Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Patriot or Loyalist? Espionage During American Revolution

I thought being a spy would be cool...of course I was eight at the time but I thought this was a future job for me. Although I didn't find my way to Langley I still enjoy espionage books and movies. It might have been all of those James Bond movies I watched or Tom Clancy novels I read growing up as a kid. I have always been rather captivated by the spy thriller.

I was very excited when I saw that AMC was coming out with an new TV series called TURN. AMC's latest new show based upon the book Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose.

It will be interesting to see how the series captures some of historical elements of this period in American History. You can follow the show on Twitter @TurnAMC as well as the author Alexander Rose @AlexRoseWriter.

With global espionage concerns, the NSA phone scandals, & Edward Snowden there is definitely a lot of potential to tie current events with historical uses of spying in American History and can lead to some great debates among students in your class. These spy stories are definitely captivating tales that will get students excited about history.

Here are some resources that you can use with your students to connect the history behind AMC'sTURN and Spying in the American Revolution:

Spy Letters of the American Revolution is a great resource of the role spies played in the American Revolution, including the Culper Ring which the new AMC series TURN is based upon. The story of the Culper Ring is a very fascinating story and many of the techniques used by these spies are still part of spy trade craft today.
  • Check out the section Methods and Techniques. Here they describe spy craft and how it was used by American and British spies during the American Revolution. 
  • There are also interactive lessons prepared on some of the trade craft used by spies during this period, such as using invisible ink and masking letters.  This would make for some great in class activities.
  • There are also Primary Sources, such as the letters in Gallery of Letters for students to take a look at how secret messages were sent. 

Mount Vernon's Website also has some great information on the Culper Spy Ring and General George Washington's involvement in this espionage.

Major Benjamin Tallmadge was General Washington's director of military intelligence and Founders Online has 143 letters between General George Washington and Tallmadge. Have students due a close read of some of their letters to analyze the correspondence between Washington & Tallmadge. (Close Reading Infographic)

Listen to an interview of Alexander Rose from the New York Public Library that is a very in-depth look behind the history behind his book Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring and espionage during this time period.

YouTube Video George Washington the Spy

Read AMC's "TURN": Everything Historians Need to Know article from the Journal of the American Revolution and discuss History V. Hollywood with students.

Read AMC's TURN Online Comic of the Backstory of the Culper Ring or read some of their blog posts about the series.

Mashable also has a very neat infographic titled Spy Toolkit looking at spy tools throughout history. This would be a great resource to have students discuss how technology has changed spying throughout history.

CIA's website for students has a History of American Intelligence to look when and where spying has been used in American History. It is very comprehensive and make sure to check out the information on Anna Strong (one of the members of the Culper Spy Ring and a central character in TURN) and how laundry was used to send coded messages.

If you ever get to Washington DC, a must visit is the International Spy Museum. There are many great exhibits and hands on experiences to learn about the history of espionage.  It was one of my favorite interactive museums in Washington DC.
 Do you have any interesting resources or ideas on incorporating the history of espionage into your curriculum? I would love to hear about them in the comment section below. 

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