The New Normal: The Past Speaking to Our Students’ Present
Instructional Exemplars for K-12 (Assembled by Jocelyn Chadwick)
- Module for Elementary (Pre-K to 2nd) School Teachers
- Module for Elementary (3rd to 5th) School Teachers
- Module for Middle School Teachers
- Module for High School Teachers
Resources associated with the Instructional Exemplar Modules
- “Plasmon” The Province, Vancouver BC. 13 Nov 1906 (Elementary School)
- “Plasmon” Kansas City Globe, Kansas City MO. 20 Sep 1906 (Middle and High School)
- “Influenza” The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore MD. 14 April 1907
- “Influenza” The Sun, New York NY. 14 April 1907
- “Tuberculosis” NY Tribune, New York NY. 3 Aug 1901
- “Diphtheria” Star Gazette, Elmira NY. 12 Nov 1902
- “Diphtheria” Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester NY. 14 Dec 1882
- “Letter from Boston Physicians” Boston Globe, Boston MA. 14 March 2020
- “The Houston Years of George Floyd” Texas Monthly, Austin TX. 3 May, 2020
- “Teachers Cannot Stop at Conversations” Education Week. 8 June, 2020
- “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” by Frederick Douglass, 1852
- Excerpt from Mrs. Mark Twain: The Life of Olivia Langdon Clemens (for Pre-K to 2nd)
- Excerpts from Mrs. Mark Twain: The Life of Olivia Langdon Clemens and Mark Twain’s Autobiography and Speeches
- “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It” by Mark Twain, 1874
- “Independence Day” by Mark Twain, 1907
- “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. The Atlantic, 1963. (pp. 74-83)
- “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison, 1983
The Rhyme of History
“The Nightmare of History” from Fables of Man by Mark Twain
The Mark Twain Project at University of California – Berkeley has created open access digital editions of several of their scholarly editions of Twain’s works, including Fables of Man, a collection of Twain’s later work, much of it left unfinished or unpublished when the author died in 1910. From the “Passage From A Lecture” fragment in “The Nightmare of History” section Dr. Seybold pulled the description of the “Law of Periodical Repetition” quoted in the above video. However, throughout this section, teachers can find selections which reveals Twain’s idiosyncratic vision of history.
“Mark Twain, Cultural Multilevel Selection, & The New Gilded Age” by David Sloan Wilson (2018 Quarry Farm Symposium Keynote Address) | “The Impending Crisis” by Peter Turchin (PeterTurchin.com, 2017) |Political Stress & Well Being Indices Graph by Peter Turchin (from Ages of Discord, 2017) | “The Rhyme of Crisis: Speculative Euphoria, Confidence Multipliers, & Intellectual Bubbles” by Matt Seybold (Western Humanities Review, 2014)
Pandemic and Widespread Disease in the United States during the 18th and 19th Centuries
What was the worst disease in the 1800s? The yearly death rate In The 1800’s Was 400,000 from Smallpox. During the 18th century, over 400,000 people died annually in Europe from smallpox. Overall fatality rates were around 30%; however, rates were much higher in infants (80-98%), and one third of all survivors went blind.
Influenza remains one of the most important infectious diseases in the wealthier countries of the world. It is a major cause of sickness and, especially among the elderly, a significant cause of death; it is the only infectious disease among the ten top killers in the United States. (Healthline)
In the Great Pandemic that swept the world near the end of World War I, an estimated 559 000 people died in the United States, about ten times the number of Americans who died in the war. Worldwide, two to three times more people died in a six-month period when influenza raged than from military action during the four years of a devastating war. Can such a dreadful catastrophe occur again? (JAMA)
“Worst Outbreaks in U.S. History” by Healthline.com
“Why October 1918 Was America’s Deadliest Month Ever” by Christopher Klein
“The Epidemics America Got Wrong” by Jim Downs (The Atlantic, March 22, 2020)
Typhoid Fever & Mark Twain
RECOMMENDED COMMON CORE PAIRING: “The Lethal Gift of Livestock” by Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, & Steel Chapter 11)
In this chapter from an ELA Common Core text, Diamond considers pandemics and epidemics as one of the key drivers of economic and political development. One of the most devastating food-borne diseases during Mark Twain’s life was typhoid fever. Twain and his family lost several friends, and, like the rest of the world, occasionally lived in fear of the seemingly inexplicable and deadly outbreaks. Typhoid was one of several diseases and health conditions which were poorly understood by the medical and scientific community of Twain’s era. The progress of medical science was slow and inefficient. Twain frequently expressed his frustration with doctors and disease specialists who failed to heal his family members and sometimes insisted on treatments which were cruel in addition to being ineffectual.
