Teaching American History with a Global View

The U.S Department of Education’s Teaching American History (TAH) grants specify that they are for “traditional American history,” however, all history undeniably takes place within a world context. To assess how the TAH grants incorporate the world, AHA staff surveyed the winning grant applications and found the rest of the world appeared in one in five award recipients from 2001 to 2007.

By reviewing the abstracts of grants from 2000 to 2007, one can get a sense of the many different ways TAH grant recipients are approaching the subject of “America and the World”.

Many grant abstracts planned to look at the emergence, establishment, and development of America as a world power, while others had more specific themes. In an application submitted in 2002, West Virginia’s Regional Education Services Agency I intended to look at “America and the world before and after 9/11,” while Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish School System was set to examine the “U.S. in a Global, Technological Age,” in 2004. In 2003, the Throp school district of Washington addressed “interactions within our borders and throughout the world (1945-2005).”  United States foreign policy and international relations was an often-repeated theme that schools in New York, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Texas, California, Florida, Oregon, and Virginia all explored.

As the figure below indicates, the number of applications that include world history fell sharply in the last couple of years.

Teaching American History Grants in a Global Context

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  1. Kelly Woestman

    This is a good analysis of grant ABSTRACTS but not actual grant content as implemented. A full evaluation of contextualizing American history “with a global view” would require analyzing actual program content throughout the life of the grant. In some cases, “global context” is not separated out but, instead, integrated throughout the grant’s topic coverage as a regular part of studying the spectrum of US history withOUT being highlighted either in the grant title or the abstract.

    Furthermore, the emphasis on traditional as expressed in the RFPs has varied over the life of the grant and has not been an focal point in several years. Grant writers adjust accordingly.

    Also note that the originating legislation indicates that American history must be taught as a “separate discipline”. Ultimately, meeting the needs of the LEAs that serve as the fiscal agents is one of the primary determinants of the historical content of grant applications. Until prominent historians consider working with K-12 history teachers more closely, there will be much knowledge and expertise lost in the chasm between. We are making headway in large part due to the TAH program but this is a long-distance marathon and not a short sprint.

  2. Robert Brown

    I agree with Kelly’s analysis of this entry. I do however have an exception. The underlying intent is to state that TAH grants are not doing enough America in a global context and that in some way this is incorrect. Perhaps in the halls of academia this is the perception, but on the ground in US and American history classrooms it doesnt necessarily hold up. The concerted effort of this grant program is to increase teacher content knowledge and thereby improve student achievement in traditional American history. It is not an academic laboratory in which to change the very nature of what is American history and how it should be integrated into the global perspectivel. While I agree with the premise that you cannot teach American history in a vacuum, you also should not water it down.

    This argument seems to parallel the whole social history movement and its squabbles and quarrels. The end result of that (at least on the K-12 end) is that students need balance in their history and that teachers need balance in their preparation.The pendulum in education has a tendency to swing wildly from one point of view to another with the shifting sands of time. With TAH grants being in many cases the sole content oriented staff development that many history teachers will ever receive, I would hope that we would not let the current movement to globalize American history distort these projects at the expense of more traditional approaches to American history.

  3. Don Stewart

    As a project director of a TAH grant, I am glad to see this discussion, and I would love to see further analyses of TAH grants from groups like the AHA. Jesse Pierce argues that these “traditional” American history grant projects are somehow missing the boat since they do not show enough of “the world” in their abstracts. I think Kelly is right to note that analyzing abstracts of TAH grants can only yield limited information.

    It might be useful to see the USDE’s definition of “traditional American history” and to realize that there is no mention, for better or worse, of “the world” here at all: “The term traditional American history includes the significant issues, episodes, and turning points in the history of the United States. It includes how the words and deeds of individuals have determined the course of our Nation and how the principles of freedom and democracy articulated in the founding documents of this Nation have shaped America’s struggles and achievements and its social, political, and legal institutions and relations.” The definition quoted above can be found on question 3 on the FAQ page for the TAH program (http://www.ed.gov/programs/teachinghistory/faqgeneral.html).

