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Author: D. Antonio Cantu
Title: Teaching the American Revolution and Founding of the American Republic on the Web
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 2001
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Source: Teaching the American Revolution and Founding of the American Republic on the Web
D. Antonio Cantu


vol. 4, no. 3, November 2001
Article Type: Computing in the K-12 Levels
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3310410.0004.307

Teaching the American Revolution and Founding of the American Republic on the Web

D. Antonio Cantu

The era in American history that witnessed both the American Revolution and the founding of the American Republic is one of the most important periods in the history of humankind. If students dont develop an understanding of the critical issues of this era they will not be able to intellectually grapple with the events they will encounter in subsequent periods in American history. The Internet represents an ideal pedagogical resource for providing students with the requisite knowledge and understanding of this period. This article provides K-12 teachers with a review of Internet-based resources for teaching the American Revolution and founding of the American Republic. It also outlines a curricular framework, based upon the eras and standards identified in the National Center for History in the Schools National Standards for History, for integrating these online resources into K-12 history curricula.

.01 Introduction

One of the most popular topics, for both high school students and teachers, in the study of early American history in high schools is the American Revolution. Authors of the National Standards for History identify this event as being of "signal importance in the study of American history." [1] They support their claim with the following four tenets:

First, it severed the colonial relationship with England and legally created the United States. Second, the revolutionary generation formulated the political philosophy and laid the institutional foundations for the system of government under which we live. Third, the Revolution was inspired by ideas concerning natural rights with political authority that were transatlantic in reach, and its successful completion affected people and governments over a large part of the globe for many generations. Lastly, it called into question long-established social and political relationships — between master and slave, man and woman, upper class and lower class, officeholder and constituent, and even parent and child — and thus demarcated an agenda for reform that would preoccupy Americans down to the present day.  [2]

The study of the American Revolution therefore should include an examination not only of the "main stages of the Revolutionary War," but also the "causes for the outbreak of the war," as well as the "economic, regional, social, ideological, religious, and political . . . debate over the Constitution."  [3] The Internet provides teachers with a number of resources to assist in building this understanding in the classroom. These resources serve to build or refine each of the five elements of historical thinking outlined in the National Standards for History and address a number of "History's Habits of the Mind."  [4] This article provides an overview of one approach to integrating specific Internet-based resources into history curricula to facilitate the teaching of the American Revolution and the Founding of the American Republic, utilizing the National Standards for History as the guiding curricular framework.

.02 Curricular and Instructional Framework

Classroom teachers must march to the beat of numerous "curricular drummers." Therefore, this article references each of the three most nationally recognized curriculum documents for the teaching of American history in high school: the National Center for History in the Schools' National Standards for History; National Council for the Social Studies' Curriculum Standards for Social Studies; and Bradley Commission on History in Schools' "Habits of the Mind." The primary curricular structure used in the design of this article, however, is a direct reflection of the National Standards for History, in particular the following era and themes:

Table 1: National Standards for History [5]
Era 3 - Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
Era-Standard Description

Era 3 - Standard 1

The causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movement, and the reasons for the American victory.

Era 3 - Standard 2

The impact of the American Revolution on politics, economy, and society.

Era 3 - Standard 3

The institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how they were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Although the National Center for History in the Schools' National Standards for History focuses solely on the teaching of U.S. and world history, the standards document drafted by the National Council for the Social Studies does not. The National Council for the Social Studies' Curriculum Standards for Social Studies attempts to encompass all of the disciplines that comprise the social studies, including history. The theme and performance expectation in the NCSS standards that is addressed in this article is as follows:

Table 2: NCSS Standards [6]
Theme II - Time, Continuity, & Change
Performance Expectation Description
d

Systematically employ processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and reinterpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighting evidence for claims, and searching for causality.

The Bradley Commission on History in Schools developed the final historical framework used to guide the design of the themes and selection of Internet-based resources. In their book Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education the commission identified a set of "perspectives and modes of thoughtful judgments" the study of history should encompass. [7] Two of these "habits of the mind" addressed in these web sites are as follow:

Table 3: Bradley Commission/NCHE Habits of the Mind [8]
Description

Distinguish between the important and the inconsequential, to develop the "discriminating memory" needed for a discerning judgment in public and personal life.

