Villanova Graduate History and the James Madison Foundation’s Summer Institute

Villanova’s Graduate History program is known for its outreach to local secondary educators to provide them with an affordable, flexible Master’s program to satisfy their continuing education requirements. As a student, I have noticed and greatly enjoyed the company and intellectual discourse of many secondary teachers in each of the courses I have taken at Villanova. In fact, I am a certified secondary educator myself and chose Villanova’s graduate history program because of its flexibility, affordability, and recommendation from an alumnus who, like myself, received the James Madison Memorial Fellowship. The purpose of this post is to highlight the James Madison Fellowship and its compatibility with Villanova’s graduate history program for current or prospective graduate students who are interested in secondary education.

Briefly, the James Madison Memorial Fellowship (JMF) subsidizes a master’s degree for one to two secondary teachers from every state that seek to expand their knowledge of U.S. constitutional history. As a result, a James Madison fellow is required to take at least two courses in their graduate program that relate to the Constitution, and also attend a six-credit course on the Constitution and the Founding at Georgetown University during a summer of their choosing. After a Fellow has completed their coursework requirements, they are obligated to teach secondary school for however many years they received funding from the Foundation.

Villanova’s graduate history program has meshed extremely well with the JMF. I have been able to satisfy my constitutional coursework requirements through both formal coursework and independent study just one year into the program.

This past summer, I attended the Summer Institute at Georgetown University and the experience was once in a lifetime. The Institute is a one-month long course on the origins of American Constitutionalism that brings together teachers from around the country (and even one Fellow from Cuba) to intellectually immerse fellows in the primary sources of the American Founding. All four professors were wonderful and very knowledgeable, providing daily lectures and discussions that considered extremely thought-provoking historical inquiry.


View of D.C. from Arlington House, Arlington National Cemetery

The experience was truly immersive, as we lived on Georgetown’s majestic campus and traveled around D.C. and northern Virginia to visit some of the places relevant to our study. We enjoyed private Q&A talks with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Secretary of Education John King (a former Madison Fellow himself), and Federal District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth.


Q&A with Justice Kennedy. I’m seated in the first row, second on the left.


Meeting Secretary of Education, John B. King, Jr.

We also traveled to the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, Arlington National Cemetery, Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, Gunston Hall, and the Society of the Cincinnati.


2016 Summer Institute Class at James Madison’s Montpelier

Best of all, I have made quite a few friends and professional connections that span the nation, several of which I remain in contact with nearly three month’s post-Institute.



At George Mason’s statue on the National Mall (bet you didn’t know there was a monument for George Mason). 



Fellows after the annual James Madison Lecture. This Summer’s lecture was given by Edward G. Lengel on his new book, First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His – and the Nation’s – Prosperity



Me and the Cuban Fellow, Professor Manuel de Jesus Velazquez Leon. We became very good friends and had many interesting discussions regarding the Cuban perspective on events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis.


For current or prospective teachers who are seeking their master’s degree in history, Villanova’s graduate history program and the James Madison Fellowship combine to provide a rich graduate experience in U.S. constitutional and legal history.

President Obama’s Legacy and the Phantoms of 20th Century U.S. Foreign Policy

President Barack Obama has refused to let the gridlock in Congress taint his presidential legacy. Drawing on the large amount of executive power that presidents have over foreign affairs, President Obama is cementing his legacy as a Nobel Peace Prize winner by repairing relationships with the phantoms of 20th century U.S. history.

Since January, President Obama has been patching-up or developing relationships with enemies from World War II (WWII) and the Cold War. In January, the U.S. and five other major world powers reached an agreement with Iran to lift economic sanctions aimed at preventing the development of nuclear weapons. In April, President Obama visited Cuba, reestablishing diplomatic relationships with the communist country for the first time since 1961. Most recently, President Obama ended the arms embargo against Vietnam. And tomorrow, he will become the first sitting U.S. President to visit the site of the August 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

The President’s visits to and agreements with these ghosts of 20th century U.S. Foreign Policy have certainly stirred up their fair share of controversy. Not to disappoint, his visit to Hiroshima on Friday is also embroiled in controversy, with many asking whether or not he will apologize for President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb for the first time in world history over 60 years ago.

