Publication Date

April 1, 1988

Perspectives Section


Welcome to “Network News Exchange,” a semiannual Perspectives column provided by the Society for History Education, an AHA affiliate. NNE was first published in 1975 as a newsletter for SHE members. Under the long-time guidance of Robert V. Schnucker of Northeast Missouri State University, it became a valued publication especially noted for reports on teaching sessions at AHA and OAH annual meetings. Now, through its inclusion in Perspectives, NNE brings news of history teaching approaches and activities to a vastly greater readership, complementing “Teaching Innovations” (Mildred Alpern, Robert Blackey, and Jeanette Lauer, editors).

We all teach history. Whatever your work setting: school, college, university, museum, archive, corporation. Your participation and input in NNE is earnestly invited. Anyone wishing to report history teaching sessions at upcoming meetings is urged to contact John W. Larner, Penn State-Altoona, Altoona, PA 16601. Those wishing to receive a report of teaching sessions at the 1987 Canadian Historical Association, prepared by Robert N. Berard (Dalhousie University), should send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the NNE editor, Jack Larner.


Meeting of the World History Association

The World History Association is dedicated to the idea that college students, at a basic level, should be introduced to the history of the entire world, not just to American history or Western civilization. The purpose of this session was to address the question of how graduate schools are addressing the same issue. The chair, Craig Lockard (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay) began the session by noting that advocates of global history on the undergraduate level had won many victories over traditionalists in the 1960s and 1970s, were forced to retreat in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but now seem to be making a comeback. Yet only one major institution, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had had a graduate program devoted to the field in its heyday. Now the University of Hawaii has taken up the banner.

Jerry Bentley (University of Hawaii-Manoa) presented the core paper of the session, “Graduate Education and Research in World History: The Experience of the University of Hawaii,” describing his institution’s program. Global history at an undergraduate level could be justified, he argued, as essential to citizenship in a shrinking world. But graduate education is specialized and professional, and the same argument does not apply.

World history is taught as one of the four fields required at Hawaii for the history Ph.D. The goal is to add to the standard specializations some sophisticated and professional training in the fields of comparative analysis of civilizations and the analysis of the mutual contacts of civilization throughout the globe. Since this is only one of four required fields, students still gain expertise in a traditional field (like the Italian Renaissance, Bentley’s own “home” field).

The Hawaii program has three major goals, Bentley maintained: 1) It will improve the quality of the introductory civilization courses that its graduates will teach in their future careers. 2) It will develop comparative world history as a recognized subdiscipline in history. 3) It will stretch the boundaries of the discipline of history, much as the new social history has done, albeit in another direction.

The major response was from Philip Curtin (Johns Hopkins University) and soon to be visiting professor in the Hawaii program. He rejected the often heard argument that world history is too broad to be done on any but a superficial level. He recognized that some aspects of history lend themselves to the comparative approach better than others. For example, the visual and performing arts of various civilizations are often unique, and efforts at systematic comparison often fail. But comparative nationalism or comparative slavery can be very fruitful avenues for inquiry, much more useful than studying the experience of a single country or civilization in isolation.

David Sweet (University of California-Santa Cruz) had intended to appear, but was unavoidably absent. He sent his remarks, which raised questions about the Hawaii program, noting the absence of names like Marx and Foucault on the standard reading lists in the required seminar in world history, and indicating that world history programs are very difficult to sustain in the profession as it stands today.

Comments from the audience, including some vigorous questions by Theodore van Laue, enlivened the session. Generally, the panelists and the audience agreed that the systematic study of world history at the graduate level is a good thing. The program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, seems to be leading the way at this point, and teacher/scholars who would like to broaden the scope of discourse at their own institutions might well turn to that university to learn of both the possibilities and the problems of attempting to implement such a program.

Gordon R. Mork
Purdue University

Meeting of the Society for History Education

The chair of this session was Fay Metcalf, executive director of the National Commission on Social Studies. This commission had just recently held its first meeting, launching a three-year process to determine how best to teach the social studies.

The major presentation was a paper, “The Reform of Social Studies and the Role of the National Commission on Social Studies” by Howard D. Mehlinger (Indiana University), a member of the commission. Hopeful of starting a dialogue that could have an impact on the National Commission, a commission he felt must be taken seriously, Mehlinger called for an examination of its mission.

