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Neh Grant Will Support U.Va.-Va. Tech Project

History Teachers To Explore Jamestown’s Complex Role

In Forming American Culture

October 2, 2000 -- Anticipating the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America, history teachers from around the country will have an opportunity next summer to take part in a major reexamination of colonial America and take a fresh look at Jamestown’s complex meaning for our national heritage.

With the support of an $88,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to a joint educational project of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, 15 high school teachers will be selected to participate in a month-long seminar that will challenge the idea of early New England as the norm and the South as "deviant" in the forging of American culture.

"What historians are beginning to discover is the extraordinary significance of Jamestown and how the Chesapeake region represents broader patterns in the cultural formation of British America," said Crandall Shifflett, director of graduate studies in history at Virginia Tech and co-director of the seminar, "Jamestown and the Formation of An American Culture." Sponsored by U.Va.’s Center for the Liberal Arts, the Charlottesville-based program will give teachers a chance to conduct new research using important databases of records as well as visit the major archaeological project under way at Jamestown.

A key part of the seminar and a national discussion about Jamestown’s significance will be a Web archive, "Virtual Jamestown," that includes historical documents, databases and other

materials that shed light on the intentions, backgrounds and ideals of the colonists. The award-winning NEH-supported Web site, intended both for classroom use and use by anyone, was created by Shifflett and is a project of U.Va.’s Virginia Center for Digital History.

William G. Thomas, director of the Center for Digital History and co-director of the teachers’ seminar, said the summer program will conclude with the teachers’ ideas about how to teach about Jamestown in the period leading up to the 400th anniversary in 2007. Both Thomas and Shifflett serve on the Virginia state committee responsible for the "content" portion of the anniversary’s planning.

Many historians, Native Americans, African-Americans and others are uncertain about what they are to "celebrate" in the anniversary, Shifflett and Thomas noted, adding that it should be used as a time for better understanding.

For natives of the region, 1607 marked the beginning of the annihilation of their culture. For Africans it marked the coming of the long years of slavery. But Jamestown, more so than Puritan New England, also represented the start of a social order more open than in Europe, the historians said.

New research is showing that the Chesapeake colonies, far from being chaotic enterprises founded on get-rich-quick schemes, were strongly based on the colonists’ desire to form stable families and harmonious communities guided by religious principles. "The pursuit of happiness," including a drive for economic and social improvement, "was the rule in the cultural formation of British America and the seeds were sown first at Jamestown," Shifflett said.

By the close of the 17th century, this "Chesapeake model," which included racial slavery, subjugation of native peoples, commercialism, and market centers, had spread throughout the colonies outside of New England, he said, and "in its broadest dimensions was much more pervasive than the Puritan ideal of a chosen people."

For additional information about the summer seminar contact the U.Va. Center for the Liberal Arts at (804) 982-5205.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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