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Inventing America: Research Portfolio Topic Options and Virtual Archives

                                          Research Portfolio Topic Options and Virtual Archives

Topics organized by BB Learning Module numbers (which have more virtual archival material that you can use).

This source has primary documents for almost all of the topics:

LM2: Columbian Exchange and Spanish America

LM3: Early Impressions of the New World

Eyewitness suggestions: model your eyewitness on a Spanish member of exploratory expedition or new settlement; be a French trader or a member of a French exploratory expedition; be a member of one of the native groups approached by the European explorers; look at the early Virginia explorations and the Roanoke voyages; examine the native accounts of early contacts.

LM4: Jamestown and Virginia

About 100 colonists founded Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in Virginia, in 1607. Due to unrealistic expectations and preparation, the colony struggled for survival for the first ten years. Eventually a new crop, new systems of labor and government, and Indian wars led to an established English settlement.

General Questions to consider: How reliable are the writings of John Smith and others concerning early Virginia? In what ways are descriptions of people and events dependent on the individual doing the describing? What can we learn about the relationship between Native Americans and Jamestown settlers from the images of White and De Bry? What was the condition of the colony of Jamestown during the first ten years of settlement? What was the main problem? What changed? What accounted for the high death rate? What was the cause of the first economic boom? What systems of labor were used in Jamestown? What do letters and newspaper advertisements tell us about masters, servants, and slaves?

Eyewitness suggestions: Using the sources at Virtual Jamestown, model your eyewitness on one of the early settlers (Gentlemen, laborers, indentured servants, slaves) in Jamestown. What was a typical day like in Jamestown? What was it like 1, 3 or 5 years later?

LM 5: European-Indian encounters – Stories of Captivity

Captivity narratives provide a fascinating (if often one-sided) view of the encounters between European settlers and Native Americans. One of the earliest and best-known accounts is Mary Rowlandson’s narrative, published in the late seventeenth-century. How did Rowlandson portray Native Americans? What religious messages can be found in her account? In which ways did her own cultural prejudices shape her narrative? These are just a few questions that you might want to explore. 2

Her account is available from the Project Gutenberg at

by searching for Mary Rowlandson under Title Word(s).

Another well-known captivity narrative is about Mary Jemison. It is available at

There are many secondary sources on other captives: Cynthia Ann Parker (captured 1836); Olive Oatman (captured 1851); Bianca Babb, and her brother Theodore (captured 1866).

Some of the early explorers were also captured such as Cabeza de Vaca (1542) and Father Isaac Jogues (1647). Their writings are linked below.

LM 06: Origins of Slavery

This overlaps with Jamestown but one could also look at English prisoners that were transported to the colonies as punishments for crimes.

LM 7: Causes of the American Revolution – Focus on Boston

On March 5, 1770, violence erupted between Boston residents and British soldiers, resulting in the injury and death of several people. Although the Patriots used the incident as a rallying point for the growing unrest in the colonies, John Adams defended the soldiers who were indicted for murder. Use the conflicting information presented in engravings, newspapers, trial records, and other available primary sources to discuss the impact of the “Boston Massacre” on British and colonial relations.

You could also explore:

 the Boston Tea Party

 the Gaspee Affair

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could be a witness to the Boston massacre. What did they think of the event and the trial? What was Boston and the area like 1, 3, or 5 years later?

LM 9: Mothers and Daughters of the Revolution, 1750-1800

The letters of Abigail and John Adams are available on line and in published collections in the UTEP library. Using the letters, explore aspects of women’s lives during the time of the American Revolution, such as political rights, work, health, marriage, courtship, warfare, and the economy. You could also explore the question of female citizenship from court records such as James Martin v The Commonwealth and William Bosson and Other Ter-tenants, 1805.

Call #s for the UTEP library: E322 .A4 2007, E322.1.A38 G44 1998, E322.1 .A293 1975. 3

Information about the experiences of women during this period can also be learned from The Way of Duty by Buel or A Midwife’s Tale by Ulrich. Martha Ballard, a midwife who lived in Maine in the late in the seventeenth century, religiously kept a diary from 1785 to 1812. The entries illuminate not only her life but her views on her family, her community, and the early American nation. On the “Do History” website, you will find excerpts of the diary organized by themes such as courtship and marriage, premarital pregnancy, epidemics and medicine, midwifery, rape, or textile production.

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could be a female living during the years of the revolution. What was her life like? Did she participate in patriot activities such as boycotts? Did her life change in the following year?

LM 10: Westward Exploration

Explore the ramifications of the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Corps of Discovery (Lewis and Clark expedition).

Eyewitness suggestions: a member of the expedition or a member of one of the native groups that they encounter.

