Notes & Comments: Public History Partnerships through the Teaching American History Program

By: Gregory Wilson, University of Akron
Publication Director, Northeast Ohio Journal of History

Schools, colleges, universities, museums and other institutions across Northeast Ohio are building creative partnerships with one another through the federal government’s Teaching American History grant program. Begun in 2001 and funded through the Department of Education, each grant is for a three-year period. The goals of the national professional development program for elementary and secondary teachers are to improve the quality of American history instruction and generate student interest and performance in American history as a distinct subject within social studies. The Teaching American History grant program represents a major public history initiative across the country and Northeast Ohio has been well-represented within it, receiving 40 percent of the grants in Ohio. Since the program began, there have been 539 projects funded across the country. Of these, 20 have been in Ohio and the 8 projects in Northeast Ohio are highlighted below.

Under “Teaching American History: The Akron Plan,” teachers in Akron public schools are working with historians and educators from The University of Akron and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in an intensive content and pedagogical training experience focused on six core themes: The United States and the World: American Foreign Relations; The Constitution and the Meaning of American Freedom; Inventing America: Innovation, Technology and Economic Growth; The Peopling of America: Immigration and Migration; Social Change and Social Reform, and Akron’s Past: Local History in a National Context. The training will come through monthly seminars and summer institutes. Akron has also received a grant for a home-based charter school, the Alternative Education Academy, which is partnering with the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University to deliver professional development for teachers working with students in grades 7 through 12.

In the greater Cleveland area, there are four projects. Euclid Schools have been working on two projects, “An Academy for American History: Constructing the Region, Constructing the Nation” and most recently “Rivers, Roads, and Rails.” The “Academy” program uses local historical resources such as the Ohio and Erie Canal to illustrate nineteenth century industrialism. The project also involves site visits that illustrate the Great Migration, including a trip to South Carolina to research the heritage of African Americans now settled in Ohio. The Ohio and Erie Canal is also the foundation for the “Rivers, Roads, and Rails” project, which teams 28 Ohio school districts with Cleveland State University, Kenyon College, Case Western Reserve University, the Tuscarawas-Carroll-Harrison Educational Services Center, the Ohio and Erie National Heritage Canalway, and the National Park Service. The Canalway provides the framework for examining the relationship between people and places throughout American history. Meanwhile, the Cleveland school district’s “Making History: Cleveland as American History” examines migration and immigration to Cleveland by partnering with Kenyon College, WVIZ/IDEASTREAM (which is a public broadcasting program), AMISTAD America, the Ukrainian Museum and Archives, and the Spanish American Committee. Lorain City schools are working with the Ashboork Center at Ashland University in a series of intensive seminars and institutes.

Finally, there are two projects in the Youngstown area. “Expedition into Teaching American History” is a partnership among 14 school districts, Youngstown State University, and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. It uses History Alive! training activities combined with literature and American history content. The “Teaching American History” program adds the National Council for History Education and the Mahoning Valley Museum Collaborative to the partnership that also includes Youngstown State and teachers from Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell City, and Mahoning County schools. Topics for this project include Westward expansion, transportation and communication, the iron and steel industry, Industrial Revolution, immigration, African Americans and Civil Rights, educational and social reform, and role of the Mahoning Valley in war.

With the potential to reach some 1,000 teachers in the region and thousands of students in the K-12 public schools system, the Teaching American History program represents a unique opportunity for educators and historians working in a variety of settings to transform teaching and learning, and present scholarship in creative and innovative ways. Future funding for the program is in some doubt as of this writing, but hopefully it will continue to enrich historical inquiry and engagement across the nation and in Northeast Ohio for teachers, students, and historians. Go to to see all the abstracts and for more information on the program.