“Life, In Purgatory (A Twainiac Quarantine Diary)” by Matt Seybold
In this essay, which was named to the Sunday Long Read Syllabus on “The Coronavirus Crisis” earlier this Summer, Seybold interweaves his own family’s struggle with COVID-19 into the plot of Mark Twain’s “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?” (1902) and a health crisis in the Clemens family home during the Summer of 1902. An example of “presentist” public-facing scholarship, this accessible essay can act as a supplement to Twain’s story or stand alone.
“Was it Heaven? Or Hell?” by Mark Twain
Twain’s parable of social distancing and infectious disease centers around a household experiencing and outbreak of typhoid fever. A vaccine for typhoid fever was not discovered until 1896 and not available to the general public in the United States until 1911. In the year that Twain wrote this story, typhoid was still one of the ten most common causes of death in the United States. Via this link you’ll find the story as it was published in the Christmas 1902 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine. The magazine also printed the following illustrations.
Samuel Clemens Correspondence with Henry H. Rogers (August-September 1902)
Henry Huttleston Rogers, a prominent executive with Standard Oil, was Sam Clemens’s best friend during the final fifteen years of his life. When his wife, Livy Clemens, fell ill in 1902, Sam relayed his feeling regularly to Rogers and, together, they plotted unsuccessfully to move her from Maine to her family home in Elmira, NY. These letters can be read as a group or individually. They exemplify the struggles of caregiving and frustrations of healthcare. In Letter #321, for instance, Sam expresses his desperation at the continuing uncertainty of his wife’s condition and rants about the perceived incompetence of the doctors he has hired to help her.
“The Tragic Story of Emma Nye” by Herbert Wisbey Jr.
Typhoid fever struck the Clemens household less than a year into Sam and Livy’s marriage. Livy’s friend, Emma Nye, came to visit and soon after arriving was bedridden with the illness. Despite Livy’s efforts and the most expensive medical care available in Buffalo in 1870, Nye died a few weeks later. Wisbey calls it “the worst in a series of unhappy events.”
“Typhoid Mary” & The Discovery of “Super-Spreaders” by Nina Strochlic
In the final years of Twain’s life, epidemiology had major breakthroughs in the study, treatment, and prevention of typhoid fever, most notably the identification of “Typhoid Mary,” a cook, Mary Mallon, who was the so-called “patient zero” for a 1906 outbreak in New York City. Mary was an asymptomatic “super-spreader,” who in her handling of food directly infected dozens and possibly hundreds of people. The “Typhoid Mary” case became a national news story and a test case for the sacrificing of individual rights in the name of public health. Mary herself became a pariah. In the hysteria around the “Typhoid Mary” case we can see how much fear there was of typhoid fever amongst Twain’s countrymen. The intersections of epidemiology, healthcare, politics, and mass media also foreshadow the COVID-19 pandemic. Below you can find some additional short, accessible texts from both 1909 and 2020 that might be useful.
“Typhoid Mary in Court” (NY Sun, June 30 1909) | “Has New York Many Walking Pesthouses?” (NY Tribune, July 4 1909) | “Who is ‘patient zero’ in the coronavirus outbreak?” by Fernando Duarte (BBC Future, February 23 2020) | “Patient Zero: Why It’s Such a Toxic Term” by Richard McKay (The Conversation, April 1 2020)
RECOMMENDED COMMON CORE PAIRING: “Illegal, Immoral, & Deplorable” by Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 17)
In the cases of Livy Clemens, Mary Mallon, Emma Nye, and (the fictional) Lesters we see how the diagnosis and treatment of disease during Twain’s lifetime was often impaired by ignorance, arrogance, paranoia, and prejudice. This is also a central element of the story Skloot tells about Henrietta Lacks. Another possible way to frame this module is around the brutality and unexamined biases of medical science.
The Gospel of Revolt: Mark Twain & Civil Disobedience in Elmira
RECOMMENDED COMMON CORE PAIRINGS: “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau & “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr.
These commonly paired texts by Thoreau and Dr. King, discussing the principled resistance to unjust law, may be productively supplemented by discussion of what Max Eastman characterizes as the “Gospel of Revolt” in 19th-century Elmira.
