The main entrance to the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center is now open. Van Pelt Library and the Fisher Fine Arts Library are currently open to Penn Card holders, Penn affiliates, and certain visitors. See our Service Alerts for details.

  • Symposium

Teaching Independence: Bridging the Communications Gap

Bringing together voices from across the educational spectrum, from K-12 teachers to university and public historians, Teaching Independence will consider the challenges of teaching the Declaration of Independence, the history of the American Revolution, and the nation's founding, in the 21st century.

This event has already occurred

March 25, 2022 3:00pm - March 26, 2022 4:00pm @ Hybrid
McNeil Center for Early American Studies and/or Virtual
Open to the Public
Image of RBC 818C AM36.2 no. 10 frontispiece-crop-v1.jpg

This participatory conference will include presentations, roundtables, and breakout sessions for facilitated conversations.

Recordings of these sessions are available via youtube, and links are provided on this page.

Friday, March 25

View this panel on youtube.

The symposium will begin on Friday, March 25, at 3 pm, at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (MCEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania, with a roundtable, 1619 and 1776 in the Classroom. The event will be hybrid: in person or on Zoom. Presenters will reflect on how educators can tackle the thorny public debates that have arisen around “founding” dates, in particular 1619 and 1776. They will also address current debates over Critical Race Theory. Speakers include:

  • Mia Bay, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Chair in American History, University of Pennsylvania
  • Abby Reisman, Associate Professor of Teacher Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania
  • Ismael Jimenez, Social Studies Curriculum Specialist at School District of Philadelphia
  • Thomas Richards, History teacher, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, and former MCEAS fellow

Saturday, March 26

View first session, Monuments and Memory, on youtube.

View second session, Me vs. We, on youtube.

The symposium continues on Saturday, March 26, with two separate three-hour sessions that seek to introduce teachers from a variety of school levels to new themes and questions that are being posed about 1776, the Revolution, and its legacies, and to investigate ways of translating these questions into  classroom practice. Each session will begin with presentations; continue with a roundtable of voices from various teaching perspectives (K-12, college/university, public history, and museum/library); and conclude with breakout sessions in which all attendees may participate.

  • 9:00am-noonMonuments and Memory explores ways in which public monuments, and the places and spaces in which they exist, shape memory and are themselves shaped by understandings of history. The session will begin with brief presentations by Laurie Allen (Senior Research Advisor to Monument Lab), who co-edited the recently released National Monument Audit, and Lightning Jay (Post-doctoral fellow, Graduate School of Education), who has studied the Octavius Catto monument in Philadelphia. These will be followed by a roundtable and facilitated breakout sessions.
  • 1:00pm-4:00pm: Me v. We explores the languages of rights, responsibilities, citizenship, inclusion and exclusion in the Declaration and more broadly in early America. The session will begin with short presentations by Jessica Roney (Associate Professor of History, Temple University) and Adrienne Whaley (Director of Engagement and Community Education, Museum of the American Revolution). These will be followed by a roundtable and facilitated breakout sessions.

Event Series

Signatures of eight signers of the Declaration of Independence with a connection to the University of Pennsylvania superimposed on an engraving of Benjamin Franklin

America 250 at Penn

The University of Pennsylvania (then the College of Philadelphia), located In the heart of the city, was at the center of the dramatic events of 1776 and the Revolution that followed. Members of the Penn community were closely linked to the creation of the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents.

See Also


Friday, March 25

Saturday, March 26

Symposium Speakers

Accordion Column of Lists

Laurie Allen is a librarian and Philadelphian. She was the founding research director for Monument Lab, a public art and history studio based in Philadelphia, and currently serves as Senior Research Advisor to Monument Lab. Laurie was co-editor of the recently released National Monument Audit, assessing the current monument landscape across the United States. In her day job, Laurie works on digital strategy at the Library of Congress.

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He is a historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Virginia, and he is working on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the American Revolution.

Mia Bay is the Roy F. and Jeanette P. Nichols Professor of American History at University of Pennsylvania. Bay is a scholar of American and African American intellectual, cultural and social history whose publications include Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance (Harvard University Press, 2021), To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), and The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925 (Oxford University Press, 2000). Bay is currently working on a new book on the history of African American ideas about Thomas Jefferson.

Journalist Dan Biddle is the coauthor, with Murray Dubin, of Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America (Temple, 2010). He worked as a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where his investigative stories on courts won a Pulitzer Prize. A longtime West Philadelphia resident, he teaches Penn's Urban Journalism course, has taught at the University of Delaware and elsewhere, and is coauthoring a new edition of a textbook, The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Digital Age (Wiley, 2022).

Branly Cadet is a classically trained Haitian-American sculptor and artist. He renders the figure in the realist tradition but considers himself a modernist who enjoys remixing the human form with modernist strategies that include text, abstraction, and metaphor. He seeks to create works of art that invite civic engagement and contemplation. Branly began studying sculpture at Cornell University and continued his studies at the New York Academy of Art, and in France at the Vaugel Sculpture Studio. Born and raised in New York City, Branly now resides in Oakland, California where, along with creating his own art, he works on historic monument commissions.

