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Teaching American History


UCR Scholars Bring American History to Life

University experts will help K-12 teachers in three Riverside County districts improve instruction.

(September 2, 2010)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – American history scholars at the University of California, Riverside will participate in a three-year program aimed at improving the knowledge of 50 elementary, middle and high school teachers in Riverside County – an effort that ultimately will reach thousands of students in three school districts.

Funded by a $999,966 Teaching American History grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the program will involve fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade teachers from the Lake Elsinore Unified, Perris Union and Romoland school districts.

“We’re delighted to partner with multiple school districts,” said Randolph Head, chair of the UCR Department of History. “We look forward to providing the scholarly horsepower to help bring American history to life for these teachers. This speaks to the mission of the University of California to be of service. I think it’s terrific.” The university currently has a similar arrangement with the Riverside Unified School District.

The late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., championed the Teaching American History program, said Nancy Andrzejczak, Arts-LINC project director for the Lake Elsinore district and author of the grant proposal. The Lake Elsinore grant was one of 12 awarded to California school districts.

The senator “saw the need to improve the quality of history instruction, and in order to do that the teachers who taught the content needed to have a better understanding and knowledge of that content,” Andrzejczak said. “Across the nation, previous projects funded by this program have experienced a surge of energy and a renewed sense of purpose in teaching American history. Our goal is to engender this same spirit here in southwest Riverside County.

“Senator Byrd said on the floor of the Senate that he hoped this program would restore history to its rightful place in the curriculum, thus insuring that ‘our nation’s core ideals – life, liberty, justice – will survive.’”

At the same time, she said, test scores from the California Standards Test in history will begin to count more in a school’s Academic Performance Index, which rates state schools based on student test results, “so poor scores in history can no longer be ignored.”

Andrzejczak said the three-year American history program – which could be extended two more years, based on its success – will draw heavily on the expertise of UCR scholars. Those scholars will incorporate local history into their presentations, Head said.

Participating K-12 teachers will attend annual institutes in which UCR history professors will participate and scholar seminars where classroom teachers will read books or journal articles written by UCR historians and discuss key topics contained in those publications. Andrzejczak has included an American art component, which will be taught by Jason Weems, an assistant professor of art history whose current book manuscript is titled “Barnstorming the Prairies: Aerial Vision and Modernity in Rural America, 1920-1940.”

“When students are taken beyond dates and names, into the story and drama of history, they are fascinated,” Andrzejczak said. “Students can be engaged through looking at and talking about art. We decided to use the National Endowment for the Humanities project ‘Picturing America.’ Thus, images of American art can provide for students a window into the past and help them relate to people and events.”

Other UCR faculty who will participate are: Catherine Allgor, professor of history and author of “A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation” (Henry Holt 2006); Ralph Crowder, associate professor of ethnic studies and author of “John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora” (New York University Press 2004); Jonathan Eacott, assistant professor of history, whose research interests focus on the British empire from the 18th century to the present; Kendra Field, assistant professor of history, whose research addresses the migration and settlement of African Americans from the Deep South to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) after the Civil War; Catherine Gudis, associate professor of history, public historian and author of “Buyways: Billboards, Automobiles, and the American Landscape” (Routledge, 2004); Alexander Haskell, assistant professor of history whose current book manuscript is titled “Commonwealth Virginia: Rhetoric and the Creation of an Early-Modern Atlantic Polity”; Roger Ransom, professor emeritus of history and economics, and author of “The Confederate States of America: What Might Have Been” (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2005); and Clifford Trafzer, professor of history and Costo Professor of American Indian Affairs, and author of “As Long As The Grass Shall Grow and Rivers Flow: A History of Native Americans” (Harcourt College Publishers, 2000).

Also participating in the project are the UC Irvine History Project, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Nixon Library, and the Lincoln Shrine and Smiley Library in Redlands.

The program will explore four themes: Governance, Freedom of Religion and Expression, Due Process, and Equality. Designed as a five-year program, instruction each year will focus on a different historical period: Antecedents of Democracy … Colonization, settlement, and communities 1607 to 1763;) Revolution and the New Nation (1763 to 1815); Crisis of the Union: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 to 1877); The Development of Modern America (1865 to 1920) and Modern America and the World Wars (1914 to 1945); and The Constitution: A Living Document (Contemporary America -1945 to present).

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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