Although the commission “cannot directly teach a child, prepare a teacher, write a textbook, or conduct historical research,” it can potentially influence all of these important activities “by setting the rules.” The last National Commission in 1916 “set the rules” by which we are still playing. The rules may not always be strictly enforced, but we still usually teach American history at grades 5, 8, and 11 as the 1916 commission recommended. European history became world history and then global history, but we still teach a one-year survey course at the tenth grade. There have been reform attempts but they have been mainly to “pour new wine into old bottles.”

Mehlinger pointed out that the 1916 commission made its judgements looking at a world in which public school enrollment was rapidly growing but only 13 percent of the seventeen-year-olds completed high school; large proportions of the new immigrants were poor, uneducated, unfamiliar with democratic institutions, unable to speak English; the United States was experiencing rapid industrialization and urbanization.

Previously, college preparation was deemed important, but to the 1916 commission citizenship education was the principal justification for curriculum decisions. While the 1916 commission made wise choices for its time, conditions have changed. Now, high school education is considered basic for everyone and approximately 50 percent of all high school graduates receive some postsecondary schooling; the U.S. has become a significant world player; basic institutions—the family, church, government, corporations, and schools—have all changed dramatically.

The needs of society and youth are different and the “sources of knowledge from which we select appropriate social studies content have increased many times.” Consequently, Mehlinger called on the commission to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the purpose for the social studies reflecting the current conditions. It should assert what, when, and how social studies should be taught. Only this National Commission has the opportunity and necessary credibility to speak authoritatively. Other groups, whether professional associations, state departments of education, textbook publishers, federal bureaucrats or teachers, are all lobbyists with particular points of view.

With this background, Mehlinger suggested no recommendations for the commission to adopt but rather posed sweeping questions. For example: “Why should schools teach social studies? Is the purpose of social studies to prepare youth for post-secondary schooling, for employment, for family membership, for all of them?” Should social studies be required of all students regardless of academic ability and career aspirations? ls the purpose of social studies to socialize youth into accepting uncritically existing institutions and practices or to prepare youth to be reflective critics of society? Does our society need patriots or social reformers? Should academic disciplines be studies for their own sake or for the useful knowledge they provide, and what knowledge is most useful?

The answers to these questions, Mehlinger contends, will dramatically influence the decisions of the current National Commission. At the present, there appears to be no agreement as to a single purpose for the social studies. As a result, people have different proposals for how the various purposes can best be promoted.

Mehlinger posed other provocative questions: What should we teach? Should students be taught to be wise consumers? Are there topics too controversial? What should be the role of survey courses? What about the dilemma of depth vs. coverage? What stand should the commission take on the role of values and skills to be taught in the social studies?

Then Mehlinger asked: When should social studies be taught? Is there any point in pushing material down into the primary grades when it can be grasped more swiftly and with better understanding by older students? Should social studies be treated as a separate portion of the curriculum in the primary grades? Should the secondary school continue to be organized by the accounting device, the Carnegie unit?

Finally, how should social studies be taught? Nearly everywhere the dominant approach is the teacher-directed recitation, because it is the easiest way to teach and textbooks support these practices, which demand less time from the already over-burdened teacher. To alter the pedagogy, teachers would require considerably more time and resources, which would necessitate more money. The commission will need to address this dilemma.

Mehlinger concluded that the social studies has an extraordinary opportunity “to reconsider its mission and move in new directions.” He pleads with the commission not to squander this unusual opportunity.

After this inviting challenge, Earl Bell (Laboratory Schools of the University of Chicago) provided comment. He advocated that the commission’s final report have a scope and sequence structured on history as the cone subject. His response to Mehlinger reflected his view of the social studies as preparation for precollege students.

From this perspective, Bell’s view of the role for history and advocacy of a scope and sequence appeared to evade the substantive questions Mehlinger raised for consideration and further dialogue. The audience, consisting of secondary teachers from various types of schools, eagerly entered into a lively exchange stimulated by the participants. Meanwhile, Fay Metcalf considered the session the opening opportunity for gathering input for the commission to consider as it addresses its imposing task. Copies of this session’s feature paper are available by contacting Howard Mehlinger at Indiana University.

Jacob R. Seitz
Morgantown High School, WV

A Short Course on Teaching about the United States Constitution

One of the most cogent, potent teaching sessions offered in recent years, this mini-course on teaching constitutional history, unfortunately, drew little more than a score of persons, evenly split between elementary, secondary, and college instructors. Following a brief introduction of themes, presenters, and format, the group divided by teaching level. This reviewer joined the pre-collegiate teachers, who were under the able, stimulating leadership of Maeva Marcus (Supreme Court Documentary History Project) and John Patrick (Indiana University).

