American History

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Best U.S. History Web Sites

Library of Congress
An outstanding and invaluable site for American history and general studies. Contains primary and secondary documents, exhibits, map collections, prints and photographs, sound recordings and motion pictures. The Library of Congress American Memory Historical Collections, a must-see, contains the bulk of digitalized materials, but the Exhibitions Gallery is enticing and informative as well. The Library of Congress also offers a Learning Page that provides activities, tools, ideas, and features for educators and students.

  • The Library of Congress American Memory in particular is an outstanding resource for American history and general studies. Included are multimedia collections of photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures, and digitized text. Use the Teachers section to explore primary set collections and themed resources. Teachers can get updates on new tools, professional development opportunities, and Library programs, events and services.
  • The Library of Congress: Teachers
    The new Library of Congress Teachers page provides tools and resources for using Library of Congress primary source documents in the classroom and include excellent lesson plans, document analysis tools, online and offline activities, timelines, presentations and professional development resources.

Center for History and New Media: History Matters
A production of the American Social History Project/Center of Media and Learning, City of University New York, and the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, History Matters is a wonderful online resource for history teachers and students. Among the many digital resources are lesson plans, syllabi, links, and exhibits. The Center for History and New Media's resources include a list of "best" web sites, links to syllabi and lesson plans, essays on history and new media, a link to their excellent History Matters web site for U.S. History, and more. The CHNM History News Network is a weekly web-based magazine that features articles by various historians. Resources are designed to benefit professional historians, high school teachers, and students of history.

Teaching American History
This is a wonderful collection of thoughtful and thorough lesson plans and other resources on teaching American history. Each project was created by teachers in Virginia at a Center for History and New Media workshop. All projects include a variety of lesson plans and resources, and some even offer instructional videos on source analysis.  The lesson plans cover a range of topics in American history and utilize interesting and engaging sources, activities, discussion questions, and assessments. Take your time browsing—there are many to choose from.

National Archives and Records Administration
The NARA offers federal archives, exhibits, classroom resources, census records, Hot Topics, and more. In addition to its paper holdings (which would circle the Earth 57 times) it has more than 3.5 billion electronic records. Users can research people, places, events and other popular topics of interest, as well as ancestry and military records. There are also features exhibits drawing from many of the NARA's popular sources. Among the most requested holdings are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, WWII photos, and the Bill of Rights.

  • The National Archives: Teachers' Resources
    The National Archives Lesson Plans section contains incorporates U.S. primary documents and its excellent teaching activities correlate to the National History Standards and National Standards for Civics and Government. Lessons are organized by chronological era, from 1754 to the present.
  • Digital Vaults
    The National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults is an interactive exploration of history that examines thousands of documents, photographs, and pieces of history that have been integrated in a digital format. Upon entering the homepage, the user is given eight random archives to choose from. Clicking on one will give a description and a brief history of that archive, as well as displays a large variety of similar archives. The user has the ability to shuffle, rearrange, collect, and explore archives, as well as search for specific points in history using a keyword search. Although a lack of initial organization or index might seem overwhelming, Digital Vaults is a wonderfully imaginative resource for exploring history in a digitally compiled way.
  • Teach Docs
    With DocsTeach, educators can create interactive history activities that incorporate more than 3,000 primary-source materials in a variety of media from the National Archives. Tools on the site are designed to teach critical thinking skills and integrate interactive elements such as puzzles, maps, and charts.
  • Our Documents
    Offers 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings, that chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965. Features a teacher's toolbox and competitions for students and teachers.

PBS Online
A great source for information on a myriad of historical events and personalities. PBS's assorted and diverse web exhibits supplement their television series and generally include a summary of each episode, interviews (often with sound bites), a timeline, primary sources, a glossary, photos, maps, and links to relevant sites. PBS productions include American Experience, Frontline and People's Century. Go to the PBS Teacher Source for lessons and activities -- arranged by topic.

  • PBS Teacher Source
    Go to the PBS Teacher Source for lessons and activities -- arranged by topic and grade level -- and sign up for their newsletter. Categories include American History, World History, History on Television, and Biographies. Many lessons incorporate primary sources. Some lessons require viewing PBS video, but many do not.

Smithsonian Education
The Smithsonian Education site is divided simply into three main categories: Educators, Families, and Students. The Educators section is keyword searchable and features lesson plans -- many pertaining to history. The Students section features an interactive "Secrets of the Smithsonian" that teaches about the special collections at the Smithsonian.