Read widely and critically in order to recognize the difference between fact and conjecture, between evidence and assertion, and thereby to frame useful questions.

These standards serve as a nationally recognized foundation upon which to develop the curricular scaffolding for classroom history teachers to structure their utilization of Internet-based resources in an organized and comprehensive manner. It must be made clear, however, that any value obtained from this curricular framework or these Internet-based resources rests solely, as it should, on the shoulders of classroom teachers. The value of technology and the Internet in the teaching of the American Revolution, and their impact on the classroom, were all but predicted a few years ago by Indiana University professor and former National Council for the Social Studies president Howard Mehlinger, who observed the following:

It is no longer necessary to learn about the American War of Independence by sitting in Mrs. Smith's classroom and hearing her version of it. There are more powerful and efficient ways to learn about the Revolutionary War, and they are all potentially under the control of the learner. [9]

That is the purpose of this article, to examine these more powerful and potentially efficient methods for teaching the American Revolution and founding of the American Republic.

.03 Causes of the American Revolution

Although there are myriad resources available on the Internet and World Wide Web to use in the teaching of those events that led to the American Revolution, their credibility and utility varies greatly. The sites listed below represent the type of Internet-based resources history teachers and students benefit from the most. Each of these Web sites focus on events, individuals, issues, and themes identified in National Standards for History Era 3, "Revolution and the New Nation," Standard 1, "The causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movements, and the reasons for the American victory." [10]

The American Revolution Home Page

http://webpages.homestead.com/revwar/files/index2.htm

This site provides an overview of the major events leading up to the American Revolution from the French and Indian War to the Declaration of Independence. A rather comprehensive description of the causes and consequences of each event, as well as the identification of key players, is provided each item. The chronological structure and inclusion of numerous paintings, prints, and illustrations, make this an easily navigated and engaging site for students.

PBS' Liberty: The American Revolution

http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/index.html

This companion Web site for the 1997 PBS series Liberty, contains a number of stand-alone resources and activities for classroom teachers. In particular, the timeline and newspaper headline sections present students with a chronological overview of the key events leading up to as well as those that took place during the American Revolution. Both of these sections include a brief analysis of the events, enhanced by images (e.g., paintings, illustrations, broadsides) germane to the period. In addition, an interactive review game, "The Road to Revolution," is also made available for students.

Colonial Hall: A Look at America's Founders

http://www.colonialhall.com/index.asp

The primary pedagogical utility of this site is quite simple, yet invaluable to classroom teachers. The premise, to provide a brief biography of the key players in the American Revolution is certainly not a novel online phenomenon. What is unique, however, about the Colonial Hall site is that it includes the biographies of over 100 of the signers each of the major documents of this period: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Constitution of the United States. Such a site serves as an ideal companion for teacher created online activities.

Founder's Library: Founding Era Documents

http://www.founding.com/library/lbody.cfm

The name of this site is not an overstatement. The full-text collection of founding era documents included at the Founder's Library truly comprises a virtual library for students and teachers alike. The collection includes both American documents, such as the Declaration of Rights and Grievances (1765), Olive Branch Petition (1775), and Declaration of Independence, and British government documents, such as the Sugar Act (1764), Stamp Act (1765), and Tea Act (1773).

Library of Congress Exhibit: Thomas Jefferson

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/

The Library of Congress' Jefferson exhibit includes a number of resources teachers should find of tremendous value. Arranged thematically, the resources are representative of every phase of Thomas Jefferson's life. The collection includes a number of documents germane to the American Revolution, such as a draft copy of the Declaration of Independence, the founding period, to include letters between Jefferson and James Madison, as well as from his presidency, including his First and Second Inaugural Addresses.