The elementary/secondary teachers, clearly immersed in the topic themselves, were treated to a brisk yet solid round-up of latest trends and techniques in teaching about the Constitution. John Patrick provided a thoughtful, hard-hitting paper thoroughly exploring the topic: “Teaching and Learning About the Constitution in Secondary School Courses on American History: Persistent Problems and Promising Practices.” With all the fluency for which he is justly acclaimed, Patrick cited and documented such problems as “confused curriculum priorities, inadequate treatments in widely-used textbooks, and serious deficiencies in students’ knowledge.” Promising practices include the development and increasing use of constitutional history, educational TV, lessons to supplement or replace “shallow and bland textbook content,” and highly interactive classroom forums for deliberation and detailed study.

When it comes to promising practices, teachers want hot leads to new stuff. Patrick, with the aid of the ERIC clearinghouse, now housed at Indiana University, furnished teachers an extensive and highly useful listing of new and readily available constitutional history teaching materials. Both the paper and the ERIC resource packet can be obtained by contacting John Patrick at Indiana University.

Maeva Marcus, one of the increasing number of first-magnitude constitutional scholars who work comfortably and effectively with elementary and secondary teachers, furnished a tightly ordered hit list of major themes, concepts, and topics to be considered when infusing constitutional studies into an ongoing U.S. history course. With the genial unassuming manner and wry understatement that invariably draw and hold teacher attention, Marcus efficiently but thoroughly crafted a case for more than a score of thematic, topical areas, including: British background, colonial charters, early state constitutions, positive aspects of the Articles, issues left unresolved by the constitutional convention, the Judiciary Act of 1789, and the vital notion that there is far more to constitutional history than mere recitation of key Supreme Court pronouncements.

On the other hand, Marcus insisted that closer scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s first decade is in order, and that such familiar cases as Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland, and Dred Scott v. Sandford deserve more greater examination than is customary. She urged teachers to take another look at the Civil War. era, especially the content and interpretations of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Marcus also stressed that the perpetual polarity between loose and strict construction (“the doctrine of original intent” being the latter’s current incarnation) be addressed throughout U.S. history.

Overall, Marcus did what scholars can do best for teachers: offer enticing insights and new, refreshing perspectives on the familiar as well as comforting reinforcement (“go signals”) to those already moving into arenas she explores.

After a break, elementary/secondary teachers returned to a lively discussion of “how to do it.” Thoughtful yet practical suggestions abounded. Ready with sound counsel obviously grounded in familiarity with the real world of social studies classrooms, Marcus and Patrick handily sustained the good rapport built earlier with this group of dedicated, talented teachers.

Another break was followed by a concluding plenary session, chaired by John Patrick, and intended to elicit discussion of constitutional history teaching issues transcending instructional levels. Alas, even the work of several devil’s advocates notwithstanding, this portion of the short course was labored and desultory. Had segregation by teaching level through the bulk of the afternoon created this impasse? Or, were cognitive and effective power grids over-loaded to the point of brown-out?

Wisely reading the group’s mood and possibly soothed by the lull, Herman Belz (University of Maryland-College Park), bespoke much of what all were surely feeling: that study of the Constitution is a worthy pursuit unto itself, that it always has held a compelling magic for those who take time—or who are led to take time—to look at it. Alluding to the German expression, “it is,” Belz reflected, “the thing itself”! No better a benediction, no more moving an inspiration to teach well, could have concluded this memorable afternoon.

And so, in Franklinesque fashion, we adjourned to a party generously hosted by the sponsors of this powerful mini-course. And there, spirit rebuilding upon spirits, we generated once more the collegial trust evident through most of this splendid collaborative endeavor. Deborah Welch (History Teaching Alliance) and John Paul Ryan (American Bar Association) are to be congratulated for organizing this exemplary history teaching session.

John W. Larner
Penn State-Altoona

Integrating the History of Science and Technology into the History Curriculum

Missing Links in U.S. History Texts: U.S. history texts and the courses in which they are used are sadly deficient in their explanation of the role of science and technology (SciTech).

According to J.L. Heilbron (University of California, Berkeley) and Daniel J. Kevles (California Institute of Technology), a review of four leading textbooks reveals that, although there is widespread discussion of the social and economic impact of SciTech, there is little coverage given to the people and processes responsible for these innovations. In most textbook descriptions, science just happens, as if by chance or divine intervention.

