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Women's History: A Quick Cyberguide

by Arnold Pulda
Liaison for Gifted & Talented student programs
Worcester, Massachusetts

Integrating Women's History
As AP teachers, time and coverage are our twin masters. While we must cover the field from beginning to end, we also must choose places where we can pause and take the clock off the wall in order to research and investigate. We assign projects for students to research in depth, and suggest topics for them. In AP U.S. History, we may not have, say, two weeks to focus exclusively on women's history, but we do have 40 weeks to make sure that students take notice of the threads that make up the entire strand as we progress along its length, and to pay attention when that thread is more or less prominent in the whole, and why.

So what I do, as most teachers do, is integrate the subject of women's history into the broad outlook over the entire survey of chronology, people, places, themes, and events. As teachers we introduce the things that we consider important: high among those items, for me, is women as a group, as a separate entity, acting on their own in their role as and for women, as well as in other roles as people, and workers, politicians, reformers, advocates, soldiers, businesspeople, and so on. As we move into and through that survey, we take careful note of the people and actions that caused things to happen, and we ask who and why -- and we find, quite often, that women were involved. When we notice the thread that we recognize as women's history somehow stands out from the others, then we want to find some resources that will inform us about that subject with clarity and depth: things that are written by women, and about women specifically; information about the thread that students can assimilate and then themselves weave back into the whole. And a good place for students to find that information is on the Internet.

Using the Internet
I use the Internet extensively for subject coverage as well as project assignments, just as many teachers do, and I will discuss the sites that I have found most useful. I don't have to tell you that the Internet is about abundance rather than scarcity. We think that there are 3 billion sites out there, and perhaps thousands devoted to various aspects of women's history. But here we will do what most experienced users of Internet resources (including me) do: ignore the vast majority of them. So, rather than providing an unannotated list of sites on women's history, I will point out those that are simply the best ones out there, and affirm the fact that one of the reasons that they are so good is that each of them also links to many other sites of high quality that are relevant to their own subject matter. So here's the drill: start at these sites, and make sure to explore the links at each for additional information.

Whenever I plan a lesson or start to look for good online resources, I go to a very short list of sites that I use over and over again. These include the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, PBS, the Encyclopedia Britannica, History Matters, the Avalon Project, and various university .edu sites that are known to have outstanding collections of online courses, essays, and documents. I am hardly ever disappointed by this method, which saves me lots of time and frustration. These "old reliables" also lead me, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, to many other of the best quality resources in all types of media, so, if I wish, I can follow links and bibliographies as far afield as I want to go. Usually, that is not too far, since there is always such good stuff, and plenty of it, right there in my half-dozen or so trusted sites.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online
Do not underestimate this site because you remember your intimidating EB of old, the one your mother bought for you, sitting untouched and static in the bookshelves now groaning from the weight of all those volumes bound in fancy red leather. This EB online is different: it takes advantage of multiple media, it is lively and engaging, and the scholarship is fresh and solid. So point your students to this site as one that they can consult all year long, when they want to investigate how women acted or were affected by events of many varieties at any time or place, since EB's coverage of women's history is both broad and deep. It is full of good essays, links to other resources both online and otherwise, it is organized nicely chronologically and by theme, it includes dozens and dozens of good one-page biographies of many women from Berenice Abbott to Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (these are also organized thematically and by state of birth), and is very pleasing to the eye. This site also includes files in several media: primary documents, recordings of music, interviews and speeches, photographs, and anything else that goes on the Web. The material in the Media Gallery will knock your students' eyes out and their ears off. There is also an excellent Teachers' Guide, where you will find six terrific activities (not lesson plans) that focus on different aspects of women's history.

Though it focuses on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, another site that gives a broad overview of the people and issues in women's history is PBS. This is a wonderful site, exactly what you would expect from PBS. It includes perceptive articles and essays, primary sources, links to online resources and others in many media, and excellent lesson plans ready to go. I especially like this last feature: a Web site with carefully written and well-designed teacher- and student-friendly lesson plans built in is simply more valuable. As with any such resource, I usually customize the lesson plan for the needs of my students -- but PBS's lesson plans are good, and don't need much adjustment.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775-1940
Next, go to Tom Dublin and Katherine Kish Sklar's Web site at SUNY-Binghamton. You'll find 20 lesson plans and over 100 lesson ideas in the Teacher's Corner. These are categorized by U.S. Survey to 1877, U.S. Survey from 1865, and U.S. Women's History, and are excellent activities. I usually recoil from any online lesson plan that says, "Now divide the class in half and stage a debate on the issue of...", but unit three on the site, "Women and Men in the Freedmen's Aid Movement," calling for a class debate, is so well framed and explained that I would not hesitate to use it. These lesson plans are nicely grouped, too, following themes and time periods well. The lesson plans are based on primary sources carried at the site; there are about 650 of these, and you can search for them by keyword, chronology, or subject. At the core of this site are 31 student-created projects, which are themselves based on some of the 650 documents onsite. Scan through these and, the next time that a student asks you for a suggestion for a topic for a project, send her to Women and Social Movements.

Don't miss H-Net. All teachers and students really interested in women's history should familiarize themselves with the profuse resources there: bibliographies, links to other sites, book reviews, course syllabi, and so on. And you can sign up to join H-women, an online discussion group among scholars and students devoted to women's history.

General Resource Guides
A couple of other sites are excellent guides to the resources available on the Internet on every aspect of women's history. Two related ones come from Middle Tennessee State University: American Women's History: A Research Guide and American Women's History: A Research Guide: Digital Collections of Primary Sources. Students researching any person or theme or activity in women's history will find online resources there. Another comprehensive research guide to Internet information on the subject is the Five College Archives Digital Access Project. This project encompasses 54 online collections, comprising over 38,000 items. Included among the collections are letters, photographs, articles, oral histories, diaries, and more. And finally, use the index at Academic Info: American Women's History. If students can't find what they are looking for at these four sites, then it doesn't exist.

In-Depth Topics
Students who want to study more narrow subjects within the field of women's history won't be disappointed, either. A handful of site are listed below in "See also" that I find very valuable.

Document-Based Web Sites
I ask my students to scrutinize primary sources often. Especially in the AP course, it is important for students to develop the skills in posing and answering document-based questions, or DBQs. Document collections that focus on women's history can be found at many of the sites listed below in "See also."

There is more than one way to integrate women's history into the U.S. History survey, but this is my way: the online way. It has worked well for my students, and I believe that it does full justice to an important subject that no teacher can leave out of the survey course.

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