Kenneth Finkel has been a professor (teaching/instructional) of History and American Studies at Temple University since 2008. He is author of several books on 19th-century photography, architecture, and Philadelphia as a creative center. His most recent book, Insight Philadelphia, 95 essays from the PhillyHistory Blog, was published in 2018. Before joining Temple, Finkel held positions in Philadelphia’s cultural community: Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Program Officer at the William Penn Foundation, and Executive Director of Arts & Culture Service at WHYY. Finkel has served on various boards and committees, including the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts and the Association for Public Art and the advisory council at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

María Esther Hammack is the Barra Postdoctoral Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. She is a Mexican scholar and public historian whose work centers and connects, through a gender lens, the histories of liberation and abolition in North America. She is currently revising her first book, Channels of Liberation: Freedom Fighters South of US Slavery and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.

Emma Hart is the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and a professor in the University of Pennsylvania History Department. She is an early American historian and has written two books on the era. Before arriving at Penn in 2021 she was on the history faculty at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Abigail Henry is a secondary African-American History teacher at Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia. She recently received a Pulitzer Center grant to incorporate The New York Times’ 1619 Project into her lessons.

Lightning Jay is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. A former middle and high school classroom teacher, Lightning’s research focuses on classroom discourse, teacher education, and inquiry in the social studies. His current appointment is the with DISCUSS Philadelphia project, a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University supporting and studying early career teachers’ development as facilitators of discussion within social studies classrooms.

Accordion Column of Lists

Alexandra L. Montgomery holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Pennsylvania. Her work focuses on the role of the state and settler colonialism in the eighteenth century, particularly in the far northeast. Currently, she is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital History and Cartography of the American Revolutionary War Era at Mount Vernon, where she is assisting in the creation of a new digital maps portal in collaboration with the Leventhal Map and Education Center.

Abby Reisman is an associate professor of teacher education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. She started her education career as a high school teacher in a small, progressive school in NYC. The challenges she experienced in designing instruction around inquiry took her to graduate school where she ultimately wrote and tested an early version of Stanford University's Reading Like a Historian curriculum in 11th grade classrooms. Since then her research has focused on how to support teachers to facilitate discussions around historical texts.

Thomas Richards is a history teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, where he has taught for four years. He is the author of Breakaway Americas: The Unmanifest Future of the Jacksonian United States, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2020, and he is currently working on a trade book on the "long" American Revolution. He received his PhD in early American history from Temple University in 2016. He has a long history at Penn: he was a fellow at the McNeil Center in 2015, he received his Masters of Education from Penn in 2006, and his BA from Penn in 2005. Before receiving his PhD, he taught for five years at Prep Charter High School in South Philadelphia.

Keziah Ridgeway is an award winning educator, activist, mother and wife born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in History from Temple University and a Master's degree in Secondary Education from Saint Joseph's University. She serves as a mentor in her capacity as NSR (Non-Student Representative) of the Philly Black Students Alliance and is a member of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee. She is also a 2020 Lindback Teacher’s Award Winner.

Jessica Roney is an Associate Professor of History at Temple University. Her research focuses on bottom-up political culture in colonial America. Her first book, Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia, studies voluntary associations and civic culture in Philadelphia from its English founding in 1682 until the American Revolution. Her current book project examines two linked diasporas that resulted from the American Revolution: one of Loyalists predominantly to Canada, and one of Anglo-American settlers to the trans-Appalachian west where they founded colonies that might—or—might not—one day be part of the United States.

Architecture Critic Inga Saffron has been writing about the design of buildings and cities for The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1999. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, the 2018 Vincent Scully Prize from the National Building Museum and a 2012 Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In June 2020, Rutgers University Press published a selection of her Inquirer columns about Philadelphia urban recovery, Becoming Philadelphia: How an old American City Made Itself New Again. Before becoming the Inquirer’s architecture critic, Inga spent the 1990s as a foreign correspondent for the Inquirer in Russia and the former Yugoslavia, covering the wars in Bosnia and Chechnya, and witnessing the destruction of Sarajevo and Grozny. In addition to her writing about architecture and urbanism, she authored a cultural history of sturgeon in 2003, Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World’s Most Coveted Delicacy.

Kerry Sautner is the chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center. She oversees all aspects of the public’s on-site experience and leads the Center’s national education efforts. She drives the development and distribution of programs and online offerings that make the Center the nation’s leading constitutional education resource, and she leads the development of interactive programs for students, teachers, and the public; theatrical productions; educational videos; and standards-based classroom materials available on-site and online.

Adrienne G. Whaley is an educator and history-lover who currently serves as Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Museum of the American Revolution. Adrienne earned her Bachelor's degree in African American Studies from Harvard University and her Master's in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked in both art and history museums, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum, and loves the potential for objects, artifacts and primary source documents to enrich student learning experiences. She carries her love of history and for uncovering the stories of common people into her spare time as an avid genealogist researching her own family history and as Programming Chair and former President of Philadelphia's African American Genealogy Group.

Jonathan Zimmerman is Professor of History of Education and the Berkowitz Professor in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher, Zimmerman is the author of nine books, including Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn (with illustrations by Signe Wilkinson) and The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America. In fall 2022, University of Chicago Press will publish a revised 20th-anniversary edition of Zimmerman's 2002 book, Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools. Zimmerman is also a frequent oped contributor to the Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, and other popular magazines and newspapers.

Featured image: Frontispiece to Charles Atmore, Serious Advice from a Father to His Children (Philadelphia: J.H. Cunningham, 1819), Rare Book Collection (RBC 818C Am36.2 no.10)