Although Einstein was well known to Americans by the 1930s, he was the scientist as far as most Americans were concerned, he first appears in texts as the author of a letter to FDR concerning the atomic bomb. But texts do not adequately explain the role of government in facilitating and directing scientific research. Heilbron and Kevles noted that although all of the texts refer to Three Mile Island, only one mentions the Atomic Energy Commission. Most texts describe the rise of the regulatory state, yet little is said about the role of government scientists and laboratories in testing and setting standards. Besides a brief description of the physicists engaged in the Manhattan Project, the role of SciTech in national security policy, beginning with World War I and continuing through the present, is in need of elaboration. And the enormous productive capacity of American agriculture and its impact on society usually receive attention, but even here authors, and presumably classroom teachers, neglect the contributions of genetics and bacteriology to this expanded output.

Heilbron and Kevles attributed these omissions to the growing emphasis on social history and the consequent slighting of intellectual history in most textbooks. They did not, however, recommend cutting into what they described as important gains in the area of social history. Instead, they suggested various ways to integrate the history of SciTech into the existing structure of current texts. Most of these recommendations pertained to the period after the Civil War and thus seem most useful for the second half of the U.S. history survey. Heilbron and Kevles explained that the closing of the frontier was accompanied by the opening of the endless frontier of SciTech.

Although most texts describe America as an importer of capital during this second half of the nineteenth century, they make little mention of the intellectual borrowing that went on during this period. Heilbron and Kevles believe that a more complete description of the American debt owed to Europe would correct the impressions left by most textbooks that the automobile, electric tram, and alternating current were invented entirely in America by inventor-entrepreneurs.

The usual section on the nativism of the early twentieth century would benefit from a more complete discussion of the role of scientists in the eugenics movement, social sciences, and genetics. In describing the use of IQ tests and racial theories, textbooks should show how science and public policy interact and reveal the numerous divisions within the scientific community.

In the discussion that followed, Joanne Reitano (Fiorello LaGuardia Community College) explained how she builds upon existing areas of interest to her students to include the history of SciTech. Robert Muccigrosso (Brooklyn College, CUNY) recognized the problems in touching on only the peaks in the development of SciTech, but he maintained that it is only natural for authors and students to focus on the dramatic actors in events like the Manhattan Project. Participants in the audience wondered whether other specialties would surrender space in texts to the history of SciTech. Although Heilbron and Kevles hope for greater incorporation of SciTech themes into textbooks, they also noted that the use of selected readings offers another way to bring the history of science into the U.S. survey.

If one of the purposes of history, and the college history survey course, is to help explain how the past influences the present, then it seems that some reevaluation of the existing texts and the courses in which they are used is in order. Is the present SDI program a legacy of past crash projects to build the atomic and hydrogen bombs and to put a man on the moon? How does one explain the controversy over the government’s response to the AIDS epidemic without first explaining how Washington’s public health role expanded with the development of the welfare state? Moreover, if one uses the survey course to expose students to the varieties of historical inquiry, then some room needs to be made for the long neglected area of SciTech.

Teachers and textbook writers must make some important choices if they are to incorporate the history of SciTech into their courses. Who deserves more coverage: William Dean Howells or Jonas Salk? The battle of Midway or the battle against infant mortality? Difficult choices, and as Heilbron and Kelves concluded, successful texts and successful courses reflect the concerns of the time.

Marc S. Gallicchio
Northeast Missouri State University

Projects in History Funded by the Education Division of the NEH

As announced by its chair, Judith Jeffrey Howard (Education Division of NEH), the purpose of this session was to provide the audience with a sample of the projects in history funded by the Education Division of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The first presentation dealt with an ambitious project entitled “Transatlantic Encounters: A Comprehensive Institute Program for the Columbian Quincentenary,” organized by the Newberry Library. Richard Brown (Newberry Library) provided a description of the genesis and structure of the project. Beyond the obvious interest in the topic spurred by the upcoming celebration of 1492, he spoke of a sense at the Newberry Library that there was a need for better teaching about transatlantic exchanges in the Columbian era.

American history teachers are not well informed about the European situation at that time. They have neglected the pre-1492 American scene, and they have had little opportunity to become acquainted with recent interdisciplinary scholarship relating to transatlantic exchange. Teaching materials on the subject are inadequate. Brown pointed out the rich resources of the Newberry Library relative to the era, including its collections on the Renaissance, in cartography, and on the history of the American Indians.