“A True Story, Repeated Word For Word As I Heard It” by Mark Twain
The first story Twain published in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly transcribes the words of Mary Ann Cord, the live-in cook at Quarry Farm, as she recounts being separated from her children during a slave auction, then reunited with her youngest son, who became a Union soldier, when his regiment helped emancipate the enslaved people of North Carolina. Both Cord and her son, Henry Washington, relocated to Elmira and are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
“Black Lives Matter at Quarry Farm” by Lawrence Howe
While the George Floyd protests were unfolding across the United States, Twain scholar and Roosevelt University professor, Dr. Larry Howe, was quarantining at Quarry Farm on a Quarry Farm Fellowship. While following the protests in the media, he was inspired to reconsider the narrative structure of Twain’s story, revealing an implicit pantomime through which Twain both acknowledges his white privilege and performs his humility in the face of Cord’s powerful testimonial.
“Mark Twain’s Elmira” by Max Eastman
Another Elmira resident who went on to fame as a critic and activist, Max Eastman, discusses how he remembers the community where he spent much of his youth, including the unusual “gospel of revolt” which he argues radicalized Mark Twain.
“150 Years of Mark Twain in Elmira: Dickens Holidays, The Gospel of Revolt, & The Quarry Farm Style” by Matt Seybold
Dr. Seybold’s keynote address from the sesquicentennial celebration of Twain’s first visit to Elmira dives deep into the people and culture of the community he embraced as his own.
“The Roots of Huck Finn’s Melancholy” by Robert P. Lamb
A very recently-published essay concisely summarizes Samuel Clemens’s childhood (and adulthood) traumas, drawing careful connections between biographical events and scenes in Twain’s novels.
Mark Twain & The Police
“The Disgraceful Persecution of A Boy” by Mark Twain
In this brief burlesque sketch, Twain ironically complains about a fictional incident involving a young white Sunday school student being arrested and imprisoned for “stoning Chinamen.” In mock outrage, the narrator decries this miscarriage of justice, both performing and parodying white privilege in the process. There are also a number of pot-shots at the SFPD. This story was reproduced many times, but we have given you the original version, published as part of Twain’s “Memoranda” column in the May 1870 issue of The Galaxy magazine. It may be interesting for both teachers and students to look at how this sketch fits with the other material Twain published simultaneously.
“The days of reporting on the Morning Call“ by Mark Twain
In an entry in his posthumously-published Autobiography, Twain discusses the events which led to his resignation from the San Francisco Morning Call, including the episode that inspired “The Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy.”
“In The Station House” by Mark Twain
In a portion of his dispatch to the Daily Alta California dates May 18, 1867, Twain describes the experiences of being arrested, detained, and arraigned by the NYPD. The above link takes you to an easy-to-read transcription by Twain scholar Barbara Schmidt. You can view a digital reproduction of the paper itself through the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
In this toast, for which not only the Governor, but several other prominent politicians, including then Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, were present, Twain satirically proposes that the NYPD be replaced by poets and other authors, including himself and William Dean Howells. In characteristically Twainian fashion, the proposal seems laughable, peppered with ridicule of himself and his peers, but it also contains many incisive digs at the police and the political elite in attendance.
RECOMMENDED COMMON CORE PAIRING: “Of The Sons of Master & Man” by W. E. B. DuBois (Ch. IX of The Souls of Black Folk)
In this chapter, DuBois explicitly discusses how the police and penal systems re-appropriate the powers of slave society.
“Mark Twain on The Police” (San Francisco Examiner, February 6 1866)
CMTS Resources for the Classroom
CMTS’ primary collection of classroom resources, includes some of the best online material from major sites and organizations dedicated to Mark Twain Studies. It contains recommendations of Mark Twain-focused books for elementary level readers and pedagogical collections for teachers who want to bring Mark Twain Studies more effectively into their classroom
This virtual tour shows the entirety of Quarry Farm, the Quarry Farm grounds, the Mark Twain Study, and many other locations locations associated with CMTS. One of the major highlights is the Quarry Farm parlor, Mary Ann Cord’s stove in the Kitchen, and the Porch where Mark Twain set “A True Story, Word For Word As I Heard It.”
This map from the Library of Congress highlights the people and places that made up the Elmira community in Elmira, NY in 1901. The map emphasizes buildings and historical figures that were important to Mark Twain and the Langdon family.
This online resource shows the final resting place of Mark Twain, his wife, and all his children. It also contains the Langdon family funeral plot, as well as the individual grave sites of important people in Mark Twain’s life, including Mary Ann Cord, John T. Lewis, Thomas K. Beecher, and other Elmira community members.