.04 American Revolution

Regardless of whether teachers and students trace the origins of the American Revolution to the conclusion of the French-Indian War in 1763 or founding of Jamestown in 1607, the event itself still represents the culmination of a "long human struggle for liberty, equality, justice, and dignity, and the ideas, people, and conditions that carried the struggle forward."  [11] The individuals, events, issues, and themes addressed in the following Web sites represent the same knowledge and conceptual foundation called for in the National Standards for History Era 3, "Revolution and the New Nation," Standard 2, "The impact of the American Revolution on politics, economy, and society."  [12]

The History Place: American Revolution

http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/index.html

Those teachers who use a chronological approach to teach the American Revolution will appreciate the overview of the American Revolution provided at The History Place Web site. The site includes a timeline, which includes an almost daily overview of events, from1775 to 1783. Brief summaries of events are accompanied by thumbnail images, which are linked to larger versions. Although there are no primary source materials available at this site, it is still a great companion to classroom lectures or online activities.

PBS' Africans in America: Revolution

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/index.html

Although it is not dedicated to study of the American Revolution, the PBS series Africans in America's companion Web site contains a number of primary and secondary source documents that might be integrated into the curriculum of high school history teachers. In particular, teachers will find the accounts and personal narratives of African Americans during the Revolution of great interest and utility, as well as many salient documents such as the 1775 Proclamation of Earl of Dunmore. The organization of the site, hypertext thematic outline, makes it quite easy for students to navigate as well.

Library of Congress' Collection of Maps and Charts: The American Revolution and Its Era

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/armhtml/armhome.html

Teachers will find the collection of maps at the Library of Congress site a valuable addition to their American Revolution curriculum. The Library of Congress has compressed each image so that downloading time is kept to a minimum. In addition, the site is arranged so that teachers and students can choose between a zoom view and navigator view of each map. The collection includes not only military battle maps, but also city and state maps of the period, as well as cultural landscape maps.

A Revolutionary WebQuest

http://library.thinkquest.org/11683/HomeMain.html

For those teachers desiring to either introduce or review key individuals, events, and issues of the American Revolution with their students, the Revolutionary WebQuest represents an engaging and comprehensive option. Teachers familiar with the WebQuest teaching format will appreciate the sophistication of the activities offered at the site. Included among the seven different WebQuest activities are: descriptions of key events; an overview of "Heroes of the Revolution"; a "Lifestyle and Culture" activity, which includes links to the music of the period; an overview of the "Major Battles" of the war; and a "Road to the Revolution" interactive simulation emphasizing economic issues germane to the American Revolution.

University of Virginia's The Papers of George Washington

www.virginia.edu/gwpapers/index.html

The name of this site is somewhat misleading. Although the University of Virginia site contains a number of George Washington papers, including correspondence between Washington and his generals and his Farewell Address to the Army (1783), it also includes a number of other format type resources. In particular, teachers will appreciate the numerous maps, illustrations, portraits, and sketches also available at the UVA site.

.05 Founding of the American Republic

According to the chief architects of the National Standards for History, the study of the founding period "demonstrates why the Constitution was the culmination of the most creative era of constitutionalism in American history and perhaps of all modern Western history."  [13] The following Internet-based resources address many of the individuals, documents, events, and issues germane to this period in American history, identified in the National Standards for History Era 3, "Revolution and the New Nation, Standard 3, "The institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how they were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights."  [14]

Library of Congress' Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/bdsds/bdsdhome.html

Over two hundred documents relating to the work of the Continental Congress and drafting of the Constitution are available at this Library of Congress site. The documents, which range in size form 1 to 28 pages, include laws, treaties, land grants, public addresses, and proclamations. As with all Library of Congress sites, users can search the database by either keyword or subject.

Library of Congress Exhibit: Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

http://lcweb.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06.html

The Library of Congress' Religion and the Founding of the American Republic exhibit includes over 200 objects from the Library's collection that examine the role religion played in the founding of the American Republic. The collection includes covers and excerpts from books and manuscripts, as well as letters, prints, illustrations, paintings, and other artifacts. Examples include a 1787 request by Benjamin Franklin a prayer at the beginning of each session of the Constitutional Convention, a 1788 Baptist preacher's objections to the Constitution, and an 1800 cartoon attacking Jefferson as an infidel.