  • The Price of Freedom: Americans at War
    This Smithsonian website skillfully integrates Flash video and text to examine armed conflicts involving the U.S. from the Revolutionary War to the war in Iraq. Each conflict contains a brief video clip, statistical information, and a set of artifacts. There is also a Civil War mystery, an exhibition self-guide, and a teacher's guide. The New American Roles (1899-present) section contains an introductory movie and short essay on the conflict as well as historic images and artifacts.

Edsitement -- The Best of the Humanities on the Web
EDSITEment is a partnership among the National Endowment for the Humanities, Verizon Foundation, and the National Trust for the Humanities. All websites linked to EDSITEment have been reviewed for content, design, and educational impact in the classroom. This impressive site features reviewed links to top sites, professionally developed lesson plans, classroom activities, materials to help with daily classroom planning, and search engines. You can search lesson plans by subcategory and grade level; middle school lessons are the most numerous.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There is much quality material for art students, educators, and enthusiasts at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art web site. Start with the Metropolitan Museum of Art Timeline of Art History, a chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world. Each timeline page includes representative art from the Museum's collection, a chart of time periods, a map of the region, an overview, and a list of key events. The timelines - accompanied by world, regional, and sub-regional maps - provide a linear outline of art history, and allow visitors to compare and contrast art from around the globe at any time in history. There is plenty more here apart from the Timeline: "Just for Fun" has interactive activities for kids, "A Closer Look" examines the "hows and whys" behind Met objects (such as George Washington Crossing the Delaware), "Artist" enables visitors to access biographical materials on a selection of artists as well as general information about their work, and "Themes and Cultures" presents past and present cultures with special features on the Met's collections and exhibitions.

C-SPAN in the Classroom
Access C-SPAN's complete program archives including all videos. C-SPAN in the Classroom is a free membership service that offers information and resources to assist educators in their use of primary source, public affairs video from C-SPAN television. You do not have to be a member to use C-SPAN online resources in your classroom, but membership includes access to teaching ideas, activities and classroom tools.

Digital History
This impressive site from Steven Mintz at the University of Houston includes an up-to-date U.S. history textbook; annotated primary sources on United States, Mexican American, and Native American history, and slavery; and succinct essays on the history of ethnicity and immigration, film, private life, and science and technology. Visual histories of Lincoln's America and America's Reconstruction contain text by Eric Foner and Olivia Mahoney. The Doing History feature lets users reconstruct the past through the voices of children, gravestones, advertising, and other primary sources. Reference resources include classroom handouts, chronologies, encyclopedia articles, glossaries, and an audio-visual archive including speeches, book talks and e-lectures by historians, and historical maps, music, newspaper articles, and images. The site's Ask the HyperHistorian feature allows users to pose questions to professional historians.

Civil Rights Special Collection
The Teachers' Domain Civil Rights Collection is produced by WGBH Boston, in partnership with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Washington University in St. Louis. Materials are free but you have to sign up. Features an impressive array of audio, video, and text sources from Frontline and American Experience shows, Eyes on the Prize, and other sources. Also offers an interactive Civil Rights movement timeline and four lesson plans: Campaigns for Economic Freedom/Re-Examining Brown/Taking a Stand/Understanding White Supremacy.

Science and Technology of World War II
Some of the most impressive technology advancements of the modern era occurred during World War II and the National World War II Memorial has 8000 objects directly related to science and technology. This impressive exhibit contains an animated timeline, activities (such as sending encrypted messages), expert audio responses to science and technology questions, lesson plans, a quiz, essays, and more. An impressive presentation.

Voting America: United States Politics, 1840-2008
Voting America examines long-term patterns in presidential election politics in the United States from the 1840s to today as well as some patterns in recent congressional election politics. The project offers a wide spectrum of animated and interactive visualizations of how Americans voted in elections over the past 168 years. The visualizations can be used to explore individual elections beyond the state level down to individual counties, which allows for more sophisticated analysis. The interactive maps highlight just how important third parties have played in American political history. You can also find expert analysis and commentary videos that discuss some of the most interesting and significant trends in American political history.

Do History: Martha Ballard
DoHistory invites you to explore the process of piecing together the lives of ordinary people in the past. It is an experimental, interactive case study based on the research that went into the book and PBS film A Midwife's Tale, which were both based upon the remarkable 200 year old diary of midwife/healer Martha Ballard. There are thousands of downloadable pages from original documents: diaries, letters, maps, court records, town records, and more as well as a searchable copy of the twenty-seven year diary of Martha Ballard. DoHistory engages users interactively with historical documents and artifacts from the past and introduces visitors to the pivotal questions and issues raised when "doing" history. DoHistory was developed and maintained by the Film Study Center at Harvard University and is hosted and maintained by the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.

