Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Virginia Center for Digital History Help Secure $1M Teaching History Grant

September 28, 2007

Sept. 28, 2007 — Twenty-four teachers will begin a three-year historical journey as a result of a successful collaboration between the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Virginia Center for Digital History, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and four school divisions in southern Virginia. This program is one of only five in Virginia and 122 nationwide funded through the highly competitive Teaching American History initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, which received 288 applications this year.

"This great project brings together three of VFH’s most important areas of interest — local history, American history and teachers — and creates opportunities for local communities, museums and libraries to become involved with teachers and schools. The VFH is quite pleased to be part of it," said VFH president Robert Vaughan.

“As a statewide humanities organization, we realized that we needed to be doing more in this area of Virginia, which has faced economic decline and diminishing resources — a concept we call 'community building through the humanities.' Our role in the project was to develop the content, organize the proposal and provide leadership to the many groups and organizations involved. Our long record in teacher education and American history projects made the VFH a natural partner in this consortium,” he added.

Teacher-participants from all grade levels, called "American Origins Teaching Fellows," were chosen from Charlotte, Halifax and Pittsylvania counties and the city of Danville through an intensive application process. 

The Virginia Center for Digital History will design and create a virtual learning community that allows the teaching fellows to participate online with scholars, resources and materials.  Interactive technologies will allow the fellows to access, author and contribute work that addresses the connection between understanding the past and imparting this understanding to students.

“Our goal is to create a professional cohort of colleagues who will immerse themselves in the hands-on process of understanding history scholarship and history education,” said Andy Mink, director of education and outreach for VCDH, who will serve as the lead facilitator for the Teaching Fellows Program. “I am extremely excited to work with teachers to explore these best practices for their own professional growth and classroom practice.”

The Virginia Center for Digital History advances historical scholarship and facilitates active dialogue between scholars, researchers and educators in the digital age.

Teachers will be immersed in the wealth of history throughout the region, viewed across the span of American history. During the three-year grant cycle, these teaching fellows will interact extensively with well-known scholars in the field of American history and will visit regional historic sites; participate in teachers' institutes; create content, materials and teaching resources that can serve all teachers of history in the consortium region and beyond; and host the "American Origins Speakers Series," a series of programs open to the public.

The grant is designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of American history. Its purpose is to develop a sustainable professional development model to strengthen the teaching of, and improve student performance in, traditional American history by using local history to demonstrate episodes, issues and turning points. 

“This region is rich in the people, places and events of these episodes,” said Roberta Culbertson, the author of the grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. These sites include:  Red Hill Patrick Henry National Memorial, a courthouse built to plans provided by Thomas Jefferson, Revolutionary war battlegrounds traversed by Lord Cornwallis and General Greene, the complete records, letters and diaries of some of the upper South’s largest slave plantations, Civil War battlefields at Staunton River Bridge, the last capital of the Confederacy, and large collections of Civil Rights oral histories and news archives. 

“It is an honor to be chosen to participate in this program, and those teachers participating will receive wonderful opportunities to listen to and talk with famous authors, historians and nationally renowned scholars in their field to gain insight in specific areas,” said Amy Lammerts, associate director of program development for marketing and public relations at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. “Our ultimate goal is to generate excitement in local history of our region. Hopefully this enthusiasm will spread to students in the classroom and they will realize they have a place in the regional history and will become more vested in it. The teachers chosen to participate in this project already have a love for history and will be enriched through this program focusing on our local history.”

The VFH was created in 1974 to develop the civic, cultural and intellectual life of the commonwealth. From its inception, the VFH has remained steadfastly dedicated to bringing the humanities fully into Virginia’s public life, assisting individuals and communities in their efforts to understand the past, confront issues in the present and shape a desirable future.