1. Title: Elizabeth Murray: Woman of the Atlantic World
Teacher-author: This lesson was created by Dave Neumann, Long Beach Unified School District.
This lesson addresses a growing field of history, the Atlantic World. Instead of being a barrier in the colonial period, as textbooks have traditionally portrayed it, the Atlantic Ocean was often a two-way highway connecting people. Elizabeth Murray exemplifies this pattern well: throughout her life, she maintained active connections across the ocean, and she herself traveled several times across it. This lesson asks students to map Murray's journeys on a blank map and draw conclusions about the role the ocean played in her life. It should take one traditional period. Besides access to the Elizabeth Murray website, the only required material is an outline map, preferably one that has been enlarged to focus on the North Atlantic Ocean region, and, if desired, a textbook.
3. Historical background and Bibliography:
Over the last two or so decades, the field of Atlantic World History has developed. Focusing on the period roughly from Columbus to the independence movements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, it emphasizes the Atlantic Ocean basin as a single geographical region that can be examined as a whole. It emphasizes connections across the Atlantic Ocean, especially the transfer of people, products, ideas, and diseases. Rather than being a barrier, the Atlantic Ocean was often a highway of exchange.
In the case of colonial American history, the Atlantic World model has tended to downplay traditional descriptions of migration to the New World as a permanent, irreversible process that inevitably made Americans distinct and led them almost inevitably toward eventual independence. Instead, colonial history from an Atlantic World perspective focuses on the ongoing relationships between mother country and colonies, positive relationships that were often actively maintained. In the eighteenth century, before the end of the French and Indian War, American colonists generally greatly admired their British cousins across the ocean and worked hard to imitate them in terms of fashion and culture.
A number of works introduce readers to the field of Atlantic World history. The shortest and most accessible is the article by Alison Games in 2004 in the OAH Magazine listed below. Back issues of the magazine are available online or by ordering from the OAH.
David Armitage and Michael J. Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (New York, 2002); Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (Cambridge, MA, 2005); Philip D. Curtin, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (Cambridge, 1998); Alison Games, "Introduction, Definitions, and Historiography: What is Atlantic History?," OAH Magazine of History 2004 (18); Alison Games, Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA, 1999).
4. Guiding questions:
What role did the Atlantic Ocean have in the life of Elizabeth Murray and her family?
What relationship did England and the American colonies have in the mid 18th century?
5. Learning objectives:
Students will practice geographical literacy by labeling a map. Students will express the main idea by writing short summary statements. Students will draw reasoned conclusions from geographical evidence.
Input and Guided Practice
You might begin by asking students to share their version of the narrative of migration across the Atlantic or by having them read a section from their textbook regarding migration and ask them to identify how the process is described. Then you might present some of the ideas about Atlantic History to the class, perhaps as a brief lecture, using either the notes above or the article by Alison Games.
Then hand out a blank outline map and ask students to identify key locations, including major port cities like London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and so forth. Using the timeline, have students indicate briefly when Elizabeth or someone in her family moved either across or along the Atlantic. Coastwise travel was considerably faster than overland travel, and was actually more dangerous than the journey across the Atlantic.
Access the timeline on the Elizabeth Murray website. As students run the mouse along the top of the timeline, they will read events in the life of Murray and her family. Have students identify the location, provide the date, and give a brief (10-20 word) summary of what Elizabeth or her family members were doing there and how long they stayed. Then have students trace Elizabeth's travel to her next location. (Note: it might be helpful to color code the journeys to distinguish between Elizabeth¿s and those of her family members).
After students have traced the journeys up to Murray's death, ask them to respond to the questions posed above, in the form of a discussion or a quick write. You might conclude by asking them to reflect on how, if at all, this changes their views about the process of migration and what difference it makes. Students might be challenged to add nuance to the image they have of Americans as different from the beginning. In terms of looking ahead to the coming of the Revolution, it might help to point out that many Americans had friends and relatives in Britain up to the Revolution and that many cherished close ties to the motherland right up to the war. These relationships made the coming of war genuinely a painful civil war.
After the activity, students could be asked to identify key Atlantic locations on a blank map. They could write their conclusions more formally in a brief essay. They might also be asked to read textbook descriptions of the process of migration to the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and asked to identify how the authors describe the Atlantic Ocean: as a barrier or as a highway.