From Medieval Europe to Colonial America

Mon 28 2008

What did Colonial America and Medieval Europe have in common? The website Building Community: Medieval Technology and American History, developed at the University of Pennsylvania through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, demonstrates that colonial technology was a transplantation of Old World ways of doing and making to a new continent.

Building Community, funded through the We the People initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is designed for grade 6–12 classrooms. The site incorporates textual and visual materials, including a film on a Viking Age iron smelt, projects such as building a functioning clay bread oven in two sizes, a wealth of pictures from English and Colonial American historical sites, and original documents. Textual materials include short essays called "one-minute essays" and in-depth articles to give the teacher more background. All material is marked with icons indicating subject matter, as well as presence of original documents and lesson plans.

Through a concentration on flour milling and iron manufacture, students and teachers can glimpse early industrial processes while learning how experiences varied from north to south, from rural to urban areas in response to multinational, geographical, and environmental variables across the colonies. The in-depth essays for teachers offer suggestions for exercises that help define these differences. For example, the in-depth article America: The Land of Opportunity: Manufacturing in Colonial Pennsylvania: Bethlehem looks at the Moravian community of Bethlehem, PA. Materials and suggested lessons encourage upper elementary and middle school students to think about the social, agricultural, industrial, and religious inner-relationships necessary to build a strong community and provide background essays, activities, suggested discussion points, resources, and ideas for applying materials to state standards.

About the Author

Lee Ann Ghajar is a digital history associate in Public Projects at CHNM and a PhD candidate in American history at George Mason University.