"The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)" in "The Constitution Community". National Archives and Records Administration.
Reviewed by Michael D. Innis-Jiménez
Published on H-Survey (June, 1999)
This is a web site with an assortment of lessons and activities centered on reproducible images of historical documents. "The Constitution Community," a part of the "Digital Classroom" created by education specialists from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in cooperation with classroom teachers, is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Government Information Technology Services Board (GTISB). The section under review, "The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)," can be found by going to the "Constitution Community" main page at http://www.nara.gov/education/cc. This main page consists of eight sections arranged by historical era. Of these, four sections are finished, and the rest are currently under development. The completed sections, in addition to the focus of this review, are "Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820)," "Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)" and "Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)." <p> The section that focuses on the industrialization of the United States consists of five units, which are all individually linked to the main page. The five units are "Alexander Graham Bell's Patent for the Telephone and Thomas Edison's Patent for the Electric Lamp" by Jan Brodsky Schur of Village Community School in New York City, "Maps of Indian Territory, the Dawes Act, and Will Rogers' Enrollment Case File" by Kerry C. Kelly of Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, "Petition Signed by Thomas A. Edison for Sunday Openings at the World's Colombian Exposition" by Linda Simmons of Northern Virginia Community College, "Affidavit and Flyers from the Chinese Boycott Case" by Mary Frances Greene of Marie Murphy School in Wilmette, Illinois and "Photographs of Lewis Hine: Documentation of Child Labor" by Linda Darus Clark of Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio. <p> Each author introduces their unit by explaining what they consider to be the document's constitutional connection and outlines the unit's correlation with the National History Standards and the National Standards for Civics and Government. They then include a historical summary followed by teaching activities. The constitutional connection of these documents provides insight as to how these units relate to one another, but not on why they were chosen. Citing the specific article, section, and clause of the Constitution, some of the connections are extremely narrow while others are vague. The first unit, on Bell and Edison's patents, gives the connection as relating "to the power of Congress to pass laws related to the granting of patents (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8)." The others cite the powers granted to Congress to make laws, to regulate naturalization, or cite First Amendment rights. Missing in each introduction is an explanation of why, or under what criteria, were each of these documents chosen to represent the development of industry within the United States. The answer is not clear. <p> One unit, "Maps of Indian Territory, The Dawes Act, and Will Rogers' Enrollment Case File," does not seem to belong in this section. Its constitutional connection is stated as relating to the power of Congress to make laws, and the documents focus predominantly on issues related to U.S. Westward expansion and policies towards American Indians. A direct correlation to industry is hard to find. The only direct relationship between this unit and the section is chronological. Does it belong in this section because the Dawes Act became law and the maps were created between 1870 and 1900? If so, the section should be properly titled. At the same time, the Lewis Hine photographs, subject of the last unit, were all taken between 1908-1909, which outside the chronological timeframe given in the section's title. <p> Each unit contains historical summaries related to the document. These differ in length, style, and quality. The first unit, "Alexander Graham Bell's Patent for the Telephone and Thomas Edison's Patent for the Electric Lamp," is written in an authoritative, simple style which seems appropriate for grade school students. In explaining the invention of the light bulb, the author writes, "Before the invention of the electric light bulb, homes were lit by candle, kerosene-oil lamp, or gaslight. All flickered, were fire hazards, and emitted smoke and heat." This summary is too simple for secondary or college students. It is unclear if the author intended to have the summary reproduced verbatim for student use or to serve as a guide for teachers. This historical summary includes a paragraph on Bell, two on Edison, and five on the growth of corporations in the United States, but is missing any explanation on how and why patents exist. There is no elucidation whatsoever on the process of earning a patent or on the rights and privileges associated with owning one. <p> The summary for the section that focuses on the Dawes Act is much more substantive. Kerry C. Kelly explains how federal Indian policy changed during the time period in question, 1870-1900. The summary contains a good explanation of the Dawes Act, but is heavy on policy and does not argue the act's fairness. Kelley states that "Very sincere individuals" believed that assimilation was the only way to get rid of the "[N]ecessity for the government to oversee Indian welfare in the paternalistic way it had been obligated to do...." While assigning innocent motives, Kelly fails to include American Indian reaction or viewpoints. Overall, the summary contains a good explanation of federal policy but can be greatly enriched by giving American Indians a voice in the article. <p> The third unit, "Petition Signed by Thomas A. Edison for Sunday Openings at the World's Colombian Exposition," gives an excellent summary of the exposition and the controversy surrounding the "Puritan blue laws," which is the target of the petition signed by Edison. Linda Simmons, the author, takes us deeper into controversies of the exposition. She includes a great summary on how women fought for inclusion, recognition, and the right to exhibit while including how race and class became part of the debate. Simmons describes the effort by Ida B. Wells to include black women in the exposition. While the World's Colombian Exposition has a clear connection to industrialization, Simmons ties the document into the Constitution through the First Amendment's protection of protest and speech, regardless of issue's controversiality. <p> Mary Frances Greene's historical summary of the Chinese Boycott Case is thorough and inclusive. She gives us a good look at the all-too-common immigrant experience in the United States. It is an experience of exploitation that is not limited to the workplace, but includes social and economic exploitation supported by the federal government. Greene outlines the legislation that affected every aspect of nineteenth-Century Chinese immigrant life, including bans on intermarriage, segregated schools, punitive taxes, and limitations on the ability of Chinese to testify in court. Her article is well balanced, with an interpretation of why the vast majority of the non-immigrant public favored boycotts and anti-immigrant legislation while explaining how Chinese merchants were able to look to the federal courts for protection. <p> Like Greene, Linda Darus Clark tackles a topic related to the exploitative nature of industrialization. Her topic is child labor, illustrated by the photographs of Lewis Hine. The reader gets a good historical summary of late nineteenth Century child labor. Clark focuses half of her summary on Hine, a schoolteacher, and his campaign to document and publicize the ways in which children were exploited in the industrial workplace. The clear and concise biography of the photographer gives added meaning to the importance of these pictures and gives a great example of how an individual can evoke change. <p> The heart of each unit is the teaching assignments, activities and projects that revolve around the primary documents. They range from individual and group photograph analysis of the Hine Collection to setting up a mock courtroom to retry the Chinese Boycott Case. These are the units' most valuable contribution. Although not clearly stated, these assignments appear to be designed for secondary level history courses, but can easily be adapted for use in the college classroom. These are creative individual and group activities that can keep college students interested and active while developing critical thinking skills. <p> By using these activities and documents as a launching pad, instructors can delve into the NARA Archival Informational Locator (NAIL) database that includes over 50,000 primary holdings. Will these sites replace primary document readers? Maybe. Do they make it easier and cheaper for teachers to introduce primary documents into all levels of coursework? Yes. Overall, this is a very good web-based resource that can be a useful asset to instructors at secondary and college levels.
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Michael D. Innis-Jiménez. Review of , "The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)" in "The Constitution Community".
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