Historical Fun in January Term
By Dr. Melissa Walker, History
I love teaching January Term classes. They offer the students and me an opportunity to immerse ourselves in an in-depth study of one topic. My favorite Jan Term course is the American Revolution in the Southern Backcountry. The American South is so identified with the Civil War that people often forget that the key battles from the final years of the American Revolution were fought in Southern states, several within an hour of the Converse campus.
My students seem to better understand history when they approach it from so many different perspectives.
In Jan Term, when students are not taking other courses, we have the luxury of concentrated time to creatively explore the relationships between the many individuals and ideas that shaped the Revolutionary War here in the South. In addition to traditional history books, we also read primary sources such as General Daniel Morgan’s memoir of his victory at the Battle of Cowpens or Eliza Wilkinson’s account of the British invasion of Charleston. We read novels about the American Revolution such Jimmy Carter’s The Hornet’s Nest. We watch documentary films. Best of all are the field trips where these past events come to life. We visit Historic Brattonsville where we assist in cooking a meal on an open hearth and practice an eighteenth century militia drill (although they don’t trust us with real muskets). At Kings Mountain battlefield we stand on the spot where British general Patrick Ferguson was killed. And to wrap things up, we gather at my house to eat pizza and view The Patriot. By the end of the term, students are quite skilled at pointing out all the historical inaccuracies in the film. My students seem to better understand history when they approach it from so many different perspectives. Last year, one of them wrote, “The readings were great supplements for class lectures, and the field trips really helped me see, understand, and experience the battles.”
I learn from the whole experience, too. In fact, teaching the course inspired me so much that last year, I decided to write a textbook inspired by the course. I dedicated the book, The Battle of Kings Mountain and Cowpens: The American Revolution in the Southern Backcountry, to my students, past present, and future.
But for me, I think the best part is I also enjoy spending time with my students outside the classroom. We clown around and talk about movies and music and generally get to know each other. It’s a fabulous experience.