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Director's Message


Lesson Plans




Syllabus and Schedule




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Application Instructions


Calvin College


West Michigan


National Endowment for the Humanities




William Katerberg
Calvin College


Carol Higham
North Carolina

Robert Schoone-Jongen, Calvin College




















































































































































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NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, 2012

Director's Message

American Frontiers in Global Perspective
An NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers
June 24 through July 14, 2012

William Katerberg, Calvin College

Carol Higham, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Robert Schoone-Jongen, Calvin College


Dear Colleague,

I am delighted that you are interested in “American Frontiers in Global Perspective,” the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for school teachers that Carol Higham, Bob Schoone-Jongen, and I will direct at Calvin College from June 24 to July 14 in 2012. We are looking forward to welcoming 25 NEH Summer Scholars to Grand Rapids to explore the history of American frontiers and to compare them to similar settings in other parts of the Americas and around the world.

This letter includes an overview of the institute. I have tried to anticipate the important questions that you might have without overwhelming you with details. For more information, you can contact me at the addresses given below or go to the institute website and its links, which go into more detail about every aspect of the institute.


Scope of the Institute

The very word “frontier” calls out historical and mythic images for Americans and people globally. If you’re like me, this history has long been alive for you. I remember playing “cowboys and Indians” as a child and watching TV and movie Westerns on lazy Saturday afternoons. As a college student, I came to see the tension and conflict between myth and history. Cowboys seldom fought Indians. The greater dangers for cowboys were days and nights in the saddle, storms, stampedes, and the threat of accidents in riding at speed and in roping, wrestling, branding, and rescuing cattle. They were laborers, not warriors. The Indian wars of the nineteenth century culminated a long and ultimately tragic story for Native peoples in the U.S. and the Americas more widely. But knowing this, “Westerns” still delight me. Our goal is to work with you to make frontier histories exciting for your students, to help them understand the powerful romantic appeal of these stories and to get them to look closely at the irony and tragedy, and opportunities, dangers, and suffering, in them. “Cowboys and Indians” has been played innocently by generations of children, and yet it is not an innocent game.

Historian Patricia Limerick put it well, saying that in U.S. frontiers “heroism and villainy, virtue and vice, and nobility and shoddiness appear in roughly the same proportion as they do in any other subject of human history.” The comparative impulse and moral sensibility in her words animate this institute. The history is in itself important for students to learn. But it also offers opportunities for them to reflect as citizens on their nation’s history and its legacies. Likewise, U.S. frontiers beg questions about frontiers around the world. Canada, South Africa, and Australia had fevered gold rushes too. “Cowboys” and ranching frontiers shaped the Americas from Argentina to Canada. Migrant families from Europe settled the great plains in the U.S., the pampas of Argentina, and the prairies in Canada -- and the grasslands of southern Africa, Russia, New Zealand and Australia. Slaves worked on frontiers throughout the Americas, from the colonial era in the sixteenth century to the 1870s. The Indian wars in the U.S. crossed into Mexico and Canada. And children in Britain and Europe read heroic tales of battle between British and French soldiers and native peoples in Africa and Asia.

The American story is undoubtedly unique in its own ways, and it often has overshadowed similar events and stories from other parts of the world in popular culture. But, as Frederick Jackson Turner claimed in his frontier thesis, have frontiers made American history exceptional and beyond comparison? This institute focuses on reconsidering the uniqueness and nature of U.S. frontiers and closely associated ideas of American exceptionalism. We will look at colonial North American and U.S. frontiers both on their own terms and from global, comparative, and trans-national perspectives. We think this approach will offer you dynamic new material for your social studies and U.S. and world history classes.

The history of U.S. frontiers from a global viewpoint is not just for scholars. As teachers we can better meet our goal of educating the next generation -- as Americans, world “citizens,” and participants in a global economy -- if our students can learn about U.S. history in a global context and if they can see how world history relates to that of their own nation. Many students in U.S. schools are themselves immigrants (or their children), and they can more easily see how their experiences fit into the American story when it is taught in ways shaped by global perspectives. To meet these goals, we have planned daily readings and discussions that will give you background context. We will examine primary source material that you can use in class and work on appropriate pedagogical strategies for this material. We also will provide suggestions about ancillary material such as music and video. Perhaps most importantly, each of you will formulate lessons or other curricular materials and share your work with the other participants, thus bringing home a body of classroom appropriate material. We can only cover so many topics in three weeks, and so we encourage you to consider ones that we have not included in the institute schedule.

