History Teacher Forum

Update on the History Teaching Alliance

Jane Landers, October 1990

Believing that teachers are the key to improved history education and that professional barriers separating precollegiate and postsecondary teachers impoverish both, the History Teaching Alliance organizes programs based in communities called "history collaboratives." These draw history professionals from schools and universities, from museums, libraries, archives, and other history and civic organizations, into sustained and regular contact through a year-long study of their chosen topic. Since its inception more than 1,100 teachers and hundreds of administrators, public historians, judicial and political figures have participated in sixty-two HTA projects in twenty-two states.

The HTA was established in 1985 as a joint program of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the National Council for the Social Studies. It gained the support of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Major grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Exxon Education Fund, the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, and the Department of History and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida have supported a wide variety of HTA programs in the past six years.

An example of what has evolved can be found at Kennesaw State College in Marietta, Georgia, where Ann Ellis (Chair, History Department) and Helen Ridley (Chair, Political Science) recently concluded their third HTA program. Nineteen secondary school teachers from nearby school districts studied the ethnic treatment of minorities in the federal courts through historical documents. The groups researched "landmark" and "historic" cases in the National Archives-Southeast Branch; with a generous grant from the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution they produced curricular materials that will be widely distributed in Georgia. The Georgia Humanities Council subsequently funded one state-wide and four regional meetings to reproduce the Kennesaw model in other Georgia school systems.

A newer HTA in Arkansas has also proven a great success. In 1989 John Short and Rich Corby, of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, conducted a needs assessment survey of southeastern Arkansas schools. The subject they found teachers most requested was African history. Short and Corby organized a two-day workshop on Africa and then developed a rigorous year-long study of African history with the support of the University, the school districts of the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative, and the HTA. Based on the success of the HTA program, the directors applied successfully to the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program to send teachers from the Delta to study African history in Sierra Leone this summer.

As legislatures mandate the teaching of state history, local area studies are also being supported by the HTA. For example, the Western Massachusetts Five College/Public School Partnership developed a strong cross-disciplinary HTA which addressed the need for more training in local and multicultural history, entitled "Understanding the Native American Experience in the Connecticut River Valley." Directed by the noted scholar Neal Salisbury, teachers worked in 17th-century colonial documents in local archives and libraries, visited archaeological laboratories and ongoing excavations to learn how important historical evidence is derived from material culture, and studied the expressive traditions of Native Americans of New England in museum collections and in visits to area reservations. The participants shared their experiences and resources with other teachers in after-school seminars and in presentations to local and regional conferences. They are also developing resource materials for distribution to their colleagues that include descriptive listings of print and museum resources in the area, representative primary documents and suggestions for their use, slides and videotapes, and suggestions for library development.

The summer seminars for the 1990-91 HTAs have just concluded, but participants will continue their studies in monthly meetings through the academic year. Ongoing HTA programs include: "The Bill of Rights in United States History," directed by John J. Patrick, The Social Studies Development Center, Indiana University; "Dissent and Reform in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century America," directed by Robert Martin, University of Northern Iowa; "Discovering Historic Arkansas," directed by Donald Holley, University of Arkansas at Monticello; "The Role of Religion in the Teaching of History," directed by James Lorence, University of Wisconsin Center-Marathon County Campus; "Japan and the Outside World," directed by Lane Earns, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; "Understanding the Constitution: A Program for Precollegiate Teachers," directed by Augustus Burns, University of Florida; and "The History of Science in Secondary Schools," directed by Robert Hatch and Frederick Gregory, University of Florida.

Participants from these HTAs will present panels at the upcoming meetings of the National Council for the Social Studies, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians. In 1991 the HTA hopes to have panels at the American Association for State and Local History and the Southern Historical Association. The standing-room only crowds at last years' panels at the AHA Annual Meeting will hopefully encourage more applicants for HTAs.

As the demand for new programs continues to grow, the HTA is working to secure resources to fund new collaboratives. Last December the HTA received one of only forty-one Challenge Grants awarded nationally by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant of $225,000 will support an endowment and a cash-reserve fund to enable the HTA to expand its network of community-based collaboratives. Over the next three years the HTA must raise $675,000 in nonfederal funds to match the NEH gift. The AHA and the OAH have each pledged annual matchable gifts, and grant proposals are being submitted to major funders. The HTA also hopes that individuals interested in improved history education will assist us in this effort. Contributions must be marked, "In response to the NEH Challenge Grant # CX 20067-90" and may be mailed to HTA headquarters at the Department of History, University of Florida, 4131 Turlington Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611.