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Journal of American History

Using Digital Technology to Teach American History

Editors' Introduction
Gary J. Kornblith & Carol Lasser

Building the Better Textbook: The Promises and Perils of E-Publication
Michael J. Guasco

"Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye": E-Supplements and the Teaching of U.S. History
David Jaffee
Article | Appendix

Using Online Resources to Re-center the U.S. History Survey: Women's History as a Case Study
Kriste Lindenmeyer

Pursuing E-Opportunities in the History Classroom
Mark Tebeau

Using Online Resources to Re-center the U.S. History Survey:
Women's History as a Case Study

Kriste Lindenmeyer

In a recent interview in the New York Times, Gerda Lerner was asked if it was time to eliminate the separate focus on women's history. She defiantly responded, "For over 4,000 years, men have defined culture by looking at the activities of other men. . . . Give us another 4,000 years and we'll talk about mainstreaming."1 Her point is a good one, yet the majority of undergraduates will never take a women's history class. It is therefore important to weave women's history into the standard U.S. history survey. Although today's survey textbooks include gender as one of the perspectives necessary for a full understanding of America's past, women's experience is usually presented only as an "add-on" to the central narrative. Fortunately, teachers can remedy this situation by making creative use of the World Wide Web. I have found that assigning students to read, and work with, selected online primary sources allows me to re-center the U.S. history survey by placing women's experience at the core instead of the fringes.

My frustration with the treatment of women and gender in most textbooks led me to the seminar "Making History on the Web: Creating On-Line Materials for Teaching United States History" held at the University of Virginia in June 1996.2 Promoters suggested that the World Wide Web might fill pedagogical voids left by commercially published texts. But in 1996 a ride on "the information highway" provided little substance for historians and could often best be described as a trip on the "World Wide Wait." Some libraries and archives were beginning to digitize segments of their collections, but it seemed that significant progress was far in the future.3

About the same time, commercial publishers began experimenting with laser discs, CD-ROMs, and Web sites. A few pioneering efforts by online publishers such as have managed to survive the dot-com compost heap. Other e-supplements produced by traditional publishers (for example, Bedford/St. Martin's America's History, Addison Wesley Longman's History Place, and W. W. Norton's The Essential America) have enhanced printed textbooks.4 While these digital formats offer interesting alternative presentations, they rely on existing textbook models that do not fully include women's history or a gender perspective in the U.S. survey.

Thankfully, since 1996 there has been an explosive growth of Web sites highlighting women's contributions to American history. To turn an old phrase, if you have not visited the Web lately, you have not seen the Web. It has also become easier to identify the best online sources.5 The primary-source Web sites I use in teaching the second half of the U.S. survey are maintained largely by libraries, archives, museums, university history departments, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Their quality is high, they are free, and I choose where, when, and how to incorporate them into my courses. While instructors must be sensitive to the wide variance in students' computing expertise, the benefits of using online sources to enhance printed textbooks and supplemental readers far outweigh the difficulties.6

Yet there is a need for more discussion on the best practices for using online sources. As Phyllis Holman Weisbard noted in her comments during a session on women's history Web sites at the 2002 Berkshire Conference, we know little about instructors' actual use of women's history Web sites in their teaching and research.7 A query to the H-Women listserv, sponsored by H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences, asking for feedback on Weisbard's comments failed to elicit a single response.

There are many ways to use online sources. One method is to introduce female voices into the presentation of topics covered in most U.S. history textbooks that lack a women's history perspective. For example, American history textbooks generally provide a good narrative that outlines the major political debates in the 1896 presidential election. They pay little attention, however, to women's political participation in that significant event. My online course syllabus links students to a brief biography of free-silver advocate Mary Lease.8 In addition, students read a newspaper article from the New York World describing an address Lease gave in New York City advocating free silver. Both documents are located on the 1896. The Presidential Campaign. Cartoons and Commentary Web site designed by the Vassar College professor Rebecca Edwards and her student Sarah DeFeo. Edwards and DeFeo's site also features biographies of other important political leaders of the period (including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton), political cartoons, party platform statements (such as William Allen White's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" editorial criticizing the Populists and William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech from the 1896 Democratic nominating convention), state election results, and a brief tour of 1890s American popular culture. Since many students will go no further than the two required readings, I display additional sections of the Web site in class.9 Students get a multifaceted look at 1890s politics and see that it was possible for women to be active political participants despite being denied the vote.