The President has reiterated twice now that he will not be apologizing for using nuclear weapons during WWII, and will instead celebrate the current relationship between the U.S.  and Japan and their bright future together. While President Obama received his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize somewhat because of his advocacy for nuclear non-proliferation, the President claimed that he believed the decision to drop the bomb is not for him to evaluate, stating,”It’s important to recognize that in the midst of war, leaders make all kinds of decisions, it’s a job of historians to ask questions and examine them.” The President’s non-stance on the issue, however neutral in intention, is still causing controversy in some circles.


Japanese man looking at the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now the site of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Source:

Those who are criticizing the President claim that his failure to apologize will only serve to bolster the narrative in Japan that they were the victims of WWII, not one of its major antagonists. Censorship in Japanese education is well-documented, and one of the major nationalistic historical fallacies is Japan’s WWII victim status. While attempts to correct the narrative have been made since the bombing, Japanese textbooks still portray the U.S. in a negative light and fail to recognize the Nanjing Massacre, among others. As a result, a recent poll showed that 80% of Japanese find fault with the use of atomic weapons to end WWII.

The controversy revolves around President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb. Critics claim that Truman was aware that Japan would have surrendered had the July 26, 1945, Potsdam Declaration made it clear that the Emperor would be allowed to remain in power if Japan surrendered. They also claim that use of the bomb was fueled by racial hatred towards the Japanese.

Alternatively, advocates claim the bomb saved more American and Japanese lives than a potential land invasion of Japan. Perhaps in poor taste, they also argue that the fire-bombing of Tokyo did as much or worse damage than the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They also refute the racial narrative, as the bomb was initially developed to be used in Europe, and point to the fire-bombings of Dresden as evidence of a relatively equal horrific method of warfare that targeted Europeans.

As a result, President Obama is understandably staying away from a very real debate still alive today. Instead of focusing on the use of the weapon, the President plans to reflect on the tragedies of war and the future bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Japan. In fact, he stated, “I think it is also a happy story about how former adversaries came together to become one of the closest partnerships and closest allies in the world.” While certainly a positive spin on the horrors of August 1945, President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima marks a historical moment in U.S. Foreign Relations. This visit is just one of many recent efforts on the part of the President to solidify his legacy during his final, “lame duck” year in office.


Calamur, Krishnadev. “The American Presidents Who Visited Hiroshima.” The Atlantic, May 10, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2016.

Crawford, Keith. “Re-visiting Hiroshima: The Role of Us and Japanese History Textbooks in the Construction of National Memory.” Asia Pacific Education Review 4, no. 1 (2003): 108-117.

Itasaka, Kiko. “Hiroshima 70th Anniversary: Nuclear Bomb ‘Should Never Be Used Again.'”, August 5, 2015. Accessed May 26, 2016.

“Iran nuclear deal: Key details.” BBC, January 16, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2016.

Lies, Elaine and Takenaka, Kiyoshi. “Obama: Hiroshima visit to emphasize current U.S. ties with Japan.” Reuters, May 22, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2016.

Northam, Jackie. “Now That Vietnam Can Buy U.S. Weapons, What Will It Want?”, May 24, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2016.

Renwick, Danielle. “U.S.-Cuba Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations. Last modified on March 24, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2016.


The “Railsplitter’s” Mallet Surfaces Ahead of His 207th Birthday

Officials at the Indiana State Museum have announced an exciting new item: Abraham Lincoln’s mallet. Inscribed with “A.L. 1829,” the Museum believes Lincoln used this mallet to help his father build furniture. Most know that Lincoln’s nickname was “The Railsplitter” during his 1860 presidential campaign for his self-made, frontier upbringing that led to the painting below:


“The Railsplitter” – 1860 painting – Chicago History Museum, ICHi-52428. The Whitehouse can be seen in the background.

Emphasizing Lincoln’s frontier origins helped provide credence to his presidential candidacy, as one of Lincoln’s antislavery arguments drew on the notion of the superiority of free labor vs. slave labor. Lincoln first used this argument against Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois Senate Campaign.  Officials believe the furniture mallet, insured for $250,000, was adapted from a splitting maul (pictured above) that may have broken while Lincoln split rails for fencing. The mallet (see video below) will go on display this Friday, February 12: Lincoln’s 207th birthday.


Callahan, Rick. “Indiana State Museum Unveils Mallet Tied to Abraham Lincoln.” ABC News, February 9, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2016.

Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010.Higgins, Will. “Breaking news about Abraham Lincoln.” Indianapolis Star, February 20, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2016.

Higgins, Will. “Breaking news about Abraham Lincoln.” Indianapolis Star, February 10, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2016.

Mahoney, Olivia. “Abraham Lincoln as ‘The Railsplitter.'” Chicago History Museum Blog, November 18, 2009. Accessed February 10, 2016.

Madison’s “Notes” and the Reliability of the Archive

A recurring theme in this semester’s Theory and Method’s course has been the reliability and accuracy of the archive. If the professionalization of history was premised on scientific, organized, rational methods of historical inquiry grounded in the purity of sources, impure sources serve to destabilize the foundation of the profession. This has certainly been the argument of contemporary postmodernists. As a budding historian passionately interested in American constitutional and legal history, the Washington Post article described below serves to underscore the notion that primary sources are inherently biased, rendering the archive and scholarship tied to it subject for debate.

841px-James_Madison (PD-1923)

Boston College Law School’s Legal Historian Mary Sarah Bilder in her new book Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention argues that James Madison extensively revised his Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 as Reported by James Madison that so many historians of the Founding era rely on as the only complete primary source on the Constitutional Convention of 1787. However, Bilder calls some of Madison’s “notes” into question in her new book, namely asserting that Madison’s post-Convention political career and image as a Jeffersonian small government Democratic-Republican was threatened by some of his Federalist opinions espoused during the Convention.

According to Bilder, Madison replaced at least five pages of his Notes with revisions, including a statement denouncing the slave trade that he had never made, the explanation of his vote in favor of a president serving a life term “during good behavior” as a tactical ploy instead of his true beliefs, and a revision of his vote in favor of a national veto over state laws. Revision of these opinions, especially the latter two, were politically motivated, as they were inconsistent with Madison and Jefferson’s Republican platform that touted states’ rights as its primary function.

As a constitutional and legal historian who has read and used Madison’s Notes, Bilder’s findings have certainly made the warning of historians like Edward Said and others regarding the impure nature of the archive more tangible and personal. Evidently, even the Father of the Constitution was vulnerable to the idea that founding documents could indeed be “living.”


Understanding Sacrifice: and New Developments in Digital and Public History

Today, in honor of Veterans Day, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), in partnership with National History Day (NHD) and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM), released a free, online educational resource for middle and high school teachers and students across the country: Eighteen teachers from across the United States spent over a year studying, researching, and compiling materials for 21, multi-disciplinary lesson plans ranging from the home front to the war front during World War II (WWII). The journey culminated in a trip this past summer 2015 to six ABMC cemeteries from England to Germany, tracing the path taken by the Allies through Northern Europe from 1944 –1945 during World War II. These teachers developed a personal attachment to these campaigns through their research of a local fallen hero that they were then able to commemorate at their respective graves. Truly powerful.


This new source is particularly relevant for those of us interested in digital and public history and is timely for Theory and Method’s current discussion of the place and utility of biography in history, as the 22 fallen heroes and their stories are integrated into the lesson plans offered in the website. These personal stories, in conjunction with the broader battles and campaigns of the Allied advance into Northern Europe, allow students of history to experience the empathy that every public historian seeks to convey to make history tangible.

This program has a personal tie to the Villanova Graduate Program in History as well. The teachers were led by Lynne O’Hara (’05), an alumnus of this program. Lynne has spent the past few years working as Director of Programs for National History Day, an organization that sponsors an annual history fair (like the science fair, but for original history projects) for middle and high school students that culminates in a national contest at the University of Maryland, College Park each June. NHD also collaborates with educators across the country to provide professional development, lesson plans and other educational materials for today’s secondary teachers.

Currently, a new group of eighteen teachers are completing the same program, except they are studying, researching, and traveling to southern France and Italy next summer to understand the Mediterranean Theater during WWII. Amanda Reid-Cossentino (’10), another alumnus of this program, has been selected as one of the eighteen teachers chosen for this program out of 118 applicants. Amanda, along with next year’s cohort, will be researching local fallen heroes in this theater and creating multi-disciplinary lesson plans for the southern European and North African campaigns.

Please check out the range of subjects that the lesson plans in this new website offer, the eulogies for each fallen hero personally prepared by each teacher, and the ABMC cemeteries that played a pivotal role in the creation of these materials at