    A more telling analysis would question some aspect of how TAH grants are increasing teacher (and student) knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of American history. What are teachers learning exactly, and how does this translate into the classroom? I think the goal of promoting the teaching of American history as a separate subject is one of our biggest challenges. I agree with Robert that teachers have few opportunities to find content-rich, history-oriented staff development and that TAH grants are attempting to fill this need. It can be startling to see so many talented and dedicated teachers that simply lack basic content knowledge. At the same time, I am not sure if the movement to “globalize” American history instruction is contradictory to the goals of the TAH program. I think the most effective TAH grants are those that give teachers a better understanding of the discipline of history, those that help teachers and students “think historically” (and less “social studiesly”, so to speak), and those that allow teachers to dig deep into historical sources (whether primary or secondary) to better appreciate the rich complexities of the American past.

  4. Marc Cooper

    In contrast to the AHA’s examination of abstracts, the SRI International, TAH Project Director Survey, which looked at programs funded in the early years of Teaching American History, indicated that 58% of programs address the NAEP theme of “the changing role of America in the World.”

  5. Larry Cebula

    You big dummies!

    The abstracts of TAH proposals are not at all like the abstracts in an academic journal. In fact, they are not true abstracts at all. Rather they are teasers to get the people who score the grants interested enough to turn the page and hopefully give you a score that will get your proposal funded. These abstracts most closely resemble the blurbs on the backs of paperback books.

    You need to understand a text before you can analyze it.

  6. Robert B. Townsend

    I am a bit puzzled about why some of the commentators seem to want to debate our methodology rather than the subjects raised. I thought the information we used was clearly stated, and we made no grand judgments about what we saw there. It was merely raised as a point of interest, with encouragement to further exploration of the issues.

    While I encourage vigorous debate on this site, I will not allow ad hominem attacks on members of my staff in the future.

  7. Stuart Hobbs

    A significant influence on TAH content that has not been mentioned is state standards. Most states have them, and certainly here in Ohio, for my projects, we emphasize the connections between our seminar content and the standards. We have to make these connections in order to get administrative support from school districts and teacher participation.

    The Ohio standards are pretty wide ranging, but they do reflect an older interpretation of American history. The world comes in during the period of discovery and coloninzation. These standard do a pretty good job of presenting early American history in a global context. After that, the world fades away, only to return again during the twentieth century, almost exclusivley in the context of diplomatic and military history. The non-US history standards in Ohio are actually somewhat better at presenting a global view in terms of comparison and contrast between different cultures and events and the inter-relations between them. Unfortunately, there is not a federal grant program for world history—though there really ought to be a TWH as well as TAH.

    Stuart Hobbbs
    Ohio State University

  8. Elise Fillpot

    I understand the editor’s resentment of the term “dummies”. I do not understand his puzzlement over the comments that address the disconnect between the Pierce article’s methodology and purpose. Historians always consider and critique one another’s methodology; otherwise, how do we determine the validity of conclusions drawn, or accurately engage in dialogue about the significance of those conclusions?

    Let’s consider the statement at the heart of the article in question here: “To assess how the TAH grants incorporate the world, AHA staff surveyed the winning grant applications and found the rest of the world appeared in one in five award recipients from 2001 to 2007.” This statement does not state an intent, for example, “to assess how TAH abstracts incorporate the world.” It states the intent to assess how the grants themselves incorporate the world. If we accept the article’s graphed conclusions uncritically and use them as our baseline for a collective discussion about TAH projects’ incorporation (or lack thereof) of U.S. history in global context, then the whole discussion will be skewed and essentially for naught. For without knowing to what extent TAH grants actually DO incorporate teacher explorations of U.S. history in global context, what is it we are discussing?

    Respectfully submitted,

  9. Kevin T. Brady

    We partner with forty LEA’s on Liberty Fellowships and over 25 other LEAs on other type TAH programs. In the programs, foreign policy and world affairs are treated as just as much a part of traditional American History, as is domestic American history. Along with a focused study of domestic American history, the AIHE Liberty Fellowships include a strong investigation of the United States in relationship with the rest of the world, starting with its colonial beginning and European roots. The examination continues with America’s participation in world commerce, the push-pull factors of foreign immigration, through the nation’s development into a world power. There is a special emphasis on America’s role in the world during the 20th and 21st centuries. Teachers look to contrast the American liberal democracy with autocratic nations like Imperial Germany and Russia, with the Fascists and Nazis, and then with the Soviets and other communist nations. Teachers study the Cold War and the present War on Terror with historians, former CIA agents, and scholars personally involved with current affairs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Mideast. They also study the issues surrounding global commerce and trade; nonetheless, they do not neglect their study of domestic issues and events. Consequently, teachers discern the tremendous influence that foreign policy had on domestic American history.