Using online women's history sources to reexamine the details of a dramatic historical event is another teaching and learning strategy. The Kheel Center at the Cornell University Library maintains a sophisticated Web site on the 1911 Triangle Factory fire. This is an excellent collection of primary sources (newspaper articles, oral histories, photographs, and illustrations) that highlight a tragic and significant event in U.S. labor, political, and social history. Reading through the list of victims and witnesses, students realize that most New York garment workers were female and recent immigrants or the daughters of immigrant parents. The documents also list the ages of those who died, underscoring that the victims were mostly teenagers and young adults. Newspaper reports and photographs illustrate the public outrage expressed in the wake of the tragedy. A letter written by a former Triangle Factory worker, Pauline Newman, describes the working conditions employees endured in the years before the fire and explains why the girls continued to work for the company despite the dire circumstances.10 A related Web site, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, based on the 1987 book, provides a useful regional comparison. Looking at examples of workers' lives in southern mill towns suggests both the differences and the similarities in working-class life over time and region.11 Photographs of women workers in the Library of Congress's American Memory, America from the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1939–1945, carries the themes of gender, work, and economics through the first half of the twentieth century.12

 Another technique is to assign primary-source documents to help students make connections absent in textbook narratives. For example, the black civil rights movement and women's changing social roles after World War II are topics covered in most U.S. history textbooks. Yet few texts discuss the links between these two significant shifts. An online sampling of documents from the Papers of Constance Baker Motley (1921– ), part of the Sophia Smith Collection's Agents of Social Change Web site, demonstrates how black civil rights and gender equality were part of a changing America during the Cold War. Among her many accomplishments, Motley served as a law clerk for Thurgood Marshall and was chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In 1965 she became the first black woman elected to the New York State Senate, and in 1966 she was the first black woman named to the federal bench. I like to use a speech Motley gave in the mid-1960s to the Children's Organization for Civil Rights (COCR) that illustrates the ideology embedded in calls for racial and gender equality during the Cold War. The COCR's membership pledge, motto, and membership form and transcripts of selected meeting notes provide further evidence of such ideas.13

Online resources can also help enliven women's history topics already covered in the standard survey. For example, most textbooks highlight the fight for woman suffrage. The Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000, Web site housed at the State University of New York, Binghamton, includes over sixty documents on the struggle for female suffrage in the United States. Each project is built around a historiographical question that is answered through an evaluation of primary-source documents. The projects include narrative essays (complete with endnotes and bibliography) and headnotes placing the primary documents in a broad historical context. A project completed by students at the University of Northern Colorado focuses on the debate over woman suffrage in that state from 1877 to 1893 and shows how region could make a difference in the passage of woman suffrage. The Women and Social Movements in the United States projects examines Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and woman suffrage from 1900 to 1915, linking the issue to black civil rights. I like to use the Women and Social Movements in the United States projects as supplements to the textbook's discussion of woman suffrage because they introduce students to the complexities of citizenship and suffrage in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The fight for female suffrage was part of a larger national debate on the rights of citizenship complicated by issues relating to region, class, ethnicity, and race, as well as gender.14

This discussion can be taken further by focusing on sex, race, and inequality. Mary Church Terrell's 1898 address before the National American Woman's Suffrage Association at the Columbia Theater in Washington, D.C., highlights the dual prejudice faced by black suffragists in Jim Crow America. This document is located in the Library of Congress's American Memory, From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824–1909.15 The Kate Coles Collection, part of the Proffit Historic District Online Resource Archive housed at the University of Virginia, offers insight into the everyday triumphs and frustrations of black women and their families. The Letters of Kate Coles Web site has a sampling of correspondence from the Coles collection. The letters may be effectively juxtaposed with documents from the "How Did Black and White Southern Women Campaign to End Lynching, 1890–1942?" project on the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000 Web site and images from the Musarium Web site, Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America. The latter site graphically depicts the violent consequences of Jim Crow segregation and its social links to sexuality and definitions of gender.16

Breaking the students into groups responsible for examining specific documents from Web sites helps stimulate class discussion and encourage collaborative learning without overwhelming the students with too much online reading. I also require the students to take online quizzes each week to help them keep up with the assignments, both print and electronic. The quizzes are similar to a weekly study guide.

The course's final writing assignment builds on the primary documents assigned throughout the semester. During the third week I divide the class into groups of six students. Each group is responsible for a specific period in American history since 1877. The students are free to get together outside of class, and each group has its own online discussion board. I like the electronic discussion format because it gives students experience with online communication in a professional setting and does not take away precious class time. I provide a list of Internet Web sites that contain relevant primary-source documents for each period. Over the next few weeks, the students use the online discussion board to create a list of topics they believe are significant to their assigned period. Each student then chooses a different topic from the list for a final written project. For the final assignment, the student writes a four- to- six-page essay using evidence from primary sources to justify the answers to four questions related to his or her chosen topic.

Final papers are due during the tenth week of the semester in both a digital and a print version. I ask for both so that I can easily check the students' Internet sources, and most students still feel safest turning in a print version of their papers along with the digital version. As with more traditional assignments, student papers have been of varying quality. But I have been very pleased with the historical insight students gain from a careful reading of primary-source documents. Furthermore, although less than 10 percent of the students choose topics focused exclusively on women's history, almost one-third include female voices, underscoring the effectiveness of using online primary sources throughout the semester to help to re-center women's history as part of mainstream American history. For those who do not wish to wait another 4,000 years to incorporate women's experiences into the U.S. history survey, the Web offers a wide range of valuable opportunities right now.

