Using Digital Resources in the History Classroom

Using scholarly, on-line resources to facilitate class discussions and writing assignments can be a boon to history instruction. Such websites place a wide array of conveniently-formatted primary and well-considered secondary sources in students’ hands for free. Additionally, they serve as tools to help students become more discerning in their internet usage. Although there are many valid reasons to continue using more traditional printed resources, moving some assignments over to the internet is worth considering.

On a more practical level, well-formatted writing assignments based on internet sources can ease some of the most blatant issues of academic dishonesty. Most scholarly sites contain huge amounts of information, often more than undergraduates — especially freshmen and sophomores — are able to contend with. Well defined questions aimed at exploring limited sections of specific websites not only comfort inexperienced scholars, they also offer course leaders a great deal of source control. Plagiarized essays stand out even when finding their origins is difficult because they simply fail to include the assigned sources.

Some of the websites I have assigned include Jamestown Rediscovery; Geography of Slavery; Railroads and the Making of Modern America; Black Past.org; and Farm Workers in Washington State History Project. A number of these work both for Regional History courses and the US survey sequence. The exciting thing about all these sites is the huge number of interesting assignments that can be generated. I encourage scholars already using these resources to share them with our colleagues. Perhaps we can develop some sort of repository in the near future.

Kurt E. Kinbacher
Spokane Falls Community College

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One Response to Using Digital Resources in the History Classroom

  1. lworking says:

    I have used a number of these sites and am always excited to find new scholarly online primary source collections. Developing an online index is a good idea – a collection with vetted sites and a selection of assignment ideas would be ideal. There is always the issue that someone/some institution is going to have to commit to maintaining the site/index/blog, but there seems to be enough interest in such a repository that committing to something like this would be useful. There are scattered sources for site reviews (the AHA blog, digitalhistory.unl.edu, etc) and I know several academic bloggers that have written about favorite sources, but pulling these bits and pieces together someplace would be useful – particularly with the addition of teaching ideas/successful assignments.

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