    AIHE partners with a high number of school districts in Liberty Fellowships concentrated in some of those states mentioned in the initial article. The study of foreign policy events and issues was mentioned in many of the abstracts. Over the past two years we had submitted four TAH applications that explicitly focused on the history of America’s role in the world. Unfortunately, they did not get funded. The proposals highlighted the history of U.S. foreign policy as part of traditional American History and tightly followed the RFP. The LEAs had conducted needs assessment through an independent evaluator and had determined that their American History teachers’ greatest deficiencies were in the realm of U.S. foreign policy and America’s historic role in the world. In the proposal, LEAs did not ignore domestic history, but the reviewers believed that the RFP placed a much higher priority on domestic American history, than the proposals had. If we want TAH grants to give a greater emphasis on America’s historic role in the world, the DOE will probably have to spell that out in the RFP and also point out to reviewers that an investigation into the history of U.S. foreign policy is part of traditional American History.

  10. dennis lubeck

    I am involved in several grants in Missouri. All these grants have some content, including the world wars and cold war integrrated into themes related to the expansion of democracy, the impact of war on democracy at home, the impact of democracy on civil liberties, etc

    I agree with those that a review of abstracts will not give the full picture of the content of the grants.

    Some of the grants involve topics such as war of 1812, the Mexican War,etc

    While I am most familiar with the grants in Missouri and a few in Kansas, I think the study by AHA is a bit misleading and based on limited information.

    Ok, it is true that few grants use America and the world as the centerpiece. This is true, but the guidelines do not prevent the inclusion of the U.S. in the World in a context that also includes domestic history.

    Dennis Lubeck
    Perspectives on Democracy from 1776- to 9-11.

  11. Robert B. Townsend

    Sorry, I should have limited my objections to the tone of the critiques and not their substance. Within the limits of the staffing we had for such research, I thought Jesse’s survey seemed interesting and useful enough to merit a blog posting. But if you know of more substantive research in this area, I would appreciate any links or citations. And if members of the profession would like to see us do further research in this area, and have suggestions about how it could be conducted, we certainly welcome that discussion.

  12. Larry Cebula

    Robert, I apologize for “dummies” which was meant as a light hearted tweak. I am a frequent poster to the site. I was taken aback by the basic misunderstandings inherent in this analysis.

    There are a passel of historians deeply involved in the TAH initiative. Before posting an analysis of the program it might be good to run it past one of them. I am at your service.

  13. Edward Crowther

    Perhaps a specific example might contribute to this discussion regarding the link between U. S. and World. In the several grants that Rich Loosbrock and I have delivered, we’ve made the American Revolution a major component in response to teacher needs and to the legislation, as we understood it, that created TAH. Although local issues matter a great deal in understanding the era of the American Revolution, other content such as a proper understanding of England’s New Colonial Policy requires a detailed incorporation to the Great War for the Empire and the European struggle for balance of power. Similarly, the French Alliance of 1778 or the league of Armed Neutrality necessitate a trans-Atlantic perspective. I can imagine that some content and topics in U. S. History may lack much of a link to the larger world, but even a discussion of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation might invite a comparison to Riefenstah’s “Triumph des Willens.” Hence, I’d underscore Kelly Woestman’s point that coding the abstracts based on the presence or absence of particular wordings (e. g.: The U. S. and the Rise to Globalism) undercounts the content driven links between U. S. history topics and the world as a whole.

  14. Jack Bareilles

    As a four-time TAH grant director in California and writer and/or evaluator of about ten more funded grants nationwide I want to support the contention of a number of people posting comments that support the idea that many TAH grants study America in the world context. While not all the grants I am involved with go to the level of our fourth grant which focuses on the history of American Foreign Policy and Diplomatic History, all the grants I’ve worked with do integrate the America and the world to some extent.

    For instance, those grants which focus on colonial history are inherently studying a broader context than just “American” history—whatever that really means. At the other end of the chronological spectrum, think of a program working with high school teachers who are studying the Cold War. What could be a better example of teaching about the US in the greater global context than that?

    You can even look at the interactions between the US government and its predecessors with the sovereign American Indian nations as another example of America in the world.

    Just off the top of my head here are a few of the texts our teachers have read and studied over the past few years:

    Tecumseh (I forget the author)

    A Short Offhand Killing Affair by Paul Foos (about the Mexican American War)

    Erin’s Daughters about the Irish Potato Famine and the migration to America.

