Commitment 4: Students as Historians

As a teacher and as a creator of online instructional resources, I want to transform students from passive recipients of knowledge into active learners who actually do history. Through the use of new technologies, I want to encourage students to become active investigators, detectives, and researchers who will learn how to dig up evidence, determine its value, analyze it, and present their findings in a clear, coherent, and compelling form.

On the Digital History website , I have created several new resources designed to transform students into historians:
  1. eXplorations: These are inquiry-based, interactive modules designed to give students the opportunity to do history: to conduct research, analyze primary sources, and draw their own conclusions. Seventy-two modules provide extensive primary sources on such topics as Mexican, Tejano, and Texian perspectives on the battle of the Alamo; Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to relocate Japanese Americans during World War II and the Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to escalate American involvement in the Vietnam War in 1964 and 1965; and children's perspectives on slavery, westward migration, and World War II.

    To view the eXplorations, click here:

  2. User-Created Online American History Exhibitions: Students and teachers can create multimedia presentation featuring historical images from our extensive database, which currently contains over 600 photographs, art works, and digitized letters. Users can easily incorporate their own text in their exhibitions. These presentations can be e-mailed, downloaded, or saved on our servers.

    To view the user-created exhibition home page, click here:

  3. Digital Storytelling: One way that students can demonstrate their understanding of a historical topic is to recount what they have learned in a digital story that they can screen for their classmates. Using a free software program, Microsoft's PhotoStory3, students create a two-to-five minute movie combining images, text, music, and narration. The software allows students to easily arrange their presentation, insert text, pan images, zoom in and out, and incorporate music and voice narration.

    For a Digital Story on the history of childhood, click here:

    For a Digital Story created for one of Professor Mintz's classes by University of Houston freshman Michael Ray on the My Lai Massacre, click here:

At the University of Houston, I have been at the forefront of efforts to revitalize the freshman experience through a series of thematic-oriented linked "quintets" that combine history, literature, intensive writing, technological literacy, and the fine arts, and which use the city of Houston as a learning laboratory.

So far, my colleagues and I have introduced three quintets. The first, "Coming to America, Coming to Houston," focused on the immigrant experience. Through literature and a host of first-person documents, students explore the human meaning of migration. To "localize" history, student conducted oral histories and produced websites presenting their findings. The student sites are online at the Coming to Houston website:

The second and third triads were called "Places in Time" and "Multicultural America." Freshmen built web pages, created PowerPoint presentations, developed digital stories, and analyzed paintings, sculpture, music, photography, architecture, and other works that illuminate creativity and inventiveness in the arts, literature, science, and technology in the United States since the late nineteenth century. The course syllabi can be found at:

Each week, students engaged in a "hands-on history" project. For example, when students study the Great Depression, they also read Hart Crane's poem "The Bridge," look at film clips from the era, and examine photography by Walker Evans and paintings by Joseph Stella. Instructors include specialists in history, literature, instructional technology, and an education director from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Samples of class resources are available at