LM 11: The Market Revolution

The early half of the nineteenth century witnessed a transition from a local subsistence farm economy to a market economy. For this topic you could explore probate records which are an important primary source used by historians to identify the rituals and routines of property owners. Inventories of possessions recorded after a death can reveal important information about family life and social activities. You could also look at the technologies which brought about transportation, communication, and industrial revolutions.

LM 12: Pedestal, Loom and Auction Block – Lowell Mills

The opening of Slater’s Mill, a textile factory, in 1790 began the Industrial revolution in the US. To compete with British textile mills, American manufacturers, such as Boston Manufacturing Company which built a textile plant in Waltham MA on the Charles River, improved upon British technology and lowered the cost of labor. Their system of labor became known as the Waltham Plan. The company recruited thousands of farm girls and women as textile workers. Letters written by the mill girls give a glimpse into their life at Lowell Mills and the changing role of women during the period, while the publication, The Offering, demonstrates evolving labor issues. Questions to be considered: What are the reasons for women wanting to work at the Mill? Does their relationship with their family change and why? What is their life like at the Mill? What are the working and labor conditions? Other options for this topic suggested under Inventing America Technological Innovations.

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could be a young woman leaving the farm to work at the mills? What are her motivations? Would her letters to her father be different than letters to a friend? What would she be doing 1, 3, or 5 years later?

LM 13: Indian Removal and the Experience of the Amerindian

Competing for land and convinced of the superiority of their culture, many white Americans on the early nineteenth-century frontier viewed Native Americans as obstacles standing in the way of “progress” and “civilization.” Despite signed treaties with the U.S. government which guaranteed Native American ownership of tribal lands, President Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress in 1830, which resulted in the forced migration of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi. Was Indian Removal a success or a failure? Why was such a morally indefensible policy adopted toward Native Americans? What do Andrew Jackson’s actions say about his view of the power of the executive versus the judicial branch? Was Indian Removal constitutional? How does one view the Trail of Tears in light of the benevolent promises of America’s Manifest Destiny? Was the policy of Indian assimilation short-sighted? What was the basis for the Supreme Court case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia 1831?

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could be a Native American who is forced on the Trail of Tears, a Native American from one of the other tribal groups that were removed, or one of the reformers against the action.

LM14 Pedestal, Loom and Auction Block – Women and Slavery

Slave Narratives: Slave narratives are the autobiographical stories of individuals’ lives under slavery and their eventual release from it. Most of the slave narratives from the nineteenth century were written by males but there are few significant ones by females, such as Harriett Jacobs or Sojourner Truth. During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration interviewed over 2300 former slaves and their stories are also available.

Questions to consider: What is the purpose of a slave narrative and who was the target audience? What do the narratives say about the relationships between slaves and white owners? Do you see differences in the treatment of male and female slaves? Do males and females depict their lives under slavery different? What do the narratives reveal about the relationships between men and women in nineteenth-century America? Are black women treated differently than white women? What do the narratives say about family relationships or the role of religion within slavery?

This source has primary resources on the Making of the African American Identity (1500-1865

This source has letters from a single plantation.

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could be a slave, a slave owner, or an abolitionist. What is his/her life like? How does it change over time? When looking at the narratives as time passes, consider a discussion of how a former slave affected by changes to the constitution (Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments). How would Dred Scott v. Sandford 1857 affect your eyewitness?

LM 15 The Antebellum Women’s Movement 1820-1860

Begin by reading the Declaration of Sentiments  drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others at the first American women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Why is this document modeled on the Declaration of Independence? To what extent does it aim to challenge its authority or to cloak itself in its authority? What does the Seneca Falls "Declaration of Sentiments" seek to achieve? Is it a declaration of independence for women? a demand for equality? a call to revolt against the tyranny of men? Explore the degree to which each of these motives finds expression in the argument. Who is the intended audience for the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments  How would men of the time be likely to react to it? women? opponents of women's suffrage (the right to the vote)? How did the Antislavery Movement Contribute to the Emergence of the Woman's Rights Movement? What were the issues behind the temperance movement? For added perspective on the evolving role of women in American life, you can compare statements by Sojourner Truth, an African American woman who was as a leader in the suffrage movement, to statements by white women in the movement.$REF$$REF$

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could feminine activist either for the vote, abolition, or alcohol reform.

