Use Google to Tour the National Parks

To ease the transition back to school, you can pretend you’re still on vacation by using Google to “tour” the national parks through online exhibits.  These are artifacts from the parks that were curated in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, showcasing one object from every national park museum collection.

For example, check out the collections from Colorado’s national parks, with everything from hiking safety helmets from the 1970s to a projectile point from ~6,000 B.C.E.  There are also short descriptions of why the object was chosen for the centennial.

You can use these objects to get your students back into “historian” mode: why were these objects chosen? Are there other objects that would have been more appropriate? Can they make a convincing case for the alternative?  And more: what was the object’s context when it was made? When it was used? When it was found? Now?

And technically, this is a different part of Google altogether, but you could wind up your mini-vacation with a virtual stroll on the beach: Fire Island National Seashore (which has an object in the NY collection), via Google Maps Street View:





Resource Highlight: the Met Museum’s Open Access

Looking for digital images for your students to use in projects? The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made thousands of public domain images available.

On February 7, 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art implemented a new policy known as Open Access, which makes images of artworks it believes to be in the public domain widely and freely available for unrestricted use, and at no cost…We encourage you to explore the images of artworks the Museum believes to be in the public domain by visiting Collection and selecting the “Public Domain Artworks” filter in the left-hand column.

The featured image is a silk dress from the 1750s from the collection that is not currently on display.  For more information on the availability of images (and data from images that are still restricted), read the rest of their post here.

Bucket List

Lots of people make a “bucket list” — a list of things to do and places to see before they die. And lots of the places people choose are well-known natural wonders and historical monuments; often places they studied about in school, like Stonehenge in WorldView Software’s World History A:

Screen capture of Art image, introduction, and questions from WorldView Software's World History A.
Screen capture of Art image, introduction, and questions from WorldView Software’s World History A.

But you don’t have to stick to just the most well-known places. No matter what area of the world your class is studying in history or geography, challenge them to find some off-the-beaten-track places that they would also like to see!

There are some excellent resources on the web for this.  And just like reality, you don’t have to stick to the well-known sites like National Geographic and Discovery.  You can also use social media (try the #travel and #nature hashtags on Instagram), and check out some of these other sites we’ve found.

My Modern Met

My Modern Met is where the featured image on this post can be found.  By Omid Jafarnezhad, this image of the Nasir al-Mulk “Pink” Mosque in Shiraz, Iran offers a burst of color to the visitor.  Keeping with the “colorful” theme, but venturing to a different continent, check out the town of Guatapé in Colombia, also found on the site:

View of a street lined with colorful buildings.
View of a street lined with colorful buildings, by Jessica Devnani (

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura is where you can find a map of the 10,000 places they’ve documented as of October 2016.  That includes places like Thor’s Well in Oregon, where the Pacific looks like it’s draining into an alternate dimension (Asgard, possibly?):

Photo of sea water draining down a massive hole in rock.
Thor’s Well, by Thomas Shahan on Flickr, cc by 2.0

Or the tranquil beauty of the Kuang Si Waterfalls in Laos:

Kuang Si Waterfalls, by Basil Strahm on Flickr, cc by 2.0
Kuang Si Waterfalls, by Basil Strahm on Flickr, cc by 2.0

Once you’ve picked some places or things your students want to see, try the following activity for building connections to learning by investigating its history:

  • If it’s a man-made place, investigate how it is different from other buildings in the same area.  What were the building techniques and how the costs of construction were covered?  Who were the architects and builders, and what did their work day look like? What was the purpose of the building, and why was it important enough to justify that expense?
  • If it’s a natural place, ask how and why it has been preserved.  Is it a sacred place, and if so, what is its meaning? Finally, ask if there are forces such as economic development pressures that enhance its standing or endanger its presence.

Use these answers to make connections to what had to be happening in the wider society that would make the building or preservation possible, and what that context looks like now and in the near future.

BulbgraphOnOffPrint out materials such as a document or image, including introduction and short-answer questions, to read at leisure. (For now, some may require a little copy-and-paste.)

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New World Heritage Sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designates sites around the world as worthy of preserving as part of humanity’s shared legacy.  The factors considered for inclusion are that a site has to be of “outstanding universal value,” and meet these criteria.  It has designated several new World Heritage Sites for 2016:

  1. Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay – Mukkawar Island Marine National Park, Sudan
  2. Hubei Shennongjia, China
  3. Lut Desert, Islamic Republic of Iran
  4. Western Tien-Shan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
  5. Mistaken Point, Canada
  6. Archipiélago de Revillagigedo, Mexico
  7. Ennedi Massif: Natural and Cultural Landscape, Chad
  8. The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict  Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities, Iraq
  9. Khangchendzonga National Park, India
  10. Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, China
  11. Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University) at
    Nalanda, Bihar, India
  12. The Persian Qanat, Islamic Republic of Iran
  13. Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia, Federated States of Micronesia
  14. Stećci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia
  15. Archaeological Site of Philippi, Greece
  16. Antequera Dolmens Site, Spain
  17. Archaeological Site of Ani, Turkey
  18. Gorham’s Cave Complex, United Kingdom of Great Britain and
    Northern Ireland
  19. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement, Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, India, Japan and Switzerland
  20. Antigua Naval Dockyard and Related Archaeological Sites, Antigua and
  21. Pampulha Modern Ensemble, Brazil

