September 08, 2008
By Elisabeth Grant
“We learn by doing,” Aristotle supposedly said. And this is a philosophy that the History Engine appears to embrace. This collaborative online project “gives students the opportunity to learn history by doing the work—researching, writing, and publishing—of a historian.”
The process starts in the undergraduate classroom (see a list of schools using the History Engine). Students are tasked with writing an “episode” about American history, pulling from at least one primary source, along with secondary sources. Then these episodes, after going through “a careful academic screening process,” make their way into the database that makes up the History Engine, to be accessed by historians, students, and researchers alike.
The site has three main parts (besides the “About” section). “Explore the Engine” allows visitors to search by keyword, tag, location, and more. The “For Teachers” section provides educators with detailed instructions on how to use this site in the classroom, sample assignments, and a host of other resources. And the “For Students” section helps students through the process of creating an episode.
Read biographies of historical figures, like actress and singer Alberta Hunter, learn the origins of the sorghum plant, discover the history of Arlington National Cemetery, or search on any number of other topics.
While episodes from the History Engine aren’t likely to turn up in the footnotes of scholarly papers any time soon, the History Engine does seem to be an excellent new way to engage students in history through the use of new technology.
For more information on the History Engine, see the Insider Higher Ed article from last Thursday: “The Little Engine that Can.”