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The Barringer Fellowship, Summer 2006
Kathryn Cooper of Loreto College Manchester is the first recipient of the BAAS Barringer Teacher Fellowship. She has written this account of her study trip to Virginia.

Posted 20-Feb-2014

by Kathryn Cooper

If you wish to apply for a Barringer Fellowship yourself, follow this link.

Applying for the Barringer Fellowship was a combination of wanting the opportunity to study in Virginia, wanting to learn about the Colonial period in hopes of teaching it, and wanting to support the British Association for American Studies.  Getting accepted and then finding out I was the first British Fellow gave me pause for thought.  But it turned out to be a tremendous experience in so many ways.

Knowing little about Thomas Jefferson or early American history meant doing some reading before setting off for the US.  Looking back I should have done more of this.  It would have helped me narrow down exactly what I wanted to look at before I went, and also made my research faster once I got there.

When I started my background reading and looked for books on early American history in the bookshops of Manchester I was surprised how few there were.  I have been teaching US history for about nine years and have watched the subject become more and more popular and the American history section of my local Waterstone’s expand from a couple of shelves to a couple of book cases.  Yet the vast majority of the books were on the late modern period.  There was a great selection of texts on the Civil War and on contemporary America, but surprisingly few on the Colonial era.  Whether this is denial of the American ‘rebellion’ by the British or more likely, that other periods are more fashionable it was a surprise how little was there.  On the positive side, one reason for applying for the Fellowship was that my exam board has introduced Colonial options, so perhaps the fashion is changing.

The final work I did was to produce a teaching pack on how presidential power developed, especially under Jefferson: how far did Washington, Adams and Jefferson stretch the powers the constitution gave them and therefore develop the executive office.  All three tried to abide by the constitution yet all three at various times seemed to interpret their constitutional authority in as wide a way as possible, especially in foreign affairs.  With Adams’s Federalist views this is hardly surprising, but in Jefferson it often seems hypocritical.  He criticised wide interpretation on many occasions, even going so far as to attempt to stir up the states against the Sedition Act.  Yet holding back the ‘midnight appointments’, the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo Act all seem to see Jefferson interpreting executive authority in a very wide manner.  At times it was hard to decide whether Jefferson was simply a hypocrite, or simply a man who when faced with the reality of presidential power found things were not so black and white.  It does seem that he was concerned when he felt he had gone too far and that although he wanted the constitution to be capable of change he did not want it to be so elastic as to be meaningless.  This would be a difficult line to tread for any president, but in a newly independent state that had to be turned into one nation against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, to even come close is praiseworthy.  But even when recognising all he did and tried to do to be faithful to his concept of liberty and the republic it is sometimes hard to like Jefferson.  I imagine he could sometimes be insufferable.  

Being a busy teacher, having time to research and study was in itself a real pleasure.  Opportunities like this are very rare in education in Britain.  Added to this was the chance to attend the seminars and take visits to Monticello which all brought the period to life.  My students might think it geeky that I spent part of my summer in study but it undoubtedly increased my understanding of US history and, I hope, improved my ability to teach it.

The whole experience was made even more enjoyable by the wonderful reception from all the staff at the Jefferson Center.  Everyone was interested in what we were doing and eager to offer advice and support as well as the occasional lunch.  And Joan is quite simply a star.

Virginia is beautiful and the Fellowship truly gave me the chance of a lifetime.  I would sincerely like to thank the Barringers, Andrew and everyone at the Jefferson Center for the opportunity I was given.

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