LM 16 U.S. War with Mexico and Manifest Destiny

The U.S. declared war upon Mexico in 1846 after a brief battle in a disputed border region in Texas. Over the next three years, the war bitterly divided American public opinion with many arguing that it was part of a plot by Southern slave owners intent on acquiring more slave states. In the end, the U.S. claimed victory in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which both greatly expanded the nation’s borders and initiated a legacy of conquest throughout the Southwest. Who is responsible for provoking this war? Who in the United States protested the war with Mexico and why? What was the “All Mexico” movement and why did it fail? How did Anglo Americans justify the conquering of northern Mexico? How did the war against Mexico exacerbate sectional strife in the United States? Was this war inevitable? How did sanitary and health conditions affect the soldiers and the war? Explore the Texas Independence movement and war from the side of either the Tejanos or the Anglo settlers.

Eyewitness suggestions: Your character could be a Tejanos, Californios, Nuevo Mexicanos, or Anglo settler. They could join a regiment for the war, or be one of the many who were against the war. What 6

did he/she think of the events occurring around them? What changed or stayed the same in the years afterwards?

One could also explore the experience of westward expansion on the lives of women by reading one or two of the many women’s travel narratives written during the colonial period, the New Republic, and during the time before the Civil War.

For examples:

Susan Magoffin (1846-47)

Sarah Kemble Knight (1704)

LM 17: The Salem Witchcraft Trials

Few episodes in American history have captured the public imagination as the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 did. Familiar to most students of American history, historians are still debating the reasons for the vengeance and psychological terrors unleashed by the trials. This assignment allows you to add your own voice to the discussion.

You are asked to immerse yourself into the virtual archives “Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project” at Take some time to tour the collection and make sure to incorporate your research findings into your essay.

Another source is

LM 18: Experiencing the Civil War

You could chose to examine some aspect of life during the late 1850s-early 1860s to see what life for various groups during the Civil War era. What was it like for women during the Civil War? How was life different in the North and in the South? What was the experience of slaves in the south and in the north and for free Blacks in the north and in the south? What occupations did people have? What were the causes of illness and death? What role did technology play during the era?

One archive that would help you with this topic is The Valley of the Shadow, which documents the lives of people in a county in Virginia and in a county in Pennsylvania during the era of the Civil War. Another archive focuses on the original writings of women during that era. (has links to numerous other primary source sites)

Eyewitness suggestions: Your eyewitness could be a member of almost any group living in the United States during this era.

LM 20: Inventing America – Technological Innovations

Technological innovations are evident in all of American History. You could look at technological systems; social history of technology and inventions; the effect of technology on a period of time.

For example:

Exchange of technology between Natives and Europeans during the early colonization period

New England ship building 7

Invention of the Cotton Gin and its effect on spread of slavery

 DeBow’s Commerical Review of the South and West 91846-1850, and 1850à at the UTEP library databases.

Manufacturing in the colonies and Early Republic

 American system of Manufacturing – Springfield Armory

Industrial Revolution

 Lowell Mills (see above); Your character could be one of the hand weavers losing their livelihood to the mills; part of the communities that are losing farmlands to the land purchase for the canal system near the mills; or be one of the workers fighting technological change (Winnipisiogee Lake Company v. Worster).

Transportation Revolution

 Erie Canal


 Steamboats

o Gibbons v. Ogden 1824


 Railroads



 Charles River Bridge Co. v. Warren Bridge Co. 1837

Communication Revolution

 Newspapers


 Telegraph


o The Lincoln Telegrams at project presents 324 telegram memos written by president Abraham Lincoln between March 10, 1864 and April 12, 1865. Scanned images of these memos are presented on the day the memos were written. Transcripts of the telegram are available on the related Lincoln Wiki Project at Historical analysis of the telegrams accompanies these transcripts.

 Photography


Civil War Technology

 Guns, Iron Clads, Submarines, Hot Air Balloons



 Ether and Chloroform


 Lincoln and the telegraph


 Transatlantic Cable




 Railroads North and South


 Medical Technology for war injuries


LM 21: Inventing America – Health Conditions in America

This topic could be approached on its own or as part of one of the previously listed suggestions:

 Columbian Exchange and depopulation of the Americas

 Role of disease in Virginia, slavery, indentured servitude, etc.

 Smallpox inoculation during colonial period or American Revolution



 Colonial Medicine (Midwife’s tale as possible source



 Health conditions during the US Mexican War

 Medicine during the Civil War focusing on either nurses, physicians, sanitary conditions

o There are multiple diaries of nurses and physicians on both sides of the Civil War at the UTEP library. Search for “diary civil war” or “civil war medicine”

o Walt Whitman, Specimen Days. Search for hospital, ambulance, etc.


o Cooper, Samuel. The Practice of Surgery. London: A and R Spottiswoode, 1820. Available at Google Books here:

o Hamilton, Frank Hastings. A Practical Treatise on Military Surgery. New York: Balliere Brothers, 1861. Available at Google Books here:

o The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz at Google Books

 These sites from the National Library of Medicine also cover some of the above topics. They have background material and some documents but might help you find primary sources:






You may also suggest another option based on class material in either your UNIV or your HIST course. Please feel free to discuss options but the research topic must be approved in writing by Dr. Gabbert.




General Guidelines for Project
1. Avoid “presentism.” Evaluate the character and the events in the correct historical context rather than basing your writing on the morality, cultural norms, or popular beliefs of the present. This is your chance to look at history through the eyes of your character but consider cause and effect; change and continuity; turning points in history.
2. This project encourages historical imagination but requires that you create specific concrete, verifiable experiences for your “eyewitness.” I will be evaluating for historical accuracy and historical understanding. Therefore base and document your character’s comments and actions on historical sources, both primary and secondary. For instance, if your character is a 19 year old man who witnessed the Boston Massacre, relate the story based on primary document narratives that you have read about the Boston Massacre. In this example, for the second narrative your character could discuss the Revolution, life in Boston after the Revolution, etc. but it must be with the correct historical context.
3. Consider what actually happened, rather than creating events that did not happen (i.e. the South did not win the Civil War). The only exception to historical accuracy is literacy and present standards of writing and spelling. Therefore, even though your “eyewitness” might not have been literate or might have spoken in a foreign language, use proper English grammar.



Historical Categories of Inquiry you need to ask (and answer)
1. Cause and effect or Causation (complexity of the past: long terms causes, events, patterns, existing cultural values/beliefs, political or economic systems that set limits on people’s choices)
a. What were the causes?
 Who or what made change happen?
 Who supported change? Who did not support change?
b. What were the effects?
 Which effects were intended and which were accidental?
 How did events affect people’s lives, community, and the world?
2. Change and continuity (historical chronology). You will be writing for two time periods.
a. What has changed, what has remained the same?
b. Who has not benefited from this change and why?
c. Who has benefited from this change and why?
3. Turning points are changes that are so dramatic that the course of individual and societal experiences follows a new path (examples might include end of slavery, rise of wage labor, Columbian Encounter). This is also called Contingency.
a. How did past decision or actions affect future choices?
b. How did actions narrow or eliminate choices for people?
c. How did decisions or actions significantly transform people’s lives?
4. Examining the world through the eyes of people who lived in different times and places (understanding the world view of the historical actors, avoiding presentism). This is also called Context.
a. How did people in the past view their world?
b. How did their worldview affect their choices and actions?
c. What values, skills and forms of knowledge did people need to succeed?


Examples of Specific Questions based on your eyewitness that you need to ask (and answer).
Your eyewitness is an indentured servant in Jamestown. Your task is to discover what everyday life was like in colonial Jamestown. Some questions you might explore are:
 What were the conditions on the voyage?
 Why did you leave England, Germany, etc.?
 What were the specifics of your labor contract?
 What were the living and work conditions in Jamestown?
 What happens to you? Do you get rich, stay poor, runaway, get captured, or what?
Your eyewitness is a woman living during the years of the American Revolution. Your task is to discover what everyday life was like during this period. Some questions you might explore are:
 What was her life like before, during, and after the revolution?
 Did she participate in patriot activities such as boycotts? Did she have trouble buying food, luxury items, clothing, etc.?
 What health and medical conditions might she have encountered?
 What did she think of political rhetoric? Did she want the vote?
 Did her life change in the years following or remain the same?
Your eyewitness is a woman who leaves the farm to work at the Lowell Mills. Your task is to discover what everyday life was like in America during this period. Some questions you might explore are:
 Why does she leave the farm to work at the mills? What are her motivations?
 What were the living and work conditions in Lowell?
 How might working in the mills affect her health?
 Would her letters to her father be different than letters to a friend?
 What would she be doing 1, 3, or 5 years later? Has she stayed at the mills or returned home to marry?
Your eyewitness is a slave in the south prior to the Civil War. Your task is to discover what everyday life was like in the south for enslaved people during this period. Depending on whether your eyewitness is male or female, some questions you might explore are:
 What is the relationship between slaves and white owners?
 Are there differences in the treatment and lives of male and female slaves?
 What are the relationships between men and women in nineteenth-century America? What about family relationships or the role of religion within slavery?
Your eyewitness joins his local regiment to fight in the American Revolution, the US Mexican War, or the Civil War. Your task is to discover what everyday life was like during this period. Some questions you might explore are:
 What is his motivation for joining? How long does he expect to be gone?
 What is a typical day for a soldier?
 What is the state of military technology?
 What does he eat? What are the health issues?
 What happens after the war?


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