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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest

Splash graphic, Time Travelers, Background color added

Between 2005 and 2009, Northwestern middle and high school teachers were given the opportunity to strengthen their skill in teaching U.S. history. Offerings, provided by the University of Montana Regional Learning Project and History Department, included three week-long summer institutes and three 15-week online courses. Regional emphasis was key, as was an interdisciplinary mindset. As Sally Thompson, director of the University of Montana's Regional Learning Project, eloquently described, "This place-based approach allows teachers and students to 'start locally, but think big,' strengthening history research and thinking skills as they are first applied to the study of local documents, artifacts, and other source materials, and then interpreted in the context of large-scale national developments."

Although the grant period is over, the project website remains. If you'd like an example, rich in primary resources, of how to use the local past to teach national history, then pay it a visit. It has since been redesigned to serve the wider public, rather than the select teachers involved in the original project, so if you're worried that it might not address your needs, there is no reason to fret.

The website is divided into three main sections, "American Expansion into the Northwest (1790s to 1880s)," "Technology Transforms the Northwest (1880s to 1940s)," and "Nationalizing and Globalizing the Northwest (1940s to 2000)" with particular attention given to communication, transportation, and energy histories.

After selecting a unit (We'll use American Expansion into the Northwest (1790s to 1880s) as an example.), you can find individual sub-units, as well as general help, deemed Nav Notes; a syllabus; and the Toolbox, which explains browsers and video players needed to optimize your use of the site.

Ready to dive into the content? Each unit offers an introduction. This includes audio and video overviews, suggested reading lists and reading questions, and major questions to explore throughout the three-week unit. Each individual week within a unit offers five content types—audio and video lectures and a written overview thereof; several maps connecting regional history and geography; videos of Native Americans addressing their perspectives and transcripts of these videos; a section which views the period through art, literature, and key figures; and related resources, such as websites and suggested reading. Making the site of even greater interest, the Native American perspectives offered cover multiple tribal affiliations.

The "Teachers" section, currently under development, will offer collated resources and references and a site map linked to content topics and time periods for ease of use. A correspondence forum for teachers interested in a continuing conversation is also forthcoming.

This site is simply not to be missed. Bringing together multiple perspectives, multimedia and text, geography, local history, national history, the arts, and literature, you can use the site in a myriad of ways. Maybe you simply need a primary source or a map to examine in your classroom. Maybe you teach in the Northwest, and you can borrow units directly from the site. If you aren't from the area, you can certainly still use the units as excellent models of how to build your own classroom lessons on nearly any historical subject.


Montana's Twin Bridges Public School District, University of Montana Department of History, University of Montana Regional Learning Project