Many of us adult educators are familiar with Howard Zinn, the revolutionary historian who wrote “A People’s History of the United States,” and “A Young People’s History of the United States.” If you are a teacher who has enjoyed using excerpts from Zinn’s books in class, you will love this website, with lots of free teaching materials on history that will be engaging and accessible to students.
One of the key understandings of a historian is that history is made up of multiple perspectives. The materials collected on this site are a wonderful counterpoint to the supposedly “objective” accounts of history given in many textbooks. The teaching activities here often focus on case histories of lesser known events that show students history is not just the “official” version, and that promote questioning and critical thinking. A good example is Constitution Role Play: “Whose More Perfect Union”? and The Constitutional Convention: Who Really Won? In this activity, the Constitutional Convention is re-enacted by students, but also re-imagined. Not only the Framers are included, but also poor farmers and enslaved Africans. Issues faced at the Convention are re-introduced and debated.
Besides a rich collection of teaching activities sortable by theme, time period, and reading level, the site includes free texts. Two of my favorites are Colonialism in the Americas: A Critical Look and Colonialism in Asia: A Critical Look, two graphic books that teach sophisticated concepts through very accessible pictures and captions. These two texts were a hit with my students when I used excerpts in the classroom. In addition to being funny, they help students think critically about the legacies of colonialism and imperialism and how these “isms” still affect us now. Imperialism can be really hard to teach, which makes these materials that much more useful, since they are so engaging to read.
On the site, teaching materials come in the form of articles, audio, books, songs and poems, teaching activities and teaching guides. Besides the teaching activities and free books, one of my favorite resources are the audio clips, playable right from the site, in which contemporary actors read excerpts from important primary source documents that students might not otherwise find accessible. Studying the Anti-Slavery Movement? Why not have students listen to the clip in which Danny Glover reads an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ speech “What is the Fourth of July to a Slave?” If you are helping students learn about Reconstruction, a great audio clip is Danny Glover reading part of a speech by Henry McNeal Turner, an African American member of the U.S. Congress who was forced to resign when the reforms of Reconstruction failed and African Americans were barred from office after a brief period of equal rights. This speech would be a real struggle for students to understand in written form, but when they hear it spoken by an actor, the words and ideas come alive. Finally, listen to Glover read Langston Hughes’ “Ballad of Roosevelt,” in which the poet Hughes highlights the lack of help given to African Americans by the U.S. government during the Great Depression.
I recommend you visit this site. I think you’ll return again and again.