Stated academically, this institute is intended to provide participants with a solid grasp of current research on American and global frontiers, presented in an accessible form, adaptable for middle and high school instruction. The aim is not to provide a three-week chronological survey of American frontiers from the colonial era to the early twentieth century. Instead, the approach will be thematic, along loosely chronological lines. At heart, our goal is to make this topic come alive in fresh ways for you and for your students.


Who We Are

In my capacity as the director of the Western American studies program at Calvin, I will lead the institute. But, really, it’s a team effort. Over the past decade, Carol Higham and I have worked together on a variety of projects on the American West, frontiers in the United States, and comparisons to other societies. Bob Schoone-Jongen and I have been colleagues at Calvin College for nine years now. Carol lives in North Carolina, where she has taught at Davidson College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. We have worked on conferences together, co-written a textbook history of the American West, and are co-editing a textbook series on the region. We have both taught and published comparative history about frontiers. Bob and I have worked with a generation of Calvin College graduates who are social studies and history teachers in schools around the country. Bob was a high school teacher and vice-principal for more than 25 years in Minnesota. He teaches pedagogy courses for our department, supervises student teacher interns, and does research on immigration, including immigrant colonies in the upper Midwest during the frontier era. Likewise, I have worked with all of the visiting lecturers, two as colleagues here at Calvin College and two as fellow specialists in the history of the American West, the comparative study of frontiers, and world history.

All of us do research and are working on various kinds of publications. But we’re all teachers first. We have all regularly taught undergraduate students, and we understand the challenges, joys, and intense day-to-day pace of the classroom. We’ve succeeded (and sometimes failed) in translating our passions and interests into material that works well with students coming from diverse economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds and with very different levels of academic preparation. So we’re eager to work with you as fellow teachers and scholars, hoping to offer some of our expertise about the history of American and global frontiers, and hoping to learn from you as fellow teachers. You can find out more about us and our work on the institute website.


Outline of the Institute Program

We hope that the NEH Summer Scholars, like you, who participate in this institute will enjoy their three weeks in Michigan. And we look forward to getting to know you and talking together about our shared passion for this history informally at lunch or going out for meals in the evening. But make no mistake, we have lots of work planned for you and for ourselves. Prior to the start of the institute, all participants are expected to have read a classic history of American Frontiers, namely Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge, Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier (the abridged sixth edition), along with excerpts from Frederick Jackson Turner’s defining essay, “The Significance of Frontiers in American History” (from 1893). We will send a package to each participant with all of the readings included in it, both classic works like those of Billington and Turner and new scholarship from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. You can find a list of these readings in the Syllabus and Schedule link.

The three week institute starts with opening-day picnic in the early evening on Sunday June 24 for members of our institute, their families, and participants in other Summer Seminars (sponsored by Calvin College) that are starting at the same time. NEH institute Summer Scholars and the institute directors also will meet briefly that evening.

Starting on Monday June 25, we will meet every morning and work through the day’s topic, sometimes in presentations by one of the institute directors or guest faculty, occasionally using brief video or audio clips or other media, and always in discussion of the day’s assigned readings, which will include both primary and secondary sources. These discussions will include both small and whole group discussions. Some days we also will meet in the afternoon, where we will focus on strategies for using the material in your classes. At least once, we will have a field trip in the afternoon. And some afternoons you will have “time off,” to use to keep up with daily readings and to research and work on your personal projects.

The first week of the institute will focus on defining frontiers. What is a frontier? What is the place of indigenous peoples in frontiers? Is a frontier better thought of as a “place” or a “process”? Are frontiers about settlement or conquest? How did frontiers in various regions of the U.S. compare? How should we understand frontiers from a global perspective? We will start with Turner’s famous “frontier thesis” and the idea of American “exceptionalism.” We also will look at the Canadian equivalent of the frontier thesis, often called the “metropolitan” thesis, examining it comparatively both as a way of understanding the past itself but also as reflecting English Canadian national identities. The goal of looking at these two approaches, and more, is to help students understand that the way they talk about and think about the past can powerfully shape what they see and look for and what they miss and neglect. During the first week, we also will examine the mythology and politics of American frontier narratives and the idea of exceptionalism, notably in notions of manifest destiny, the career of Buffalo Bill Cody, and the writings of figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Owen Wister.

