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Teaching Teachers to Globalize the U.S. History Survey Course: An Interview with Craig Perrier

by M. Omar Siddiqi

American historians have widened their perspectives beyond the boundaries of the nation-state in an effort to place the history of the United States in a richer, more global context. The U.S. history survey course, at least at the college level, is increasingly taught within a global framework. That approach requires students to consider the usual narrative of American genesis and expansion against similar developments elsewhere in the world. (For more information on the increasing international focus of American historians, see our February 2015 issue.)

The global approach to American history, well established at the college level, is also beginning to make inroads among high school instructors. However, navigating the increasingly complex literature that globalizes American history can be a daunting prospect for secondary instructors who are interested in applying a globalized perspective at an appropriate level of complexity for high school students and less concerned with pushing the boundaries of academic historiography.

Craig Perrier, a doctoral student at George Mason University, a Social Studies Specialist at Fairfax Public Schools in Fairfax, Virginia, and a blogger on educational topics, saw the need for an instructional resource to help high school instructors globalize their approach to American history. Inspired in part by a pedagogy course on global history that he took in his early graduate career at Northeastern University, Perrier designed Globalizing the U.S. History Survey, a free, online teacher-training and professional development course hosted by Blackboard CourseSites.

In an interview with The American Historian, Perrier explains the genesis of the project, its goals, and its continuing evolution.

TAH: How would you characterize Globalizing the U.S. History Survey and its goals?

Perrier: There are multiple, interconnected goals for this program. We want to provide a dynamic, online, free, professional development opportunity for educators. This includes pre-service teachers, current teachers, curriculum specialists, and professors. In addition, the project wants to add to the resources and opportunities dedicated to globalizing the U.S. history survey. This movement had a resurgence at the turn of the century, but work and related opportunities on it, at least for the high school level, seems to have leveled off. With the emphasis on global awareness in education, this project explicitly addresses trends in the current K–12 educational landscape.

TAH: Can you talk a little bit about what initially inspired you to create this project?

Perrier: This project originated during my M.A. in history program at Northeastern University. A theory and methodology course in global history exposed me to a range of scholars I hadn't been exposed to before. This built on my experiences teaching U.S. history to students in Brazil at American schools in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. As a final project for the course I submitted a grant-proposal project which was the basis for the project you see today.

TAH: What would teachers gain from your resource instead of, say, independently reading academic books and articles that globalize U.S. history?

Perrier: Teachers get PD [professional development] credit for completing modules (six hours provided/endorsed by the National Council of History Education [NCHE]). If this isn't the purpose of the participant's engagement with the project, there are still benefits. For example, the additional resources provided by participants, the scholar-made presentations (which are unique to this project), and the one-stop location for globalizing U.S. history makes this project a dynamic and informed resource for teachers.

TAH: The course modules available online encourage participants to contribute their own ideas about specific resources and teaching methods they've used in the classroom. Could you explain how you imagine this project evolving as a consequence of this kind of broader engagement?

Perrier: We imagine the project being a place teachers will want to return to based on the contributions of participants. Global perspectives are expected by College Board, IB [International Baccalaureate], and Historical Thinking Skills models, and with common core/state standards. However, educators have not been, necessarily, engaged with this approach to teaching U.S. history. This project, via resources, lesson plans, and teacher generated items provides a place for teachers to go directly and share with their colleagues.

TAH: Your modules begin with 1920. Could you explain your decision to begin at this specific point in time? Will further editions of this course go further back in time to globalize the nineteenth century, the revolutionary moment, or even colonial American history?

Perrier: Our initial funding from [the] Longview [Foundation] stipulated only twentieth-century topics. Our second round of funding requests an additional six modules that span topics of a standard U.S. history survey.

TAH: Do you have any plans to extend this resource or something similar for direct student use?

Perrier: The project is not designed for direct student use. The NCHE and I are submitting a second round of funding which will include a MOOC option based on two of the modules. This will be open to anybody.

TAH: Do you worry that your project might run into opposition at the secondary-school level from parents or elected officials who may want to promote a vision of American history focused on the nation-state alone?

Perrier: No, it isn't a concern. One aspect of the project is a collection of articles that supports the movement to globalize approaches to U.S. history. No patriotic ideas are "lost" with this approach. Rather, it is another way to engage with traditional "national" topics. For example, Dan Doyle's new book, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014), reminds us that no person, event, idea, group, thing, or system belongs to a nation. The interconnectedness of the world is not magically stopped by national boundaries.

The purpose for promoting national histories has passed. It reflected an era when nationalism was a dominant trait of world views and the goals of nation-states. If you survey what employers and universities are looking for, none of them say "we want nationalistic workers." They do want individuals to be able to navigate a globalized world and be able to analyze narratives and information. This project talks to those needs and expectations.

M. Omar Siddiqi is an editorial assistant with The American Historian and a Ph.D. student in the Indiana University history department.