You can read about each site in the document (.pdf) detailing the decisions of the 40th session of the Committee, with summary explanations of each site’s criteria for inclusion on the list, and for inclusion on the danger list.  For some really nice pictures of some of the new sites, as well as links to more information about them, this article from Smithsonian Magazine is a great place to start.  Another place to look is Atlas Obscura (search for “UNESCO”).

World Heritage sites can be either natural, cultural, or mixed (denoted by circles or diamonds on the map in the featured image).  And unfortunately, too many are in danger (denoted by red on the map).  One site that was destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan was that of the Bamiyan Buddhas — giant statues that were evidence of Afghanistan’s Buddhist past.  However, it remains a World Heritage site, and artists and others have resurrected the statues in beautiful and imaginative ways.

Countries around the world are tasked with protecting and defending these sites.  Sometimes, as in the Syrian Civil War, that isn’t possible, as when the ruins at Palmyra were looted and destroyed by Islamic State militants.  Other countries may be experiencing less violence, but lack the resources or the will to protect these sites.  Most, however, are proud of their sites, and do their utmost.  And many countries try to incorporate current technology into their sites to make a connection to today’s visitors.  For example, Italy has a plan to give its world heritage sites wifi.  Imagine being at a site and using the wifi to get augmented reality information about what you’re seeing!

Is there a site on the list near you?  Is there a site that you or your students think should be on the list?

BulbgraphOnOffProjects give students the chance to create a large and diversified portfolio, not just a series of test scores.

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Finding History through Food

At the intersection of food and history, prepare your students to use the tools of geography, archaeology, and chemistry to find out what people ate long ago.  And because it’s a fun scaffolding exercise: ask them what they think that diet was; it may be different than they assume!

Fans of the caveman-esque will extol the virtues of eating meat, but as this article notes:

But critics claim that the Paleo diet dramatically oversimplifies what prehistoric man ate. While the Paleo diet emphasizes meat and fish, it’s not clear that proteins formed the majority of actual prehistoric diets. As with our modern eating habits, diets in the Paleolithic era would have varied wildly according to location.

For a longer examination of what prehistoric people ate, “Stone Soup,” by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker has much more detail.   In other words, then as now people ate what was readily available in their environment. (Although Kolbert points out that occasionally what was available were other humans.  And no, the paleo diet does not include that.)  And that meant that what people ate mostly were plants.  True, plants before large-scale agriculture.  But pace paleo dieters, agriculture itself has been around long enough to have an evolutionary impact on humans, for which many of us can thank our ability to enjoy dairy products.

Moving forward in time, it is easier to find evidence from ancient societies.  From Harappa, we find the world’s oldest curry — a dish that is still familiar to the millions of people who eat it today.

Archaeologists Arunima Kashyap and Steve Webber of Vancouver’s Washington State University used the method of starch analysis to trace the world’s first-known or “oldest” proto-curry of aubergine, ginger and turmeric from the pot shard of a bulbous handi (pot).

(Note: aubergine = eggplant)  The (easy) recipe is in the article, which is part of a series on Indian food.  The original curry would have looked something like this, right down to the clay bowl:

The world's oldest curry
Eggplant (or aubergine in British English) curry

Imagine eating a dish whose recipe is thousands of years old!  And you can do that with many cultures around the world.  For an example from North America, check out the recipes in the Three Sisters Cookbook from the Oneida Indian Nation.  The “three sisters” in the title refer to corn, squash, and beans:

Modern day agriculturists know it as the genius of the Indians, who interplanted pole beans and squash with corn, using the strength of the sturdy corn stalks to support the twining beans and the shade of the spreading squash vines to trap moisture for the growing crop.

Take your students on a culinary field trip through history!  Start with the Internet Project: Columbian Exchange in WorldView Software’s American History I or World History A, which takes students on a curated tour of the processes put in motion by the contact between “old” and “new” worlds, and ends with making a feast.  Use the links in the project, from this post, or find ones from different areas — Oceania, anyone? — and make something tasty.

BulbgraphOnOffGraphical questions test students’ ability to analyze and interpret data visualizations in maps, graphs, charts, and tables.

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Japan’s Underwater City of the Sea Gods — Gringa of the Barrio

Since the late 90s the underwater city has become increasingly popular among tourists.

via Japan’s Underwater City of the Sea Gods — Gringa of the Barrio