Title

The founding fathers and politics in the early republic : mythmaking in the educational community.

Date of Award

5-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters

Abstract

This dissertation will compare how the politics of the early American republic (1790-1800) are portrayed in educational resources and scholarly works. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that educational materials are both incomplete and positively biased, and therefore teachers of secondary social studies should limit their use when planning instruction on the Federalist era. The scope of this dissertation includes an examination of recently produced and widely used educational resources such as textbooks and videos, comparing these with recent scholarship focused on the period. This dissertation will review trends in historiography and history education in order to place selected resources and current pedagogy in context. The project will then assess how common modes of political conduct are portrayed in these resources through three illustrative case studies: the establishment of Alexander Hamilton's financial program during the presidency of George Washington, the election of 1796 and subsequent passage and enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts during the tenure of John Adams, and the politics surrounding the controversial election of 1800 which elevated Thomas Jefferson to the presidency. These case studies reveal that modern textbooks and, to a lesser degree, educational videos, are deeply flawed in their presentation of the politics of the founding era, presenting a more sanitized picture than what is documented in contemporary scholarship. The research shows that consolidation of the publishing industry and the pursuit of higher profit margins has reduced the variety and overall quality of available textbooks. In addition, organized political groups, many of them conservative and residing in large states like Texas and Florida with vast purchasing power, have intimidated authors and publishers, contributing to bland narratives that sidestep substantive controversies. Finally, video treatments of this era are often produced for entertainment, rather than educational purposes, providing superficial treatment of political developments that focus on scandal and personal conflict. This dissertation concludes by recommending a shift in pedagogy away from these materials and toward the use of a constructivist approach that would allow students to develop their own interpretations of historical developments through an examination of a range of primary and secondary sources.