To meet the perceived need and to capitalize on these resources, a series of four summer institutes have been organized. Two have already been completed, one in the summer of 1986, involving transatlantic encounters with Europe in general, and one in the summer of 1987 dealing with Hispano-American encounters. Two more institutes will be held during the summers of 1988 and 1989, one on Franco-American encounters and another on Anglo-American encounters. Each institute involves thirty participants whose activities are organized around a series of daily lectures by distinguished scholars and a succession of daily workshops in which participants make presentations on the basis of individual reading programs, chiefly in primary source materials. The summer institutes are complemented by a fellowship program which permits college teachers to utilize the resources of the Newberry Library to prepare teaching materials. Provisions are also made for occasional publications that will help meet the need for suitable instructional materials.

Next, Roger Schlesinger (Washington State University), a participant in one of the summer institutes and a fellowship holder, reflected briefly on his participation. He became involved in the program in order to gain assistance in preparing a course. The experience provided him with a large body of factual knowledge useful in organizing that course. He also gained new insights into patterns and themes that gave meaning to the course; especially useful in this respect were the lectures of the scholars involved in the institute. Particularly valuable were the informal discussions of an interdisciplinary nature that were a by-product of the living arrangements provided for the participants.

The second presentation involved a project entitled “Asia in the Undergraduate Core Curriculum,” organized at Columbia University. The program was described by Ainslee T. Embree and Roberta Martin (Asian Study Center, Columbia University). Embree explained how the project grew out of the undergraduate core program, long a central feature of Columbia’s undergraduate experience and traditionally European-centered. The Asian Study Center faculty desired to get involved in the core program, chiefly for the purpose of injecting non-European elements. To this end two summer seminars were evolved, “Asia in the Western World” and “Asia in World Cultures.” Embree directed the first of these seminars, which sought to highlight how Asia impinged on the West across the entire historical continuum. The seminar involved presentations by experts on a series of topics related to the broad theme of Asia in the Western world. The objective was to provide material that could be incorporated into a European-oriented core program.

As described by Roberta Martin, the seminar on “Asia in World Culture” has presented a greater challenge. Its concern is with creating a world history course that will focus on those aspects of the past that have a world dimension, that relate to the present, that are genuinely common in the human experience, that diminish the focus on national histories, and that will engender a mentality that thinks in terms of one history of the world. While her presentation conveyed a sense of the intellectual excitement surrounding such a quest, the limits of time did not permit Martin to provide in detail the substantive matters treated in the seminar.

Loyd Lee (SUNY-New Paltz) commented on his experiences as a participant in the “Asia in the Western World Seminar.” He spoke of the value of the seminar in assisting him in taking the leadership in developing a world history course in his own institution and in developing techniques for involving his colleagues in an ongoing dialogue useful in preparing them to teach such a course.

The third presentation was devoted to a description of a project entitled “The New York University—Manhattan High Schools Collaborative Project on the Age of Democratic Revolutions.” Leslie Berlowitz (New York University) explained the evolution of the project out of the interests and concerns of the Council of the Humanities at New York University, including the Council’s efforts to break down specialization and to assist small colleges and high schools in curricular development. The result is two summer seminars for high school teachers on the American and the French revolutions. Each seminar features lectures by experts and workshops devoted to the study of relevant texts with emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach. The summer seminars are complemented by year-long workshops for the participants.

To reflect the viewpoints of participants, Paul Meth, principal of the High School for the Humanities in Manhattan, read a series of statements from high school teachers involved in the seminars. In general, these comments suggested that the seminars are challenging and helpful to high school teachers.

Following the panel presentations, the session chair, Judith Jeffrey Howard, invited the audience to join the proceedings. From the variety of remarks that followed, one sensed that the concern for doing a better job of teaching history is deep but that the problems are so complex that discouragement sets in easily when it comes to doing anything to correct the situation. Always lurking below the surface of the dialog was the question of whether projects such as those described during the session had any significant impact on the horrendous problems afflicting history teaching at all levels.

On the whole this was an informative session. This observer came away wishing that the comments of the participants in the various institutes had been fuller and more analytical so that one could sense a little better how productive their experiences were. And while it is helpful to be informed about the kinds of projects one’s colleagues are developing for NEH funding, one wonders whether a more useful purpose would have been served by an NEH-sponsored session devoted to what kinds of projects should be funded rather than to a description of what kinds of projects have been funded.

Richard E. Sullivan
Michigan State University

Due to a lack of reporters, three other teaching sessions were not reviewed: the NEH Session on Summer Seminars; Good History Teaching; and The Historian and the Moving-Image Media.