The Importance of History in Understanding the Present

Whose History Matters

If you study anthropology, sociology, politics, art or science without understanding history you have no context. History defines meaning and understanding of what is happening around us today.

The most fundamental reason that history matters is that it teaches people about their place in time. People without a strong sense of their historical context live rootless lives, often with dire consequences.

Lesson Plans

Lesson plans, threaded discussions, ideas from other history teachers, tips for creating history syllabi, and annotated lists of Web sites are just some of the features of this site. Teachers in any grade can use the lesson plans, which focus on people who lived in American history.

Students in grades 3-5 analyze primary sources to discern Christopher Columbus’ intentions and their consequences for the lives of Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans. The lesson is designed for a classroom with diverse learners in mind.

This Jeopardy-type quiz game helps students in grades 5-12 test their knowledge of famous African American figures. The site includes multiple levels of difficulty and spelling counts. This resource is appropriate for ELA and social studies classes. Students can also play a video version of the quiz. The creator of this website originally created it in 2015 for an application to become a high school history teacher.

Digital Resources

The development of digital historical resources has opened new opportunities for teaching history and social studies. Until recently, students and teachers could access only those primary source documents and artifacts that were physically present in an archive. The ability to digitize and publish these documents on the World Wide Web allows individuals, families, schools, and communities to create their own historical archives without the substantial costs of developing physical archives and publishing them.

In addition, the structure of digital collections allows users to arrange them in ways that reflect their idiosyncratic characteristics. For example, a group of slave runaway ads might be arranged in a linear manner, but a collection of interviews might be arranged in a nonlinear fashion.

Numerous efforts have been made to substantiate the pedagogical worth of these new materials. Published accounts of classroom practices using Web-based historical resources generally report positive results. However, some educators are concerned that the wealth of available resources might overwhelm students and interfere with instruction.

Community Engagement

Community engagement is an approach to building relationships with citizens that seeks a meaningful exchange of perspectives and values for the purposes of making informed decisions about community affairs. It involves listening to the community, acknowledging its history and traumas, and fostering trust.

The approach to community engagement should take into account a community’s social networks, constraints, power structures, values and perceptions. It also requires a commitment to building and maintaining trust, and the use of a range of engagement tools and strategies that place a premium on establishing community connections.

The thick engagement process may include visioning sessions, forums, charettes, issues open houses, world cafes and other methods that fit the issue at hand and the goal of the engagement. The first step in planning for such an effort is identifying the people who need to be engaged and developing a strategy for connecting with them. It is essential that those responsible for the engagement work understand why their efforts are worthwhile – and be able to articulate this to those they are seeking to engage.


During the research week, teacher-candidates explore their community’s history and culture, creating place-based lessons using primary resources from Special Collections. The resulting lesson plans are published as open curriculum content online, helping educators meet TEKS social studies standards and build engagement with the RGV community.

Most teacher-candidates have never before conducted detailed local primary source research, so this component of the project is challenging. In addition, systemic collecting bias against certain communities and competition for archival resources creates obstacles that can limit the scope of research. For example, the archives of Rio Grande Valley native and author Gloria Anzaldua are held at institutions with greater name recognition than her own.

During classroom rehearsals, teacher-candidates practiced instructional scaffolding for text-based discussion, including marking (calling attention to ideas), turning back to students and the text, prompting, annotating, revoicing, and recapping. However, candidates struggled to connect their discussions to the lesson’s learning goal. They spent over a quarter of their utterances orienting students to the text and asking them to summarize information.

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