The Valley of the Shadows
The Valley of the Shadow depicts two communities, one Northern and one Southern, through the experience of the American Civil War. The project focuses on Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and it presents a hypermedia archive of thousands of sources that creates a social history of the coming, fighting, and aftermath of the Civil War. Those sources include newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, church records, population census, agricultural census, and military records. Students can explore the conflict and write their own histories or reconstruct the life stories of women, African Americans, farmers, politicians, soldiers, and families. The project is intended for secondary schools, community colleges, libraries, and universities.

Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704
The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association/Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts has launched a rich and impressive website that focuses on the 1704 raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, with the goal of commemorating and reinterpreting the event from the perspectives of all the cultural groups who were present - Mohawk, Abenaki, Huron, French, and English. The website brings together many resources - historical scenes, stories of people's lives, historical artifacts and documents, essays, voices and songs, historical maps, and a timeline - to illuminate broad and competing perspectives on this dramatic event.

Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition
The Missouri Historical Society has developed an extensive award-winning web site and web-based curriculum developed to complement their Lewis and Clark, The National Bicentinnal Exhibiton. Written for grades 4-12, the units focus on nine major themes of the exhibit and feature hundreds of primary sources from the exhibit. The curriculum uses the Lewis and Clark expedition as case studies for larger themes such as Diplomacy, Mapping, Animals, Language, and Trade and Property. It presents both the Euro-American perspective and a particular Native American perspective. The online exhibit has two sections. One is a thematic approach that highlights the content from the main galleries of the exhibit. The other is a map-based journey that follows the expedition and introduces primary sources along the way, including interviews with present-day Native Americans.

The Sport of Life and Death
The Sport of Life and Death was voted Best Overall Site for 2002 by Museums and the Web and has won a slew of other web awards. The site is based on a traveling exhibition now showing at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey and bills itself as "an online journey into the ancient spectacle of athletes and gods." The Sport of Life and Death features dazzling special effects courtesy of Macromedia Flash technology and its overall layout and organization are superb. There are helpful interactive maps, timelines, and samples of artwork in the Explore the Mesoamerican World section. The focus of the site, however, is the Mesoamerican ballgame, the oldest organized sport in history. The sport is explained through a beautiful and engaging combination of images, text, expert commentary, and video. Visitors can even compete in a contest!

The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory
A first-rate exhibition created by the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University. There are two major parts: the history of Chicago in the 19th century, and how the Chicago Fire has been remembered over time. Included are essays, galleries, and sources.

Technology in the U.S. History in the Classroom

Here are some creative, engaging and technology-infused lessons & web sites on U.S. History:

"Day in Life of Hobo" podcast
This interdisciplinary creative writing/historical simulation activity incorporates blogging and podcasting and calls on students to research the plight of homeless teenagers during the Great Depression and then create their own fictionalized account of a day in the life of a Hobo. This project will be featured in the spring edition of Social Education, published by the National Council of Social Studies.

"Telling Their Stories" - Oral History Archive Project of the Urban School
Visit "Telling Their Stories" and read, watch, and listen to perhaps the best student-created oral history project in the country. High School students at the Urban School of San Francisco have produced three impressive oral history interviews featured at this site: Holocaust Survivors and Refugees, World War II Camp Liberators, and Japanese-American Internees. Urban school students conducted, filmed, and transcribed interviews, created hundreds of movie files associated with each transcript, and then posted the full-text, full-video interviews on this public website. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has recognized Urban School's Telling Their Stories project with a Leading Edge Recognition award for excellence in technology integration. Teachers interested in conducting an oral history project can contact Urban School technology director Howard Levin and should consider attending his summer teacher workshop.

Student News Action Network
This student-produced current events journal features contributions from around the world and is led by five student-bureaus: The American School of Doha, Bishops Diocesan College, International School Bangkok, International School of Luxembourg, and Washington International School. The students have cleverly adopted the free Ning platform and far-flung students work collaboratively to create an interactive, multimedia-rich, and student-driven online newspaper.

"Great Debate of 2008"
Tom Daccord created a wiki and a private online social network for the "Great Debate of 2008" project, a student exploration and discussion of issues and candidates surrounding the 2008 presidential election. The project connected students around the country in a wiki and a private online social network to share information and ideas related to the 2008 presidential election. Students post information on campaign issues to the wiki and partake in online discussions and survey with other students in the private online social network.

The Flat Classroom Project
The award-winning Flat Classroom project brings together high school and middle school students from around the world to explore the ideas presented in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat. These collaborative projects harness the most powerful Web 2.0 tools available including wikis, online social networks, digital storytelling, podcasts, social bookmarking, and more.

 

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