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pg said in February 3rd, 2010 at 1:14 pm

The most important factor in making distant events seem vibrant is the use of contemporary stories with significant detail. In McPherson’s discussion of the Northern states’ resistance efforts to the fugitive slave act, he impressively uses small anecdotes and attentive detail to embellish and define how the fugitive slave act was received in the North. For example his use of story telling and quotation (from Theodore Parker) in illustrating the daring escape and attempted capture of the Craft family really bring the events to life.
The material McPherson cites, however, is no where near as impressive as the wealth of contemporary accounts available in the underground railroad section of the house divided project. While browsing various newspaper articles, court cases and narratives I was shocked at just how much information actually still existed. I was not aware for example that full court transcripts like the one from the 1851 Christiana Trial still were available. For me it is these lively and real accounts that take a bleak and lifeless historical narrative and make it timeless and fascinating.

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JTF said in February 3rd, 2010 at 1:57 pm

The use of textbooks really help give you an idea of what occurred during the Antebellum period. While McPherson gives great detail accounts of stories and direct quotes from people such as the Crafts who made a famous escape and where chased but never captured or Charles A. L. Lamar who came from a wealthy and powerful family and was arrested for illegally smuggling slaves into the US. However, a book can only tell us show us so much. What it can’t do is give us a clear picture sometimes. What the House Divided Project gives us is that picture. We can see areas and historical spots that authors like McPherson try to describe. The virtual tours are a fantastic aspect of the House Divided project. You trace John Brown’s escape or even read through flyers that were put up to hunt down fugitive slaves. It is like a time machine you step into and immerse yourself back into the 1840′s all the way to the eve of the Civil War.

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jacobsca said in February 3rd, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I would have to agree with pg when talking about making distant stories feel vibrant and real. This is obviously necessary in order to keep people interested in the past and capture new audiences as time goes on. The house divided page is so amazing because it makes the civil war come alive, however cliche that may sound. The only other book, website, whatever that has ever made me feel really connected to the material was Swanson’s Manhunt, which gave an hour by hour account of the chase of John Wilkes Booth. Anyhow this websites and texts like that need to be produced more in order to keep history relevant to younger audiences.

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tkacyon said in February 3rd, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Being able to see images and read transcripts, articles and quotes really helps to bring to life the history that we’ve been reading. Sometimes it’s hard to take something from paper and make it become alive, so it’s then sometimes hard to remember that this is real- it really happened. So, the House Divided project is immensely useful in remembering that these things did happen, and bringing them to light in a different way than just a textbook, it makes the learning process more fun and relevant.

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J. Hirsch said in February 3rd, 2010 at 9:20 pm

The classroom supplements McPherson’s book by giving students a way to apply the knowledge they have learned. Just because a student reads something in a book does not mean that he/she has internalized the information. Classrooms are places where students can have hands on experiences with the information in the reading. For example, I like Jeff Mummert’s lesson plan where he tells the story of Henry “Box” Brown and has the students build the box to see if they could fit and be comfortable. Even though this activity may be a little juvenile for an undergraduate setting, it is perfect for elementary or middle school. This activity engages students and portrays to them what it was like to be a runaway slave during this time. Students may not remember simply reading about runaway slaves, but Mr. Mummert’s activity affords a memorable opportunity.
The maps presented in this project also help to internalize the readings. One map on the House Divided depicts Underground Railroad locations in the city of Philadelphia. Unlike the textbook that does not give me a map, the map presented here allows me to draw a personal connection to the Underground Railroad. I am from Philadelphia, and I can recognize where some of these place are located.

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John Brown said in February 3rd, 2010 at 9:43 pm

The House Divided UGRR classroom is becoming a pioneer in the field of digital scholarship. The digital bookshelf combines the latest in digital libraries (i.e. Google Books) and puts it in a surprisingly accessible format. The video channel uses the increasingly popular medium of YouTube to tell history’s stories from the experts themselves. In addition, the Virtual Field Trips use Google’s sophisticated mapping technology to present events in history geographically, a section of the historical field that is becoming more and more important. The result? A comprehensive look at the Underground Rail Road that incorporates the latest in digital technologies.

Items such as the collection of newspaper articles in the digital library or the Henry “Box” Brown virtual field trip are a great start to fully telling the history of the Underground Rail Road. This digital classroom, and any others that will be developed, will further be enhanced with more interactivity, more scholarship, and more resources. The UGRR classroom is not the pinnacle of digital scholarship as is. This is a good thing because it shows that is has the potential to be a resource that encompasses every aspect of the history, from the digitization of primary source documents such as fugitive slave letters and diaries to virtual models of the buildings and towns where these events occurred. The future of historical scholarship in the digital age is only just beginning.

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KTC said in February 3rd, 2010 at 9:46 pm

House Divided project did a great job to make historical facts alive and such effort is useful to help student to get a more comprehensive view of the Underground Railroad. However, such reconstruction might overemphasize the importance of the Underground Railroad than it actually was. As Professor Pinsker said, “Not everybody, not even McPherson, sees the impact of the Underground Railroad as looming this large during the antebellum period, but most of us at the House Divided Project do.” It is certain that most of the House Divided members do, but it is difficult to persuade other people. By collecting numerous primary sources can only show the existence of such a Railroad, not its importance in the big context. In addition, the google map in the virtual trip looks fancy, but somehow I have the feeling that I won’t treat these contraptions as seriously as primary sources.

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chobanim said in February 3rd, 2010 at 9:59 pm

McPherson introduces the controversies regarding the fugitive slave act well. He describes the opposing ideologies and actions of northerners and southerners with appropriate depth. He provides many accounts and they are all intriguing, but are presented quite literally. Not to criticize McPherson though, since the goal of his book is not to focus on the specific topic alone. Even still, I was amazed at the number of stories that were omitted from McPherson’s text when I explored the House Divided Project’s Underground Railroad site.
I definitely enjoy looking through the website since it provides so many different types of media–from court cases and newspaper articles to maps, pictures, and even teaching guides. It allows students, and teachers, of all ages to visualize and understand the history of the Underground Railroad more clearly and have fun learning the material. One story I had forgotten until browsing the site was the account of Henry “Box” Brown. It’s incredible that the website provides activities for young students, digital primary sources for older students, and lesson plans for teaching.

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Takehiko Takahashi said in February 3rd, 2010 at 10:16 pm

While McPherson’s narrative offers a satisfactory and well written overview of the major events related to the Underground Railroad and the Fugitive Slave Act, it only scratches the tip of the iceberg. In McPherson’s own narrative he stated that several hundred slaves ran away every year and each one of them had their own unique story filled with peril and significance. Personally I was surprised to discover that McPherson did not mention exploits of Harriet Tubman in this chapter while instead he focused more on William and Ellen Craft. To me, the greatest strength of the Underground Railroad Digital Classroom is that it goes into a lot more detail of the events involving the fugitive slaves and the abolitionists who helped to free them. Of the many resources I saw the one that stuck out to me the most was the Henry “Box” Brown exhibit. This escape was not mentioned in McPherson’s book so it was a new learning experience for me. It was very impressive that the site documents the escape down to the last detail and even has an image of a replica of the crate that was used in the escape. To me this site is excellent because it displays several incidents during this time period that McPherson’s book fails to mention.

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KN said in February 3rd, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Having different ways to conceptualize history is important because it keeps us interested and enthralled. I think its especially important for younger kids to have different means of studying history so that methods of teaching don’t get too repetitive. The house divided website is a great thing because it gets students more involved and offers a more visual method to learning. I think reading books like McPherson’s while also referring to the House Divided website for images and documents can help students to remember information better.

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T. Smith said in February 4th, 2010 at 8:01 am

I think one of the most significant element of the project is the very definition of the Underground Railroad. I think that there are a lot of different ideas that pop into young students heads regarding what the term means, especially at the younger ages, and the definition presented on the home page of the UGRR is very helpful to make it clear.
I liked many of the exhibits and resources, I think they made it easier to visualize what this operation meant and how it was carried out. For example, the information about Henry “Box” Brown did a good job of bringing the story to life. The information about the dimensions of the box, how it was built, and the resources he had with him for the trip, were really helpful.
My only complaint is that the Digital Classroom seems a bit limited. The library, for example, is interesting and interactive, but it only has three books to look into. I do like what is going on, but I think there could be more resources.

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Evil Jared said in February 4th, 2010 at 10:41 am

Since I am more of a visual learner, I found the virtual field trips and maps & images pages to be the most engrossing. I really like the Philadelphia detail map since it is possible to zoom in and out and explore around on it. It was interesting to compare that map to a modern Philadelphia on google maps.
I found that the video selection was probably a bit limited and I would like to see some more videos like the interviews already displayed. The only other complaint I have is that the website background theme seems a little dated. I really like the look of the House Divided’s theme and color scheme a lot more. Just a personal preference.

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stancoc said in February 4th, 2010 at 10:44 am

Books are the traditional way to teach history, like the Civil War. McPherson’s book provides important details about the war. However, the resources on the House Divided website go a step further than McPherson. These resources, such as the pictures of important historical figures, interactive models, and historical documents make the past interesting. These tools make history far more interesting because they help the user to visualize the past. The exhibit on Henry “Box” Brown was especially interesting because it showed the story in its different stages.

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kesslers said in February 8th, 2010 at 9:55 pm

McPherson’s narrative offers very detailed information about the Civil War. His narrative includes many important specifics about this era but it does not create a visual idea of the events of the time period. This website is a great idea because of its interactive nature and the fact that it can hold endless amounts of information (unlike the book which is limited to its pages). The website is very well done and has many useful resources; however it could be more contemporary. Updating the the aethsetic qualities of the website would attract more people as well as keep them more engaged with the material.

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