National Archives and Records Administration Exhibit: The Bill of Rights

http://www.nara.gov/exhall/charters/billrights/billmain.html

The National Archives has made available to teachers an ideal site for the teaching of the Bill of Rights. Not only can teachers access a transcription of the preamble and first ten amendments, but they can also download all constitutional amendments that have been passed since then. In addition, the NARA has also made available a high-resolution image (339K JPEG) of the Bill of Rights. The other component in the exhibit that teachers will find of interest is an excerpt from "A More Perfect Union" that provides a detailed look at the proceedings of the Continental Congress.

Yale University Avalon Project: Eighteenth Century Documents

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/18th.htm

Teachers will want to include a link to the Avalon Project at the Yale University Law School on their home page for every unit they teach in American history. Of particular interest for the teaching of the founding of the American Republic are full-text transcriptions of late eighteenth century state constitutions, the Constitution of the United States, state ratification proceedings, and Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, to name just a few.

James Madison Center's James Madison: His Legacy

www.jmu.edu/madison/

James Madison University's Madison Center has developed a Web site that provides teachers with a well-organized, easily accessible database that includes hundreds of pages of documents penned by the "Father of the Constitution" and fourth President of the United States. Included in the collection of full-text transcriptions are Madison's Notes on the Constitution, Inaugural Addresses, and State of the Union speeches.

.06 Conclusion

The teaching of the American Revolution and the founding of the American Republic represents one of the first opportunities many teachers have to address a period in American history that many students feel they have some degree of knowledge, albeit from its portrayal in books and film. The challenge for teachers, however, is to not only provide the knowledge and conceptual foundation for students to build upon throughout their study of American history, hopefully dispelling many of the myths and historical inaccuracies along the way, but also to engage students in the type of historical inquiry and investigative activities that serve to further their interest and understanding of this critical period. The importance of this period is perhaps best summarized by some of the former authors of the National Standards for History as follows:

Thus, the American Revolution . . . was the first great collective step in the journey of democracy that we in the United States are still embarked upon at home. Together with the French Revolution a few years later, it proclaimed to the world's peoples that three great human aspirations were not only right but reachable: national unity and independence, democratic self-government and civil equality; economic and social justice. [15]

.07 Notes

1. National Center for History in the Schools, National Standards for History: Basic Edition (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1996), 85.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. National Center for History in the Schools; Paul Gagnon and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989); Bradley Commission on History in Schools, Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools (Westlake, OH: National Council for History Education, 1995).

5. National Center for History in the Schools, 85-90.

6. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994), 113-117.

7. Paul Gagnon and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, 25-26; Bradley Commission on History in Schools, 9.

8. Ibid.

9. C. Frederick Risinger, "Teaching History," In Joseph A. Braun, Jr., and C. Frederick Risinger, eds. Surfing Social Studies: The Internet Book (Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1999), 27.

10. National Center for History in the Schools, 86-87.

11. Charlotte Crabtree et al., eds. Lessons from History: Essential Understandings and Historical Perspectives Students Should Acquire. (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1992), 69.

12. National Center for History in the Schools, 87-88.

13. Crabtree et al., 77.

14. National Center for History in the Schools, 89-90.

15. Crabtree et al., 69-70

.08 Bibliography

Bradley Commission on History in Schools. Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools. (Westlake, OH: National Council for History Education, 1995).

Crabtree, Charlotte et al., eds. Lessons from History: Essential Understandings and Historical Perspectives Students Should Acquire. (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1992).

Gagnon, Paul, and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools. Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989).

National Center for History in the Schools. National Standards for History: Basic Edition. (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1996).

National Council for the Social Studies. Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. (Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994).

Risinger, C. Frederick. "Teaching History." In Joseph A. Braun, Jr., and C. Frederick Risinger, eds. Surfing Social Studies: The Internet Book (Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1999).

D. Antonio Cantu
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306
dcantu@gw.bsu.edu