Alexis de Tocquville’s “Two Weeks in the Wilderness” and the Clarke Historical Library’s Fall Exhibit 2018

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By Gillian Macdonald

As a PhD student in the history department you expect to be a teaching assistant for much of your time in the program.  Recently, however, the History Department at Central Michigan University has partnered with the Clarke Historical Library and the Michigan Historical Review to open up new opportunities for PhD students to embrace possible alternative careers to being a tenured professor. As the job market remains ever so thin, this opportunity is particularly helpful in offering training for careers outside of traditional tenure-track positions. 

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As one of the first PhD students to be granted this opportunity, let me take some time to describe my responsibilities at the Clarke Historical Library…my new home away from home as Frank Boles has so wonderfully called it. Simply put, arranging and creating exhibits is hard, detailed work. Anyone that thinks it is anything less than stressful (but enjoyable) up until the last minute is likely still enjoying the euphoria of finishing a project to give an accurate assessment. While exhibit curators and designers are fun people to work with, there is a lot of negotiation throughout the process. As historians we hope to see all elements of our research make it into an exhibit, but it is simply not possible to do so. That leads me to the Clarke’s Fall 2018 exhibit:  Tocqueville’s Two Weeks in the Wilderness. The idea for the exhibit itself began with United States District Court Judge Avern Cohen.

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Alexis de Tocqueville visited Michigan in the 1830s.  “Two Weeks in the Wilderness” or “Quinze jours dans le désert,” describes the journey he and Gustave de Beaumont took along the Saginaw Trail in 1831.  “We are going with the intention of examining in detail and as scientifically as possible the entire scope of that vast American society which everybody talks about and nobody knows.” Enamored with the vast forest and wilderness of Michigan, he described the interior of Michigan with great admiration: “While exploring this flourishing wilderness...you feel only quiet admiration, a gentle, melancholy emotion, and a vague disgust with civilized life. With a sort of savage instinct, it pains you to think that soon this delightful solitude will have been utterly transformed.” Tocqueville’s travels in Michigan were part of a commissioned trip to the United States to examine the prison system.  However, his true aim was to explore the untapped outer limits of civilization was only made clear upon his arrival. 

Despite only being part of about half of the process for this exhibit, it is challenging nonetheless. The excruciating detail and time-consuming activities make a time crunch almost inevitable. Nonetheless, I had so much fun. Hands-on work and practical applications of history and the training that we get in the history department are put to the test not to mention an ability to create statistics about Michigan in the 1830s from scratch. This particular exhibit is marvelous (and I don’t just say that because I helped). It is the result of hard labor and a lot of fun exploring stacks and running back and forth from the printer doing last-minute labeling. Another fun perk is that the Clarke’s very own Bryan Whitledge is now on a first name basis with the Countess Stephanie de Tocqueville, so that’s pretty cool too. 

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In summary, the Clarke has one of the nicest housing spaces for exhibits that I have seen in any university library (in my limited experience). With this, they have a unique ability to showcase collections and exhibits, work with departments, be an archival library, and house a journal. You should check it out!

Study Abroad From Scotland to Michigan: Why You Should Take the Leap!

By Amy Greer

Throughout my four years of undergraduate study at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, my goal was always to teach history. After being told I had been unsuccessful for my PGDE – the first step to becoming a qualified high school teacher – I felt lost with what the future would hold for me after leaving Strathclyde. Little did I know that an amazing opportunity that would change my life was about to come along.

Although the previous few years have held many milestones, it is safe to say my Masters year at Central Michigan University has been my biggest growing year yet (and not just because I have to buy my own groceries and pay rent). Back in 2017, in the space of only four months, I had been awarded the fellowship to come to CMU, taken my honors year examinations, graduated, and was on a plane to Michigan. Looking back now, it is difficult to believe that my journey began only this time last year. Once all the paperwork had been completed and I no longer had anything to focus on, I questioned whether I was truly ‘ready’ – although I am not sure anyone would ever say they were completely ready to move four thousand miles away from the place they have always lived. However, I am so thankful I pushed myself take a leap of faith to attend graduate school…in America. (Pinch me moment for sure!)

In two semesters at CMU, I have not only grown personally but also academically. Any expectations I had of what graduate school would be like were blown away in the best way possible! For me, it was a different world: suddenly I had my own classes to teach, my own office in the department, and was in graduate seminars surrounded by PhD students, feeling completely out my depth. However, it is amazing how quickly I adjusted with the help and support of my fellow grad students and Professors. Our Transnational exchange program stretches far to places such as Germany, Newcastle, and France to name a few. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this honored exchange program and to work alongside an amazing group of grad students, many of whom I am extremely lucky to call my good friends.

