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The web provides History instructors and students with a wealth of engaging virtual tours and online exhibits.  I integrate them into my American History and World History survey courses online.  Students generally like the web-based explorations. 


Students typically complete a virtual tour about their selected topic and then apply their new knowledge in a creative fashion such as writing a diary entry from the perspective of a person who lived through that event.


Students flourish with these assignments for several reasons.  Students have fun with the tours, especially when they can make choices about what happens to them next (like with the Salem Witch Trial tour).  Students spend time reading about aspects of a topic they find interesting and yet they can gloss over topics they find less intriguing.  When creating their written assignments, students identify with the personal perspective of the person they opted to be in that historical moment.  They also appreciate the opportunity to apply some creativity to a subject (History) they all-too-often think is just about memorizing boring dates and facts. Virtual tours offer an opportunity to help shed that misconception and make history interesting for the students. 


Here are some of my favorite virtual tours and web exhibits:


American History
Salem Witch Trials:

Lewis and Clark:

Oregon Trail:


World History

Ancient Egypt (The British Museum):

A Pictorial Tour of Persepolis:

The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame:


How do you use virtual tours and web exhibits?  What are your favorite web exhibit resources?  What are your students’ favorite resources?

Recently I attended a conference session where a moderator asked audience members to share suggestions for documentary films that have worked particularly well in humanities classes. The lively conversation that followed got me thinking about what I use and why. A cursory look through my syllabi reveals that I really like showing films. Truth be told, I have a difficult time limiting the amount of class time I allot to film viewing because there are so many fabulous documentaries available. A great story, told effectively through documentary film, can move even a quiet student to participate in discussion  This week I thought I would offer suggestions of films I use in my United States History to 1877 course in hopes that other history professors will share their favorites as well.


Slavery and the Making of America (PBS) This four-part series chronicles the history of slavery in the United States from seventeenth-century Dutch New Amsterdam until the era of Reconstruction. I introduce my students to slavery by showing Episode 1: The Downward Spiral early in the semester in conjunction with a discussion of the Atlantic slave trade during which we use primary sources from the web site The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. The film is particularly effective in helping the students to see the way in which the institution of slavery evolved over time and how regional concerns (weather, soil, crops, etc) influenced the characteristics of slavery in different parts of the colonies. Students are particularly struck by the story of John Punch and remember it long after we have moved on from discussing the colonial era.


We Shall Remain: America Through Native Eyes (PBS) is a five-part series that examines the history of the United States through the perspectives of people native to North America. Although each episode is lengthy (approximately 90 minutes) I have shown segments of the film with great success. In particular I use Episode 2: Tecumseh’s Vision to examine the grave challenges faced by native people in the wake of the American victory in the Revolutionary War. This film forces students to consider the consequences of the war for people on the frontier and to evaluate the condition of native tribes at the start of the nineteenth century. For an historian such as myself with no formal training in Native American history, the series is extremely valuable as a supplement to lectures and discussion.


African-American Lives (PBS)  This Henry Louis Gates, Jr., series originally aired in 2006 and was expanded in subsequent iterations. I like the 2006 episodes in particular because they demonstrate the historical process. In the episode Searching for Our Names students are introduced to the concepts of genealogical and archival research. They learn about “slave schedules” and the role that wills, marriage, birth and death records can play in helping us to recover history. Concrete examples of human beings as property are profoundly illustrated as the series’ subjects (Oprah Winfrey and astronaut Mae Jemison, among others) learn of their families’ direct connections to slavery.


I have show segments of many other documentary films in United States to 1877 but these are the three films that I feel add the greatest value to my teaching of the first-half of the survey. What are you showing your students? What has worked and why?





LaunchPad’s unique video assignment tool enhances my online teaching by facilitating student interaction with primary source archival video footage material. The video assignment tool is simple to use.  First, I embed a video and then create a social media-like discussion about the video.  Students respond to my prompts.  They may submit general comments at the beginning of the video.  They also have the option to stop the film and post a comment directly related to that point in the footage.  This feature is my favorite because students make poignant observations about particular arguments at that moment in the film.


Students earn full credit on the assignment if they submit the minimum number of replies stipulated in the assignment.  I appreciate that the auto-grading function saves me time.  I quickly review the student comments, ensure the posts are on-topic, and meet my length expectations. 


I use it twice in an online section of American History Since 1865.  One assignment asks students to compare and contrast an official U.S. government film about Japanese American internment with a website, which contains numerous primary sources about Camp Harmony.  The second assignment asks students to analyze Dr. King’s arguments in his speech “Why I Am Opposed To The Vietnam War”. 


Students tell me that they enjoy these assignments because of how the video assignment tools allows them to interact with the footage while also being able to read everyone else’s comments.  I enjoy this function because I am continuously amazed with their insightful observations.


How are you using the video assignment tool?  Are you willing to share any assignment directions?


Here are the directions for two assignments I mentioned above:  


  1. Japanese American Internment

Before you watch the video, first explore the Camp Harmony website exhibit about the experience of Japanese American internment.  Here is the link:


The Camp Harmony exhibit contains several primary source images and explanations of what life was like at Camp Harmony.


Then watch the 9-minute video based on government archival footage about Japanese American internment.

Japanese Relocation. Office of War Information – Bureau of Motion Pictures.


Post at least three separate comments comparing and contrasting what you see in the video with the information from the website.


 Length expectation: Each post should contain at least a full paragraph.


Please note your comments will look like social media postings so you can respond to each other as well as responding to the video.


You can also set the “time code” for where your comments apply.  For example, if you want to comment about a specific image shown 5 minutes in, you can adjust that.




  1. Dr. King’s “Why I Am Opposed To The War In Vietnam”

Watch this video of a famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King.  This video is almost 23 minutes long.  Post at least three comments to this video.  Each comment must be at least a full paragraph.  Consider critiquing his argument and supporting evidence.  Consider connecting his comments to evidence from the textbook.  Or just explain your own thoughts about the relevance and lasting importance of his message in this particular speech.

Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Why I Am Opposed To The War In Vietnam