Teach US History
Created and maintained by the American Antiquarian Society and Old Sturbridge Village.
Reviewed June 22-July 27, 2012.
Teach US History is a Web site that comprises primary sources, media presentations, lesson plans, and background materials that provide historical, cultural, and literary context to significant events in American history to help teachers plan and present various aspects of American history in K�12 classrooms. The site offers facsimiles of materials from the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, Old Sturbridge Village, and the Worcester Historical Museum. Worcester Public Schools, Boston Public Schools, and Assumption College were also involved collaboratively through a series of grant-funded projects from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the federal Teaching American History program.
The institutions involved undertake reputable, quality historical scholarship. They provide useful tips on using the primary-source materials from their collections, including background notes (including the unique feature of curator’s notes), transcription of the documents, and the option for full-view and print-quality portable document formats (pdfs) of the original versions. However, according to the dates on the pages, some materials have not been updated since 2003 or 2005, and the “What’s New?” feature on the home page in July 2012 was dated December 30, 2011.
There is easy access to the resources directly from the home page. While the materials are well organized, the appearance of the site is basic and has minimal aesthetic appeal, using a plain white background and black text. This might appeal to teachers but probably not to students. In addition, both college students and faculty in teacher preparation programs will find it useful for examples and resources.
The home page also links directly to the various topics explored on the site, arranged into twelve units from “the American Revolution” to “Westward Expansion.” The instructional resources include teacher-developed unit plans that provide lessons built around primary sources. Some plans are divided into three levels: basic (fifth grade), moderate (eighth grade), and advanced (eleventh grade), and some suggest various approaches to the topic. Teachers are encouraged to change materials “in any way that suits you and your students,” indicating a flexible pedagogical approach.
Lessons plans include guiding questions, objectives, teaching activities, suggested primary sources, homework, and classwork, as well as a list of materials needed for the lessons. There is also a concise introduction for teachers and an introduction for students that provide useful background information. Worksheets created by teachers, tools for student assessment, and a concise description of what is meant by the term primary source are also included in most units. The list of all primary sources is organized by genre and is grouped by category of material. The section on additional materials includes a wide variety of works of contemporary fiction, plays, and clips of audio or video that make good use of new media. Not all of this information is present in each unit.
A unique feature of the site is a connection with a traveling presentation utilizing the professional actor Neil Gustafson portraying the title character in Isaiah Thomas: Patriot Printer, which tells the story of the role of the foremost publisher in the early republic in helping start the Revolution. The materials on how to incorporate the presentation into a classroom unit are well designed and include a focus on introducing the perhaps-unfamiliar 1812 vocabulary used by Gustafson as Thomas. This offering has been available since 1999 in collaboration with the American Antiquarian Society and CultureLEAP (Learning through Education and Arts Partnerships).
Rachel G. Ragland
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois