Publication Date

January 1, 2012

"Bridging Cultures" Project Will Help Develop Transoceanic Contexts for Teaching of American History

The AHA is launching a three-year program for community-college faculty development and curricular enrichment for teaching American History, with a focus on the Atlantic world and the Pacific Rim. The program, titled "American History, Atlantic and Pacific," is being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through its initiative on "Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges." Shaped by recommendations from the AHA's Taskforce on Two-Year Colleges, the project will bring together pairs of two-year college faculty from 12 institutions across the country to enrich the teaching of the transnational contexts of the U.S. history survey course.

The project will consist of two annual seminars—the first on the Pacific Rim at the Huntington Library, and the second on the Atlantic world at the Library of Congress—which will be augmented by year-round activities online and in a final conference.

The NEH award offers the AHA a chance to combine the work of its Task Force on Two-Year Colleges with its ongoing commitment to promote a global orientation in history education with a project that focuses on the United States within Atlantic and Pacific contexts. The report and discussions of the task force indicated that two-year college faculty could benefit from greater opportunities for professional development by building and maintaining intellectual networks with other historians, attending conferences focused on history research, and experiencing the intellectual renewal that such activities can provide. Cheryll Ann Cody (Houston Community Coll.–West Loop Campus) and Kevin Reilly (Raritan Valley Community Coll.) will serve as lead advisers on this project.

The AHA aims to advance the teaching of humanities at community colleges through faculty professional development directed toward the ubiquitous U.S. history survey course and its role in the broader humanities curriculum. The program has been designed to address the particular needs of historians who work at two-year institutions and their increasingly diverse student populations.

"American History, Atlantic and Pacific" will draw on a generation of innovative scholarship that has reframed the origins of the United States within a broad geographical and chronological context. The partnership with the Library of Congress and the Huntington Library for this project will ensure a wealth of resources available to participants. These resources will be mobilized by a leadership team consisting of two major scholars in the fields of Pacific and Atlantic history, and members of the AHA's Task Force on Two-Year Colleges. Pairs of faculty from 12 community colleges nationwide will form a group of 24 participants. The group's explorations will build on the emerging concept of "rim" cultures. William Deverell (Univ. of Southern California and Huntington Library) will lead an institute at the Huntington Library on the Pacific Ocean, especially the peoples and geomorphology of its eastern rim, as organizing themes for understanding three centuries of global connections within the history of imperial North America and the early U.S. republic. The following year, Philip Morgan (Johns Hopkins University) will lead an institute at the Library of Congress focused on the Atlantic Rim as a framework for exploring four centuries of intercultural contact, political, and economic development, and the emergence of an American society on the precipice of Civil War.

The two seminars will be structured to allow for extended group discussion, as well as an opportunity for participants to conduct research in the ample resources of these two institutions. Participants will be able to utilize the resources of the Huntington Library, the Library of Congress, and a wide range of other primary source materials for their teaching and for designing new courses. These include, but are not limited to first-person primary sources, maps, photographs, and economic documentation regarding resource exploitation across oceans and continents. All of these can be layered into teaching units or courses focused on various aspects of the history of North America, the history of the United States, and world/global history. Participants will be able to reconsider curricular issues and redesign courses so as to assimilate recent historiography and source material focused on imperial and economic ambitions in the Pacific and Atlantic basins across a wide chronological scope.

Program leadership will support participants in research and curriculum-revision projects throughout the grant period. The AHA will develop a section of its web site to share sample curricula developed in the course of the project, as well as podcasts of interviews with and lectures by participants describing how these new curricular materials can be integrated into community college classrooms. "American History, Atlantic and Pacific" will culminate in a conference where participants will share their work with one another and key administrators from their respective institutions.

Updates on the project and information on how to apply will be available online at

Julia Brookins is interim special projects coordinator at the AHA.

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