American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

February 2010

ASHP/CML Embarks on Historic Gaming Project!

Mission US, an innovative multimedia game project to improve learning U.S. history in middle and high schools, has received funding from theCorporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)American History and Civics Initiative. A finalist in the nationwide competition, Mission US is an unusual cooperative effort among historians, educators, broadcasters, and gamers, with the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (serving as the project’s principal content developer and advisor) working in a collaboration with New York’s public television stationThirteen/WNET; Electric Funstuff, a Manhattan-based game developer; and Education Development Center- Center for Children and Technology, a leader in educational research.

A detail from Paul Revere’s 1770 print, “The Bloody Massacre.”
A detail from Paul Revere’s 1770 print, “The Bloody Massacre.”

Mission US features five online video games set in different eras in U.S. history. Assuming the roles of printer’s apprentice, runaway slave, railroad worker, muckraking journalist, and Dust Bowl migrant, student-players explore rich historical settings, develop relationships with key figures, investigate primary documents, witness pivotal events, and choose their own path in life. In the prototype game produced in 2008, “For Crown or Colony?,” students play Nat Wheeler, a printer’s apprentice who arrives in Boston in 1770 on the eve of the Boston Massacre. By completing tasks assigned to Nat by the printer, students explore colonial Boston and learn about the growing tensions between Patriots, redcoats, and loyalists. In addition to the game,Mission US provides online resources for teachers and students that include a robust set of classroom activities and assignments to enhance learning.

With the awarding of this grant, the prototype will be publicly released later this year. And we now will embark with our partners to establish the historical narrative, characters, visualizations, character dialogue, primary documents, and classroom materials for upcoming games.

Teacher Resource Database

In the next several months, the American Social History Project/Center for Media Learning plans to launch an online resource database of history materials for educators. To assist with planning, ASHP/CML recently conducted a survey of educators to learn more about how they use the Web to find resources for their classrooms. We were curious to know about what kinds of Web-based technology teachers had access to, what sorts of materials they look for online, and what they generally do with what they find online. We collected 228 responses from 38 states and the District of Columbia. (By the way, thank you to those of you on our mailing lists who took the time to complete the survey or to pass it along to colleagues.)

Survey chart

Overall we discovered that teachers use the Web primarily to find primary sources and to brush up on their background knowledge of topics. We were gratified to learn that a majority of our history teachers use arts and literature sources daily or once a week. Survey results confirmed that teachers want but have difficulty finding great primary sources for students: materials they want are scattered, difficult to navigate, or do not address the social history questions they wish to raise. A fuller report on our survey data can be found on ASHP/CML’s Now and Then blog.

Upcoming Event: ASHP at the OAH

On April 9, 2010, at the Organization of American Historians annual conference in Washington, D.C., ASHP/CML’s Teaching American History Programs Project Director Ellen Noonan will participate in a roundtable discussion on “Putting Pedagogy into Digital Archives: Making Online Collections Useful for K-12 Teachers and Students. William J. Tally of the Center for Children and Technology will moderate the discussion, joined by panelists Kathleen Barker of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Stacia Smith of Paxton Center School.

New Media Lab Co-sponsors Conference: The Digital University: Power Relations, Publishing, Authority and Community in the 21st Century Academy

The City University of New York’s Digital Media Studies Group, in collaboration with the Center for the Humanities and the New Media Lab, has organized an all-day conference on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, at the CUNY Graduate Center. Bringing together an invited group of media practitioners, academic publishers, digital content developers, and academics, the conference will assess the impact of digital media on academic work and academic policy. The conference will include a series of workshops, round table discussions, and panels at which participants will discuss and debate a broad range of issues related to the main conference themes: the impact of digital technology on academic instruction and research; the transformative impact of digital media on traditional forms of publishing, including academic monographs, textbooks, and academic journals; tenure and promotion in an era of digital scholarship; and collaborative research relationships within and across academic institutions and national boundaries. Demonstrations of diverse digital media projects, developed by faculty and doctoral students, will be offered throughout the day.

The conference will culminate in an evening public keynote address by cultural historian and media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan, associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia. Prof. Vaidhyanathan is the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (2001) and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System (2004). We anticipate streaming the conference panels and keynote on the Internet, both to preserve a record of the proceedings and also to make them accessible to people unable to attend in person.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

The career of Howard Zinn took him from the Brooklyn shipyards to New York University on the G.I. Bill to a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University and then to the faculties of Spelman College and Boston University, where he urged his students to social activism and mightily irritated university administrators. He published A People’s History of the United States in 1980, a single volume that told a very different story of U.S. history than traditional textbooks did at the time. If the broad strokes and unabashed romanticization of working-class struggle that characterize A People’s History make some historians wince (ASHP’s own Who Built America? textbook, for example, deliberately offers a more warts-and-all telling of similar stories), the book has been hugely influential in bringing social history to people who felt the subject had little to do with their lives and experiences. Zinn was a trailblazer who opened doors for many readers, prompting them to critically engage with the past, and in that spirit we honor his work.