene and getting publicity. He might have been one of the first to put the principle ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’ to work making money.

When he bought a beloved elephant from the London Zoo P.T. Barnum made people in England angry. It was big news. Barnum didn’t care that people in London printed bad things about him. He knew that all the hype (good or bad) would make people want to see the elephant. After the elephant died he gave it t the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which was more publicity for Barnum.

And there is the story of the Cardiff Giant, in which P.T. Barnum plays a small but important part. [Warning: The story of the Cardiff Giant contains one instance of crude language; Skip this if you think it might offend you]

I want you to read the intro to his Wikipedia entry to get an idea what kind of a person he was. Also you can (if you want) read the chapter on him in History of US: Book 7.


I most often think about Barnum today when people talk about reality TV shows and extreme game shows. We get entertainment out of spectacles. Like Barnum many TV producers have found a way to get us to pay for/watch shows just to see how strange/shocking the outcome is. Tempting as it is to think that we’re more sophisticated than people back in Barnum’s day, the truth is that we’ll still stare at someone who yells really loud and puts on a show. It doesn’t really matter what the show is.


  • You’re only assignment in connection with this is to find a TV show or live performance that you think represents the kind of money making, sort-of dishonest, showmanship that Barnum would have practiced.
  • Find a clip or a web page and email me the link along with your ~3/4 page typed explanation of how the show you picked fits the requirement and what your opinion of the show is.
  • This assignment is due by Monday,  March 19th

You must email this assignment to me at zachary.wilson@pucs.org  

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The Landlord’s Game

Image result for Monopoly man

If you’ve been wondering who the heck ever invented such a long, boring, frustrating game as Monopoly, well your prayers are answered. Below is a short podcast about the game and how it was/is designed.


The Landlord’s Game

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The Civil War According to John Green


I’m feeling a little guilty about only spending a week covering the Civil War. To somewhat rectify this I’ve posted links to John Green’s overviews of the conflict. Like any historian Green has an angle though and he has to pick what he emphasizes and what he doesn’t.

For each of the videos below write a couple of sentences summarizing the point John Green is trying to make with his take on history. This assignment is due on Friday, Feb 9






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Dear John; Dear Abigail

Image result for john adams


They are, perhaps, the best American love story I know of. John and Abigail Adams were a matched set. Both had incredible minds and were in favor of declaring independence from Great Britain before nearly anyone else in the colonies thought it was a good idea. He was the politician and she was the one who kept him grounded, took care of their family and farm while he was away, and even pushed him to think about issues relating to women and slaves. The Adamses spent many long years apart as John worked for independence and then was an ambassador to Europe. As hard as that was for them, we get the benefit of it today in the form of their letters, which have been preserved. In those letters they discuss their children, the new country, independence, old friends, their love life, farm life and thousands of other things. [Abigail even wrote one letter while in the process of giving birth]


I have several things for you to examine regarding the Adamses.


Part I

First,  two actual letters that have been transcribed. They are easy to read in typed form, but if you want you can click on the images along the right side and see the original pages. Each letter is several pages and each page is separated by a solid line. The spellings and capitalization are a bit off for some words; try not to let that throw you.


Letter from Abigail to John [March 31 – April 5]  

A little background info on this letter:

  • Abigail is writing from the family farm in Braintree, Massachusetts just outside Boston.
  • The British army has recently left Boston after many months occupying the city
  • Salt Peter is an ingredient in making gun powder, which the American forces (Continental Army) lacked severely.
  • She switches topics with nearly ever paragraph; try to keep up.


Letter from John to Abigail [April 14]

A little background info on this letter:

  • John is writing from Philadelphia, where he is part of the Continental Congress.
  • He has been trying for quite a while to get all the colonies to vote for independence from Great Britain, but many of them are afraid or unwilling to do so.
  • Independency is another word for independence.


Some Questions Regarding the Letters – Answer these before going on to part two below

  • Abigail mentions their second house in Boston. What does she say of it? What is John’s response?
  • How does John respond to Abigail’s request that he ‘remember the ladies’?
  • Who do you suppose the ‘solicitor general’ is?
  • What do John and Abigail think of the colony of Virginia?
  • What do these letters tell us about the character of the Adamses? What kind of people were they? Can you get an idea of their personality through the letters?


Part II

Next, two sound recordings from a musical called 1776. The main character is John Adams and Abigail appears on stage only when John is writing letters to her. She stands at one side of the stage and he at the other, and they talk/sing to each other through their letters. Sorry I couldn’t find a good video of it, but you’ll be able to picture it if you’ve read the above letters and give it a little imagination. You’ll also hear a few other actors interrupting John once in a while with their lines. Make sure you listen to these in order.

[Important: This musical is a work of fiction. It is based on real events and some of the lines are actual quotes, but by no means is it all completely true]

Also beware there are some minor expletives. If you don’t want to hear them skip this section.

Clip #1

  • This begins with John ‘praying’ to God after being very frustrated with Congress, which he thinks isn’t getting anything done.

Clip #2

  • This begins with John writing to Abigail after all the southern colonies walked out of Congress because of a disagreement over slavery. John Adams was in favor of ending slavery while in the deep south the economy and way of life of many depended on it.


Questions about the Musical – Answer these on the same paper/email that you used for the questions above

  • What similarities and differences exist between John and Abigail as they are portrayed in the musical as opposed to their own letters?
  • What do you think the writer of the musical was trying to say about the character of Abigail and John Adams?


You can write the answers to these questions out by hand or type them and email them to me at zachary.wilson@pucs.org 

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Carrie A. Nation

I mentioned Carrie Nation in class to the 7th and 8th grade class. Below is a link to a podcast that gives a good overview of her life and work. This is totally optional, but why wouldn’t you want to know more about a lady who attacked drinking establishments with a hatchet in the name of God?




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The Last Wompanoag Princess

The audio linked below gives an interesting view of a person whose ideas about the Pilgrims was very different than most.


Episode 118:
On the Shores of Assawompset



Image result for statue of massasoit

This is the statue of Massasoit mentioned in the podcast.

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