Women’s history didn’t take a summer holiday! In July, we hosted American Women in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, a NEH Summer Institute for K-12 Educators. Thirty teachers from across the country braved heat-index warnings to spend three weeks at the New-York Historical Society learning about women in wartime.
Rethinking women’s participation in times of war
Drawing on the Early Encounters, 1492-1734 and forthcoming Settler Colonialism and Revolution, 1692-1783 (live online on November 5!) units of our Women & the American Story (WAMS) curriculum, as well as additional materials from the New-York Historical Society curriculum library, teachers combined hands-on activities with lectures from leading scholars in the field of women’s history to learn how to bring women’s voices and experiences into their teaching of the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Textbooks and curriculum standards about both wars often prioritize the experiences of men. Throughout the institute, teachers reframed this traditional narrative, thinking about war not as a male undertaking, but instead as something that both men and women participated in and were affected by.
During the institute, participants also brainstormed ways to help their students understand how race, class, and geography impacted women’s agency. One session had teachers compare life stories of women living in the early Republic and consider the societal expectations they faced. In comparing the lived experiences of women from different backgrounds, teachers came away with numerous resources to teach their students how social and economic factors intersected and informed women’s lives.
WAMS in practice
The work of our NEH teachers was a testament to what we’re trying to achieve with WAMS: bringing primary sources and contemporary scholarship into the classroom through engaging activities that spark curiosity and encourage critical thinking. As one teacher put it in their evaluation of the program:
“Not only will my co-workers benefit from what I have experienced and will take back, more importantly my students will benefit from my experience here. I feel so lucky and grateful to have been a part of this group and cohort!”
Because it’s rare to have teachers from across the country gathered in the same place, summer institutes are also chances to share teaching strategies amongst colleagues, and opportunities for us to better understand what teachers want and need out of educational materials like WAMS. Digging through the archives for stories of diverse women can be challenging work; input from teachers helps us hone in on where to direct our research and what to look for in special collections libraries.
Getting excited for the year ahead!
Over the course of the institute, we were reminded of the common ground that we all share as educators. While our NEH teachers came from a broad array of schools and taught different student populations, they were united in their dedication to expanding their students’ knowledge of women’s participation in 18th- and 19th-century America. At every turn they thought about their students first: What questions they would ask, how to help them see themselves reflected in the nation’s past, how to empower them to take lessons from history and apply them to the present. After wrapping up the Institute, we’re invigorated for the school year ahead and all of the WAMSing we’ll do.
Want to use materials from our NEH Institute in your classroom? Key an eye on our website where we’ll be posting lesson plans created by our 2019 cohort and on our workshop calendar where we’ll be posting information about professional development opportunities for Fall 2019. And mark your calendars for November 5, 2019, when the Settler Colonialism and the Revolution WAMS unit will be live on the WAMS site!
-Lee Boomer, Manager of Education Special Projects, New-York Historical Society