[ Reference ]
AotW as a Learning Resource
Classroom, Business High School, Washington, DC, c. 1899
(original in the Library of Congress)
For Teachers :: intro | teaching tips | materials | audience
In preparing for peer review as a resource in the MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) community,* we spent some time evaluating how Antietam on the Web is being used by educators and learners, and what it offers. The author is not a teacher, but knows the website intimately. We hope that perspective will be helpful to you here.
As always, please contact us with any feedback - we appreciate hearing how our visitors use the site, and how to make it better.
Antietam on the Web (AotW to its friends) is a reference website in the Humanities discipline of History, specifically United States History in the Civil War (ACW) period, 1861-1865, concentrating on the Battle of Antietam of September 17, 1862.
It has elements of a digital archive, peer community, media gallery, and online periodical, but it is foremost an organized repository of factual and interpreted historical information.
Our purpose is to provide the raw material needed to 'do history' on the Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign of 1862: in one place and readily available online; gathering widely scattered historical resources.
K-12 note: Antietam is classified as one of the major battles of the ACW and is a topic in curricula and standards-of-learning for Grades 8 - 12 in most US States.
What objectives was the resource designed to meet?
- Begun in 1996, Antietam on the Web was not initially designed as a teaching resource, rather a personal research project; a means to catalog the battle's prominent participants and frame them in physical, personal, and political context.
- Now serving a wide range of people, we exploit the power of hyperlinking and relational data to make the complexity of these relationships accessible to the reader in a way no printed source can.
What about its accuracy and reliability as a source?
- Although an experienced researcher, the author has no formal credentials in teaching or history, but follows traditional academic historical method. The material presented on the site is supported by reliable references, and recent footnoting procedures put these references at the reader's fingertips.
- The site is open for continuous review, and we are very active and responsive in repairing errors and incorporating new scholarship.
- We strive for objectivity, intending to provide observation and information without taking sides or putting forward any particular agenda. This is not to say we don't draw conclusions, but we remain open to - and publish - alternate interpretations of events.
- Members advising and writing for the site now include professional historians and teachers at all levels, so we expect the quality of the site to continue to rise.
Tips for Teaching
How might you want to use this learning resource?
- An exciting entree to the Battle are our profiles of more than 1,000 participants, many with fascinating life stories and 'hooks' to the present; about half looking back at us from photographs. These are military officers, common soldiers, and civilians, all with consequence to the shape of events.
- These people are cross-linked with maps, documentary evidence, military units, and other persons. Learning about their lives and the parts they played is one of the most direct ways for students to connect with America in 1862.
- The site is noted for eyewitness documents: reports, letters, diaries and period photographs. AotW displays hundreds of these - valuable tools as much to teach how to do history as the history itself.
- We also give pointers to the world of print and electronic references including a dense bibliography from our footnoting system. These are paths for derivative study and help educators and sophisticated history students validate the information and its context for themselves.
How has it been used by other teachers?
- Teachers send students to AotW for battle facts or to 'interview' participants - often part of a scavenger hunt approach effective in engaging younger learners.
- Those with limited previous knowledge of the battle review the hows, wheres, and whys with summary and interpretive essays and maps, and discover jumping-off points for further study. These are also used as assigned readings, followed by group discussion or analytical writing projects.
- More senior students use the biographies as core to topical studies of the battle. Teachers also select candidates from AotW based on their curricular focus and desired classroom emphasis.
- Particularly interesting results are obtained when they choose from more obscure participants with non-traditional perspectives.
- Advanced students and professionals have successfully used presentation materials from the site - particularly the interpretive maps - to support classroom teaching as well as independent research and publication.
What are the site's strengths as an online resource?
- More than a cache of the 'stuff' of history, Antietam on the Web provides a hierarchical view of the material. From the home page students can get the big picture, drill down to find the specifics they need, and explore a specialty topic, person, or place of interest.
- The site is organized around a half-dozen major topics like 'Exhibits', 'Participants' and 'Battle Maps", so visitors can easily find information.
- The site is attractive and uses clean text on plain backgrounds, at legible type sizes and in plain English. Generally, only graphics which enhance function or convey useful information are used.
- No additional software or plug-ins are required and most pages load very quickly.
- A search feature and other 'help' resources - including a sister discussion group TalkAntietam - assist readers. Additional support is offered by email. The author doesn't do homework, but is otherwise happy to help, and usually responds within a day or so.
Range of Materials on the Site
The key resources on the site are organized in sections for ...
- An Overview of the battle and the Maryland Campaign;
- The Participants: individuals and military units present at Sharpsburg;
- Articles and Exhibits - original articles and primary documents about the Battle;
- A series of detailed Campaign and Battle Maps for the events of that September;
- All of the commanders' Reports as published in the Army's Official Records;
- A Gallery of images and artifacts of Sharpsburg; and
- Sources for more about Antietam and the War.
What student groups can use the site?
- A very broad range of learners are making use of this site. The largest group are college undergrads and high school students in structured history programs.
- Constituents also include educators, graduate and post-grad scholars, historians, and other adult learners - a group including genealogists, military personnel, journalists, and a variety of ACW hobbyists.
- We do not tailor the content to readers below Grade 8 (US), but believe it is readily comprehensible to most students at or above that level.
How do different groups benefit from this resource?
- Entry level students are looking for 'fun facts', pictures of the generals, and answers to teacher worksheets.
- High school and college visitors seek the broader picture along with backing detail. They are likely to refer to AotW's maps and exhibits, and primary resource material to support topical theses.
- Educators, historians, and the other adult readers are more likely to have come to us from an internet search engine, and though they often explore beyond the item that attracted them, are usually 'cherry-picking' specific information.
The text on this page is adapted from the MERLOT Author's Snapshot
(B. Downey, 2/2006).