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2012 NEH Summer Institute for Teachers

American Frontiers in Global Perspective
(For High School Teachers)
June 24 - July 14, 2012

NEH Summer Institute for Teachers

Directed by:
William Katerberg, Calvin College

Funded by The National Endowment for Humanities

Seminar Description

The very word “frontier” calls out historical and mythic images for Americans and people around the world. The U.S. story undoubtedly is unique in its own ways, and it often has overshadowed similar stories from other parts of the world in popular culture. But have frontiers made U.S. history exceptional and beyond comparison, as Frederick Jackson Turner claimed in his famous “frontier thesis”? 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 and comparative perspectives. We think this approach will offer you dynamic new material for your social studies and U.S. and world history classes.

This history 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 learn about U.S. history in a global context and 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 U.S. story when it is taught in ways shaped by global perspectives.

Our three-week institute will be held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It will host 25 NEH Summer Scholars with a $2700 stipend to help defray costs. Topics and events will include:

  • Turner’s “frontier thesis” and alternative approaches from around the world.
  • The mythology of the American frontier and its influence on American identity.
  • Frontiers in the Midwest, South, and far West.
  • A fieldtrip to Lowell, Michigan, to explore the history of its logging frontier.
  • Native peoples as settlers, notably the Cherokee in the Oklahoma Territory.
  • The “Indian Wars” and comparisons to wars in Canada, Mexico and South Africa.
  • Is the cowboy “American”? Cattle workers and ranching from Argentina to Canada.
  • Gold rushes from California to British Columbia, the Yukon, and Australia.
  • Frontiers and overseas empires—similar forms of expansion or essential different?
  • The impact of frontier era land law on the U.S. West in the twentieth century.

In addition to studying these topics together with an eye to how to teach them in the school classroom, participants will develop curricular materials and share their work with each other, bringing home a body of classroom appropriate material. We encourage you to consider topics that we have not been able to fit in the institute schedule.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

William Katerberg, Director         

More Information

For more information on this NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, please visit the Institute's home page.

About the Director

Dr. William Katerberg is professor of history and director of the Western American Studies program at Calvin College. He has written widely on religion, politics, and national identities in the U.S. and Canada. For the past decade his work has focused on the North American West, including essays comparing frontier mythologies in the U.S. and Canada and a monograph on Western and frontier mythology in novels and films set in the future. Currently, his research focuses on violence in the American West and radical politics in the twentieth century West. His graduate school training included course work in comparative frontiers, and he has taught courses in both U.S./Canadian relations and comparative global frontiers, as well as surveys in U.S. and Canadian history. Every semester he teachers world history, primarily to first-year students making the transition from high school to university.

About the Co-Directors

Dr. Carol Higham is adjunct assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Higham is a comparative social historian of missionary and anthropological work in the U. S. and Canadian Wests. Her main interests focus around how images of Indians and other peoples of color shape policies and relationships between them and the governments and institutions. Her focus revolves around the nineteenth-century, but her current work extends backwards into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In 2009, Dr. Higham and Dr. Katerberg published a survey history textbook on the American West: Conquests & Consequences: The American West from Frontier to Region. Additionally, she and Dr. Katerberg edit a series related to this textbook, focusing on topics including women, blacks, religion, and environment in the West. She is currently working on a book on the Civil War from a western perspective and a book on Euro-American tales of Indians as cannibals.

Dr. Robert Schoone-Jongen is assistant professor of history at Calvin College. There are three historical themes that Prof. Schoone-Jongen finds fascinating: human migration patterns, the definitions people give themselves and place upon others, and the manner in which events are interpreted both at the moment and after the fact. The specific historical contexts upon which he concentrates are immigration to the United States through 1920, the American presidency, and the impact of religion on everyday lives. Prof. Schoone-Jongen, who taught high school history for 27 years before coming to Calvin, is the advisor for secondary education in history and social studies.

Application Information

Applicant Information, including who may apply and how to apply, can be found here.

The application deadline was March 1, 2012. We are no longer accepting applications.

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


Seminars @ Calvin
Calvin College
1855 Knollcrest Circle SE
Grand Rapids MI 49546-4402
fax 616.526.6682

More Information

For more information on this NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, please visit the Institute's home page.

Application deadline was March 1, 2012.

Application information:

Applicant Information, including who may apply and how to apply, can be found here.