Class Activity: Colonial American Technological Systems

In this week’s reading, Ruth Schwartz Cowan questions what she calls the “myth of colonial self sufficiency,” arguing that the skills required to survive in colonial America were unlikely to be concentrated within a single family. This activity prompts us to think about that claim by challenging you to create a self-sustaining colonial community.

This class is a small community on colonial America. Each group has a plot of land. You each have £50 to spend and 20 acres of land. Decide what tasks you will focus on. Once you have established your specialty, you may trade or barter with your neighbors to try to sustain yourselves—both as a household, and as a community. To do so, you should have means to acquire: food, drink, clothing, shelter, and fuel.

As a group, elect a head of household, who will negotiate with other groups’ heads of household to arrange trades and in-kind payments. Once you have finalized your purchases and trade agreements, we will regroup to discuss the choices you made as a group and to assess how well your colonial community functions.

The following items are available for purchase:

Flour mill - £45
Loom - £20
Apple press - £20
Plow - £15
Churner £10
Awl and other tanning supplies £10
Cart £5
Spinning wheel - £5
Flintlock musket - £5
Fencing - £3
Axe - £1

Oxen - £5 ea.
Cows £4 ea.
Pigs £3 ea.
Sheep £2 ea.
Chickens £1 ea.

Cotton - £1/acre
Tobacco - £1/acre
Corn - £1/acre
Wheat - £1/acre
Apples - £1/acre
Flax - £1/acre