Reactions to Revolution?


How did race, gender, employment, and other characteristics condition people's responses to revolutionary activities during the American Revolution? In this activity, students take on different personas and consider whether they would support a boycott of British goods. 

In Laurel Ulrich's "Pursuits of Happiness," one of the teaching fellows used this activity during a single section. During the first half of class, students discuss the assigned readings. Then, the activity begins. The teaching fellow randomly distributes prepared notecards that list the characteristics of a hypothetical individual during the American Revolution (e.g. "female, 35, midwife, Boston" or "male, 24, slave, Berkshire County.") A few of the cards also say "Pro-Boycott" or "Anti-Boycott."

The students who receive "Pro-Boycott" and "Anti-Boycott" cards work in two groups to create a campaign and poster to convince the populace why they should boycott or purchase British goods. The others discuss amongst themselves what the position of each of their characters would be and why. After ten minutes the campaigners explain their campaign and each student responds as they believe their characters would. Some put on voices and fill in lots of details about their characters' lives.

When all students have responded, the class discusses what they have learned from the activity. The purpose is to explore the diversity of reactions to revolutionary activities.

The activity only requires prepared notecards and two poster boards. When assigning characters make sure the students know it is random - mix them and hand them out upside down. This is especially important when discussing slave responses, so that students know they are not specifically assigned to the character of a slave.