Dec. 2 - 15, 2005
Vol. 35, Issue 21
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History lessons


History lessons
Virginia Center for Digital History gets $1 million grant to aid Roanoke-area schools

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Roanoke-area teachers who participate in a new Virginia Center for Digital History project will have access to Web-based history resources such as, where this image resides of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights bill on April 11, 1968.

By Jane Ford

Questions of how major events in American history shaped the world we live in today may be too big for many K-12 students to tackle. But relating that history to what was happening in their communities during a specific time period will have a far more lasting influence on students than simply memorizing facts and dates.

To help teachers in the Roanoke area explore ways to teach history using new skills and primary resources, the Virginia Center for Digital History is partnering with Roanoke City Schools in a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching American History Grant Program. The grant will allow the center to provide professional development for teachers in Floyd County, Roanoke City and County and Salem City.

The three-year grant will fund “Perspectives, Identity, Legacy: Democracy in American History Education,” a collaborative project with the local school systems, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. The project will introduce teachers to content and research to increase their knowledge of American history and improve the quality of instruction, thereby increasing student achievement.

“The wonderful thing about this grant is that it focuses specifically on American history,” said Andy Mink, director of outreach and K-12 education at VCDH.

The three segments of the project will enroll 60 to 80 history teachers from approximately 40 schools, each of whom teach some aspect of American history in grades four, five, six, seven and 11, the years covered by the American history curriculum.

The first phase begins in January 2006. Teachers will begin by attending a five-session lecture series during the semester. This segment covers American history from the pre-colonial period to the present. Program participants will work with scholars and historians from U.Va., Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia at Wise, Radford College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Longwood College, the University of Nebraska and Georgia State University, who will give lectures in their field of expertise.

In the fall 2006 semester, participants will take an in-depth graduate-level course in an area of their choice. The courses will be offered in partnership with the Virginia Tech graduate program.

During the final phase of the program, participants will choose between two summer immersion experiences where they will use primary sources to develop a piece of digital scholarship that they can take back and share with their classrooms.

“We want them to be students again and by that, affect their teaching,” Mink said.

As primary source material for their projects, they will have access to unique U.Va archives: Television News of the Civil Rights Era, 1950-1970 (, part of VCDH’s extensive digital archive; and and, both at U.Va.’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.

The Web-based Civil Rights archive contains scripts and more than 400 hours of original film of Civil Rights events preserved by two local television stations in Roanoke — WDBJ (CBS) and WSLS (NBC). The rare footage includes film of school desegregation, public meetings, local debates over civil rights matters and interviews with citizens on both sides of the issues, as well as speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Virginia governors. The material will allow participants to create a project that brings to life the events of the Civil Rights movement in the local community., an online resource that contains more than 60,000 pages on the presidency and executive branch of the government, and, the 1940 to 1973 secret recordings of six American presidents from both parties, will allow research of national politics during the Cold War and provide a deeper understanding of domestic issues at the time.

Each participant will create his or her own two- to three-minute digital history narrative project. At the end, participants will share their primary source scholarship, which will then be compiled on a DVD for all to use in their K-12 classrooms. They will be encouraged to develop research questions based on the primary source material and provide links to sources that reflect today’s attitudes and perspectives on their research choices.

The goal of the program is to show the “wealth of possibilities they can bring to the classroom,” Mink said. “Twenty years ago, they would just have written a paper.”

The Virginia Center for Digital History is affiliated with the College of Arts & Sciences and is supported by and located in Alderman Library. The center creates new forms of historical scholarship, provides public service and outreach and supports and encourages the use of digital technologies for scholarship and teaching.


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