Project unites Dickinson with Civil War era
April 29, 2008
History professors Matt Pinsker (center) and John Osborne (right) meet with students working on the House Divided project.
Matt Pinsker, associate professor of history and The Brian C. Pohanka '77 Faculty Chair in American Civil War History, is bringing the Civil War era to life with innovative technology and stories involving Dickinsonians.
The House Divided Project that Pinsker co-directs with Associate Professor of History John Osborne encompasses a Web site and annual summer program that will provide K-12 educators with tools to engage students in the complex issues of Civil War history.
"We're trying to help teachers and students learn about the Civil War by making it more human and more interesting," Pinsker says. "We're creating a day-by-day archive of the period that synchronizes with the Web site and a resource center on the Underground Railroad."
The House Divided team—composed of Dickinson professors, student interns and staff—amasses information necessary for the workshops and Web site development. They manage more than 2,000 documents and several thousand images related to the 1840-1880 era.
They have uploaded various historical maps into Google Earth and created virtual field-trip itineraries that follow Civil War stories, an initiative that may be the first of its kind.
"In 1849 Henry 'Box' Brown shipped himself in a box from Richmond [Va.] to Philadelphia," says Pinsker. "The box was opened by a Dickinsonian [James Miller McKim, class of 1828]. By syncing with Google Earth, we are able to see a timeline of each step of Brown's journey, a description of how he moved and can create a historical climate."
Testing for the Web site database will begin this summer. By 2011, the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, Pinsker hopes House Divided will be a premier site for educators.
In the meantime, and for the third year in a row, Pinsker will conduct summertime professional-development workshops at Dickinson about the Underground Railroad. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the 2008 program is titled "Landmarks of the Underground Railroad: from Christiana to Harpers Ferry." Previous programs focused on the Dred Scott decision and the Lincoln/Douglass debates.
The Dred Scott case was decided by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, class of 1795, during the stormy presidency of James Buchanan, class of 1809.
Although House Divided draws from Dickinson's connection to the Civil War, the project's usefulness will be universal.
"Our hope is that if you give teachers better resources, it will improve their instruction," Pinsker says. "Students, then, will be more engaged in Civil War history."