One of the main things that first attracted me to the program at CMU was the graduate teaching position. It was a daunting but equally exciting prospect. This experience was either going to confirm or deny what I always believed I wanted to do with my life, and I think it is safe to say I will never forget my first lesson (or how nervous I was)! Over my two semesters of my Masters year, I had the chance to teach two different courses: HST 210 U.S. History through Michigan Eyes and HST 323 Native American History. With U.S. history being one of my fields, I felt slightly more comfortable; however, the prospect of having my own classes to teach with no experience was nerve wracking to say the least. Despite this, being thrown in at the deep end has allowed me to progress far quicker. It is amazing how natural it all becomes. Lesson planning, teaching, grading, and helping students, all while doing your own course work is extremely stressful. You certainly do not see rewards every day when teaching; but when you see students progressing in their writing, or just enjoying a lesson or discussion, it makes it all worthwhile knowing you had a small part in those students’ journey. 

During some down time (I know what you are thinking, what grad student has time for a social life?!) I have had the great pleasure of exploring some parts of beautiful Michigan. Throughout my year I have visited Detroit and more specifically the Detroit Institute of Arts – thanks to Professor Harsyani for organizing such a wonderful trip as part of one of my favorite classes I have had the opportunity to take so far.  I have also had the pleasure of visiting Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula as well as Traverse City. Before coming to CMU, Michigan was not somewhere I had a lot of knowledge about. In fact, most people I meet back home in Scotland are intrigued to know more, and when people hear what Michigan has to offer and see the insanely beautiful photographs of the Great Lakes…who wouldn’t be sold?

I am beyond grateful for all that has happened in the past academic year: from all I have learned from my professors, to teaching my students, presenting my research in our annual International Graduate Historical Studies Conference, and having the opportunity to meet amazing historians such as Alan Taylor and Edward Ayers. I have much to thank CMU for, but I am especially proud to say I now have lifelong friends, who I am lucky to call colleagues, in what can only be described as very inspiring environment. Indeed, my passion for what I do gets stronger in a place where everyone loves what they do and works so hard. For now though, I am back in sunny Scotland (always the joke because it is hardly ever sunny) enjoying summer with my family and loved ones. Perhaps if it rains too much I can hide in the archives. Like for most of us that would be a day very happily spent for me. I look forward to returning to Michigan in the Fall and exploring what the next four years hold for me as a PhD candidate at CMU!


Amy Greer is a Scottish doctoral student at Central Michigan University. Her research interests are in Early Modern European History, focusing on education, women’s history, and gender studies.  

History through Students' Eyes

By Katie Krawetzke

US History through Michigan Eyes is like many survey courses in that it features a large lecture hall, multiple TAs, and many of the enrolled students are required to take it, either as a University Program or Writing Intensive course. Unlike many survey courses, though, it draws an exceptional number of Education Majors and Minors. HST 210 fulfills a requirement for CMU’s future teachers, which means I was teaching the next generation of educators. Running discussion sections for teachers raises my expectations for class participation because educators in both primary and secondary schools are going to be in front of (increasingly) large classes and are constantly kept on their toes by their students. In my semester of TAing for this class, I was lucky enough to see some highly engaged students, who I am sure will make wonderful teachers when they graduate from CMU. Featured here are two of those students who I have no doubt will make great teachers because of their own inquisitiveness and passion for learning.


By Keturah Ashford

This course has affected my understanding of American and Michigan history by giving me a clearer and deeper understanding of what truly transpired within our state and nation. I feel as though the education system does not make a large enough emphasis on history at the primary and secondary level. The information in lower grades is also biased to what the author’s views are and what they deem important. Through the activities, essays, and discussion in HST 210, I have gained more knowledge and new found perspective on the history previously learned.

One of the most important skills I acquired is finding and analyzing primary sources in order to gain my own deeper understanding. Without this skill I would still be under the impression that Lincoln freed all slaves, Henry Ford was a good man who cared about all employees and their families, the civil rights was the only movement in the 1960s, the Boston Massacre was a horrible tragedy because of Britain, and how much Michigan actually relied on slavery. I know know that Michigan played a huge role in national history including through industry, agriculture, mining, forts, mining, timber, and race rallies.

The knowledge and skills accumulated will help me educate the future generations on historical facts, how to find the most accurate information, and how to actively read, analyze, and form opinions and connections from the past, present, and future.


By Krystal Headley

In the course United States History through Michigan Eyes, the emphasis on perspective most affected my understanding of history. The more I learn about history in general, from any point in time, I see that there are many ways to view each event. I feel like this class did a great job showing us how to separate the account of events from emotional responses in many documents. We used and analyzed primary source documents accounts from events like the Boston Massacre or the Civil War or WWII, and we were able to get down to the bare bones to study events and learn about bias.

As an education major, I spend a lot of time considering how to best to teach future students. These historical thinking activities changed my perspective about how history should be taught. Rather than memorize a set of facts, dates, or series of events, it should be about uncovering clues form the past through a multi sensory experience. Then, critical thinking and comparison should be applied; for example, how does a series of events apply to our current political climate?

I appreciate how this class forced us to do more than just know what happened, but to put it into real context.