I didn’t see the request to post a summary of our projects until last night, and I am presenting tomorrow, so I don’t know if this is still relevant, but here goes:
My final project reflects a long-time educational objective going back a decade or so when I myself discovered the fascinating Indian Ocean as a region in connection with maritime history and Islamic history while I was teaching. As I explained, I have recently received a request to help create a web-based teaching materials on this topic at the beginning of next year. I am also creating a preview lesson for the web site for the NCSS annual meeting coming up soon (too soon).
To summarize, the purpose of the web site is at once general and specific. At the general level, it is to bridge with a Sackler Gallery exhibit on Portuguese entry into the Indian Ocean trade after 1498. The bridge will be a backward one into the history of the region before European entry. I see this as very necessary because many teachers and textbooks leave the impression that (a) the region only became important to global trade after the entry of the Europeans, or possibly, like other important historical movements, there were the Romans and Greeks, then nothing, then the Renaissance era Europeans and then we Moderns; (b) everyone in the Indian Ocean trading region rolled over and played dead the moment Vasco arrived. Well, some did, on the ships the Portuguese waylaid and in the path of the cannons they fired, but the region as a whole did not. Not only did survivals of the regional coasting trade persist well into the era of European dominance, they persist even today. So, for students in survey classes, and for the general public, this web site will provide a visually accessible introduction to the role of the Indian Ocean over a long period, stretching back to ancient times. It will not be a historians’ treasure trove, but it will provide a sample of information that should create an impression of the region that is hopefully memorable.
Pedagogically speaking, this assignment addresses an issue I have been exploring for some time through instructional design, and that is, how to teach the interaction among cultures/societies/civilizations as a distinct topic of study. To bring this concept to the level of the concrete, it involves finding ways to investigate and present the people who were agents of interaction, the places that were scenes of such interaction, and the objects that represent such exchanges. These will be featured through investigation of such primary sources as travel accounts, technologies, port cities, trade goods, artistic objects, and so on, placed in context through the linked map/timeline.
A narrower objective of the web site design is to feature relations between Oman and the US in history, particularly in terms of a voyage and treaty that sealed a very positive relationship between the two in the early to mid-19th century. Ordinarily, this could turn into a multicultural love feast in which I wouldn’t involve myself, but there is another story here that has historical and pedagogical validity. The primary source materials on the voyage of the Peacock and Edmund Roberts’ efforts as merchant and American official provide the opportunity to highlight a formative period in US foreign trade and diplomacy, to investigate the role of trade in the growing US economy, and to give teachers a lesson that can help them to place the teaching of US history in a global context. Most teachers focus on the period after 1800 as Westward Ho! and Inward Ho! The role of commerce on the global stage is not often featured. This investigation of Atlantic-Indian Ocean links through primary source documents will hopefully be an attractive and stimulating lesson that kills several birds with one stone.
I am fairly nervous about how much of this I can put together for the final project, especially because I don’t have more than descriptive powers in the digital realm (and the dreaded PPT arena), so I am focussing my presentation on the Indian Ocean in history, and particularly on investigation of travel accounts as a sample of the use of primary sources and their presentation on the web. By the end of the course, I will have also prepared the sample lesson using the US history materials. The rest of the web development awaits the first of the year through the spring, but this course will have been invaluable in setting the parameters for that development, and making it tons better than it would have been without my exposure to these ideas, technologies, and existing projects.