    The Prize by Daniel Yergin (about the Oil industry)

    One Hell Of A Gamble by Fursenko and Naftali (about the Cuban Missile Crisis)

    The Conquerors by Michael Beschloss (about the end of World War II)

    Charlie Wilson’s War by Crile (years before the movie—I will add)

    Another very important factor, as mentioned above, is state standards. These can be either an entry point into studying American history in a more global context or a limiting factor. It really depends on the TAH director and lead historians.

    One thing that would shed more light on this subject is a review of texts studied by the various TAH programs. This should clearly indicate what the various grants are studying—though I realize this would be a huge undertaking.

    Jack Bareilles

  15. Lucinda Evans

    I read the brief article by Jesse Pierce at the request of my grant director. I am a classroom teacher. I teach 8th grade US History in Kansas and can’t do it without at least some basic knowledge of world history. This is the second Teaching American History grant I have been a part of and both of my grants have included instruction involving world history. I would love to see the TAH grants addressing world history as it collides with American History. I have been a presenter/ master teacher at over a dozen grants nationwide and there are always world history teachers involved in the grant. The TAH grants are the savior of history instruction for this country in our current NCLB environment. My students who are 8th graders are just beginning learners in the area of history instruction. Teachers of secondary students need the content instruction so they can flow easily between topics like the freeing of the slaves in this country and the freeing of the serfs in Russia in 1861. If my students are to become critical thinkers they need to be presented with information that elicits questions from them. World history crossroads in American History can create these paths for inquiring learners. The TAH grants mentioned by Jesse Pierce have references to world history-that is just the tip of the iceburg. The instruction in both world and American history do occur throughout the term of the grant. In my grant we have had several days on Middle Eastern history and culture. What I learned on those days came right back into my classroom the next day with my 19th century lessons. I have learned many things through my TAH grants that I may never use in my classroom-does this mean I don’t want to learn it? No, I am a professional teacher of history and my knowledge of history will never be complete or satisfied-be it world or American history.

  16. David Gerwin

    I teach at Queens College/CUNY, where we have been involved in a number of TAH grants with various NYC schools. Our partners have included the New-York Historical Society and the American Social History Project.

    I was on a panel about grant evaluation at a the recent TAH mini-conference sponsored by OAH and H-NET. In that spirit I’m glad that AHA is involved not just in supporting the appropriation, and giving an award to Senator Byrd, but in thinking about the big picture of the program. I’d be interested in a working group of AHA members involved in the grants, maybe organized through the teaching committee. We could at least brief relevant AHA staff about our experience with the grants and what questions might be worth thinking about. It would be useful because each grant contains its own evaluation, but the expertise of the many AHA members involved in grants cuts across many different projects. There is a federally funded effort to do this, but I think the support of all the professional organizations is helpful.

    I want to echo the comments of other people who have posted. The abstract that I wrote for our first application, in the first round, didn’t make any mention of “in the world” but we still looked at pinkster and Dutch/African cultural connections to understand life and traditions in colonial/revolutionary New York. We also learned about European armies and about sailor culture in understanding the Golden Hill riot in NY and other aspects of the American Revolution.

    In a current grant our abstract talks about Jamestown, but reading Edmund Morgan and Ira Berlin requires thinking about England and the problem of landless poor laborers and of the “canoe culture” of the European slave trading citadels in Africa. High school students in a summer institute working with teachers raised questions about why African labor was cheaper than importing indentured servants, and quickly everyone’s knowledge of shipping prices, the cost of purchasing and transporting Africans, the monthly wage in England in 1607, and all manner of other worldwide questions.

    Looking at abstracts has performed the valuable conversation of starting this conversation. I hope that we can continue it.

  17. Nathan McAlister

    For my part, adding any substance to this discussion would be a bit like blowing into a balloon that has already been blown up. With that said here is my additional puff of air that may or may not burst the blog. It is true that TAH grants are by their very nature centered on American and not World/Global History. However, as many of the participants have stated in a variety of fashions, world history should, if it is not already, built into much of the content of TAH grants. To teach and learn American History in a vacuum is to learn a limited version of American History. As a classroom teacher I find it nearly impossible to teach American History without some discussion of Americas place in the world. And this discussion does not and cannot happen only when it is convenient, but must happen when there is no obvious connection. As a participant in a few TAH grants I find that, the discussion of connection between World and American History is happening on many differing levels and in conjunction with state standards, not because they want to but because they must. Yes, it is true that on the surface TAH grants seem to only fringe World History and perhaps this is as it should be after all they are Teach AMERICAN History grants.