At the end of the first week and during the second, we will look at frontiers in the nineteenth century U.S. (Midwest, South, and Far West). William Van Vugt, who teaches history at Calvin, will spend a morning with us on frontiers in Ohio and Michigan. He also will lead us on a field trip to Lowell, Michigan, a logging and farming frontier in the nineteenth century. Andrew Graybill, from Southern Methodist University, will spend a day helping us to look at race relations in frontier Texas and examine the question of whether Texas is better viewed, historically and mythically, as part of the West or the South. We also will examine the experience of immigrant families living on frontiers in the upper Midwest. And we will spend two days looking at Native Americans. The first day will focus on the Cherokee in the wake of Indian removal, as pioneers in the Indian Territory that later became Oklahoma. The second day will look at the role of violent conquest on frontiers, specifically the “Indian wars” in the U.S., with comparisons to Canada and Mexico.

The third week will focus on comparisons to frontiers in other societies, notably Canada, southern Africa, Brazil, and Australia, using topics such as the cowboy and gold rushes. Richard Slatta, from North Carolina State University, will spend a day and a half with us comparing the American cowboy to the vaquero and charro of Mexico, the gaucho of Argentina, and the llanero of Venezuela. We also will compare the social evolution of frontiers, and relations between intruder and indigenous peoples on frontiers, to patterns in colonies such as South Africa in overseas empires. Finally, Jamie Skillen, from the Calvin environmental studies department, will help us connect the past and present, looking at the impact of the frontier era on land law and at conflicts over control of the land in the twentieth century U.S. West. This topic especially will suit social studies classes. In the last few days of the institute, participants also will do presentations on the curriculum material they have developed. The institute will conclude by addressing the question of whether frontiers should be thought of as distinctly American or in global terms. See the Syllabus and Schedule link for more details.


Facilities on Campus

NEH Summer Scholars will have visiting scholar status, along with an ID card, allowing them to borrow books from the college library and use the fitness facilities (indoor pool, climbing wall, cardio equipment, etc.) on campus. Adult family members who accompany participants can also get ID cards. Summer Scholars also will be given computer log-ins, which will enable them to access networked campus computers, including Macs and PCs in the Information Technology Center housed in the library. Participants with web-based email will be able to access and send messages from any networked computer on campus. Those who wish to do so may bring laptops. Laptops with Ethernet cards can be connected to the web in the library and in the apartments (see the housing section below).

During the summer, the Hekman Library is open 8:00 am - 9:00 pm Monday - Thursday, 8:00 am - 4:30 pm Friday, and 9:00 am -1:00 pm Saturday. It is one of West Michigan’s finest academic libraries with more than 700,000 books and non-circulating periodicals on open shelving. The library currently subscribes to 2,745 periodicals and has particularly strong holdings in history and the other humanities, notably in the history of the American West. For more on the library’s Western and frontier related holdings go the Library Resources link on the institute website.


Grand Rapids

West Michigan is very pleasant during the summer and offers diverse attractions for visitors. Grand Rapids (pop. 190, 000) is the largest urban center in West Michigan (pop. 1.3 million), with its own airport (Gerald R. Ford International Airport). There are a number of museums in the city, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Ford Presidential Museum, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. There is also an extensive complex of gardens and a sculpture park just north of the campus. There are numerous festivals during the summer. We will keep you busy. But if your family comes along with you, they will enjoy a wide variety of potential activities in the region.

Grocery stores, a variety of kinds of restaurants and pubs, and a range of good bookstores are all within a ten minute drive from campus. This city is easy to navigate by bicycle, and the campus is located on the Rapid, the city’s public bus service. Previous participants in NEH and other summer seminar programs at Calvin College have particularly enjoyed going out to dinner together in groups and visiting the Grand Rapids farmers’ market on the weekend. The institute website includes links to local attractions and amenities like these. It also includes links to local places of worship from a diversity of denominational and religious traditions.


Stipend, Institute Costs, and Accommodations

Institute participants who are selected will receive a stipend of $2,700, payable in two installments, $1500 on arrival and $1200 at the beginning of the third week. Participants are expected use the stipend to help cover travel, accommodation, and various subsistence and service costs. 

We have organized low-cost housing and some meals for your stay at Calvin during the institute. The cost of housing and services is $465 for individual participants; for participants coming with family members, the cost is $752. For participants from the West Michigan area, who will live at home during the institute, and for other participants who choose housing off campus, the cost will be $195. (This includes things like the cost for the opening day picnic and lunches on weekdays.) Invoices will be included with the welcome packages, and payments should be made in the first week of the institute.