Kriste Lindenmeyer is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She has also taught at Tennessee Technological University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Cincinnati. Her teaching and research interests focus on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, American women's history, and the history of childhood.

1 Felicia R. Lee, "Making History Her Story, Too," New York Times, July 20, 2002 <> (July 20, 2002).

2 The "Making History on the Web: Creating On-line Materials for Teaching United States History" seminar was held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, June 16–22, 1996. Edward Ayers and Mark Kornbluh designed and ran the seminar, and sponsors included the National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of Virginia Department of History, the University of Virginia Digital History Project, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online.

3 It had been thirty-one years since Theodor Nelson presented a conference paper describing his vision for a gradually expanding, globally connected "hypertext" library. See Roy Rosenzweig, "The Road to Xanadu: Public and Private Pathways on the History Web," Journal of American History, 88 (Sept. 2001), <> (Aug. 3, 2002).

4 James A. Henretta et al., America's History, 4th ed. <> (July 7, 2002); Robert A. Divine et al., The History Place, available at the Pearson Education History Place; George B. Tindall et al., The Essential America <> (July 7, 2002).

5 For examples of women's history on the Web, see "Archives and Webographies in Women's History," in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000 <> (Sept. 2, 2002); American Women's History: A Research Guide <> (Sept. 2, 2002); and Internet Links: H-Women, in H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online <> (Sept. 2, 2002).

6 All my syllabi begin with a standard HTML Web page linked to Blackboard course Web sites designed for each class. Visitors may log in as "guests" to my Blackboard course sites that are linked to my personal Web page at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, see <> (Nov. 19, 2002).

7 Phyllis Holman Weisbard, "Comment: Doing Women's History in Cyberspace," paper delivered at the twelfth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Storrs, Connecticut, June 8, 2002 (in Kriste Lindenmeyer's possession). Weisbard has published similar comments from a talk given in 2000, see Phyllis Holman Weisbard, "The World Wide Web: A Primary Resource for Women's History" <> (July 28, 2002).

8 See the online syllabus for my fall 2002 course, "American History: 1877 to the Present" <> (Nov. 19, 2002).

9 Rebecca Edwards and Sarah DeFeo, 1896. The Presidential Campaign. Cartoons and Commentary <> (July 5, 2002); "Mary E. Lease," ibid. <> (July 5, 2002); "Cheered Mary E. Lease," ibid. <> (July 5, 2002). For the sort of research on gender and politics that informs the Web site, see Rebecca Edwards, Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era (New York, 1997).

10 Kheel Center, Cornell University Library, The Triangle Factory Fire <> (Aug. 31, 2002); "Letters to Michael and Hugh [Owens] from P. M. Newman, Typescript, May 1951," ibid. <> (Aug. 31, 2002).

11 Jacquelyn Dowd Hall et al., Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill, 1987); Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World <> (Aug. 25, 2002).

12 Library of Congress, American Memory, America from the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1939–1945 <> (Aug. 12, 2002).

13 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Agents of Social Change: Online Exhibit: New Resources on 20th Century Women's Activism <> (Aug. 20, 2002); "Lesson Plans and Primary Documents," ibid. <> (Aug. 20, 2002).

14 Edited by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin, the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000 Web site contains projects on major American women's history topics. For a description of the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000 site, see Kathryn Kish Sklar, "Teaching Students to Become Producers of New Historical Knowledge on the Web," Journal of American History, 88 (March 2002) <> (Aug. 6, 2002). For projects on the site, see Jennifer Frost et al., "Why Did Colorado Suffragists Succeed in Winning the Right to Vote in 1893 and Not in 1877?," in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000 <> (Nov. 19, 2002); Chelsea Kuzma, "How Did the Views of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois toward Woman Suffrage Change between 1900 and 1915?," ibid. <> (Nov. 19, 2002); and Kathryn Kish Sklar and Jill Dias, "How Did the National Woman's Party Address the Issue of Enfranchisement of Black Women, 1919–1924?," ibid. <> (Dec. 3, 2002).

15 Mary Church Terrell, "The Progress of Colored Women," speech, Feb. 18, 1898, in From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824–1909, American Memory <> (Sept. 7, 2002).

16 University of Virginia Special Collections Department, Proffit Historic District Online Resource Archive, Letters of Kate Coles <> (Dec. 3, 2002); Kathryn Vill, "How Did Black and White Southern Women Campaign to End Lynching, 1890–1942?," in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775–2000 <> (Nov. 19, 2002); Musarium, Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America <> (Sept. 21, 2002).