Except for July 4, on weekdays we will provide coffee breaks and lunches, which we will share with participants in other summer seminars program on campus in June and July. These lunches include vegetarian options and, if requested, kosher and halal options. Lunches will give you a chance to meet and talk with participants in other seminars being held on campus, but also to meet in small groups with our institute directors and guest faculty. You will be on your own for both breakfast and evening meals during the week and for all meals on weekends. We hope, as institute directors, to get a chance to go out of an evening meal with each of your in small informal groups at least once or twice.

On-campus housing will be available in the Knollcrest East Apartments on campus at Calvin College. Participants who come on their own can expect to share the apartment with a colleague of the same gender. Participants will each have their own bedroom, but they will share the kitchen and bathroom. Those coming with family members will have an apartment to themselves. Each unit is an air-conditioned two-bedroom student apartment and can sleep up to four people. (If you have other needs, please let us know, and we will try to accommodate you.) People you meet at lunch or coffee breaks in other summer seminars, and sometimes their families, will be your neighbors in the apartment buildings. The college’s Summer Seminars office offers grocery runs twice a week for those who don’t have a car. In previous institutes, participants with cars have also been willing to offer rides to the store to participants who did not have their own transportation. Your apartment neighbors in our seminar or another may be happy to do the same.

The apartments contain basic furnishings: beds, chairs, desks and major kitchen appliances (fridge and stove). Bed linens (sheets, pillowcases and a blanket) and towels also will be provided. The kitchens contain basic cooking equipment and utensils.

The housing is arranged and operated by the Summer Seminars program. For more information about the facilities in the apartment complexes (TVs, laundry, computing) and about rules for staying in them, please go to the Accommodations link at the institute website. It also includes information about programs for children available for participants who bring their their families.


Continuing Education and Graduate Workshop Credits

Participants who complete the full three weeks of the institute will be eligible for Michigan’s State Board Continuing Education Units (SB-CEUs), tailored to the requirements of the states and districts in which the participants teach. Calvin College has a strong track record of offering high caliber and popular summer workshops for teachers, and has an efficient system in place for granting SB-CEUs. Given the length and depth of the institute, Calvin College would grant eighteen SB-CEUs for each participant who requests them. Calvin College can also offer six Graduate Workshop Credits (GWCs).

Participants can choose one or the other of these two options. The credits would be awarded by the program director and co-director based on participants performance on a pass/fail basis. Participants who are admitted to the institute will be asked to indicate in advance which, if any, of these plans they would like to participate in, and will be asked to pay the relevant fees during the first week of the institute. The costs for 2012 will be $265 for the 18 SB-CEUs and $300 for the 6 GWCs.


Eligibility and How to Apply

We welcome applications from those who teach at any level in any setting, including public, private, and charter schools, as well as parents who home-school at the high school level. But the institute is designed with high school teachers especially in mind. No knowledge of a foreign language is required, since all readings will be in English.

Applicants who are accepted and choose to participate in the institute are expected, as noted above, to have read Billington and Ridge, Western Expansion, and Turner’s frontier thesis essay before arriving. As NEH Summer Scholars, you will be expected to participate in all formal events in the institute and be part of the community of scholars taking part in it. You will commit to reading and preparing to discuss the material selected for each session, to participate actively in discussions, and to developing curriculum material for classroom use. These lesson plans will be shared among the participants and posted to a permanent website associated with the institute.

To apply to participate in this institute, you will need to fill out and submit the application cover sheet at the following web address: You should print a copy of this form, as you will need to submit it in your larger application. In addition to the cover sheet, the application includes a detailed resume, an application essay, and two letters of recommendation. See the Application Instructions page on the institute website for further details; it also includes a link to the NEH’s Application Information and Instructions document. Your completed application should be submitted electronically no later than Friday March 1, 2012 via the application link for this institute on the Calvin College Summer Seminars website.

The most important part of the application is the essay that must be submitted as part of the complete package. This essay should include any personal and academic information that is relevant; your reasons for applying to our institute; your interest, both intellectual and personal, in the topic; qualifications to do the work of the project and make a contribution to it; and what you hope to accomplish by participating, with a particular focus on the relation of the institute’s theme to your current and future teaching. Please do not hesitate to contact me, preferably by email, with any questions.

Best wishes,

William Katerberg, Director

Mellema Program in Western American Studies
Department of History
Calvin College 

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.