web resources

The following is an annotated guide to some of the most useful visual resources available online. Gathered by scholars of American history and visual culture, each annotation describes the range and content of the website\'s visual resources and assesses its utility for teaching U.S. history.

National Gallery of Art Teaching Resource: Exploring Themes in American Art
Website Type: Archive
Date Reviewed: Jan. 14, 2008

The National Gallery of Art’s website has produced a series of teaching resources that seek to illuminate the museum’s impressive collection by elaborating on the underlying historical context of each exhibited piece. This site divides its collection into a series of ten major themes that speak to the unique contributions of American art, with each image accompanied by contextual essays, detailed artist biographies, exhibition histories, and hyperlinked glossaries of important terms. The sheer volume of information available on this site makes for a rich educational experience, as users can find, either on the site itself or through helpfully placed links, virtually any information on these representative works of art. For example, clicking on the section titled “Historical Subjects” brings the user to an introductory essay about the use of historical events in painting, with a particular focus on American history. This essay contains links to representative examples found on other websites as well as brief biographies of relevant artists. The user can then continue to a thumbnail page on which several more examples exist as detailed scans with additional information embedded in the links. The overall experience, then, is much like taking a tour of a renowned museum, with a guide that has detailed knowledge of each piece’s historical importance and a digital connection to infinite additional resources.

American Beginnings: The European Presence in North America, 1492-1690
Website Type: Archive
Date Reviewed: Jul. 1, 2008

This highly detailed site focuses attention on the earliest decades of European settlement in North America, using primary texts and illustrations as a means of engaging users’ understanding of a complex and often oversimplified historical interaction. Dividing these documents into five broad themes (Contact, Exploration, Settlement, Permanence, and Power) allows users to effectively explore the key elements of this era. Within these categories, users will discover a group of primary documents, consisting of letters, journals, landscape reports, and accounts of Indian activity. What is unique about this site is its careful attention to how these documents can be used in the classroom. Each document is accompanied by a reading guide for historical context, topic framing questions, detailed discussion questions, and links to supplemental information like maps, illustrations, and additional documentary evidence. This site functions as both an excellent research tool for historians gathering primary documents and as an educational experience for students engaged in detailed historical analysis.

Images of Native Americans
Website Type: Archive
Date Reviewed: Jul. 8, 2008

“Images of Native Americans” is a digital companion to an exhibit of rare books, photographs, illustrations, and other archival and manuscript materials that debuted in the Fall of 2000, to celebrate the acquisition of the University of California, Berkeley Library's nine millionth volume. The digital exhibit offers several enhancements to the physical exhibition, including additional images and text, a timeline to facilitate the viewing of materials in a chronological sequence, and a checklist of exhibit items. Drawn from the Bancroft Library’s impressive collection of materials representing the history of California and the greater American West, this site presents a selection of visual materials relating to Native Americans from the sixteenth century through the twentieth century. The panorama of images selected includes illustrations from rare books, pamphlets, journals, pulp magazines, newspapers, and ephemera in addition to selections of original photographs, including stereographs, lantern slides, and cyanotypes. The site is organized into various categories for easy browsing, although the exhibition checklist or timeline are the most efficient ways to exploring these images. Overall, this is an extremely detailed, well researched, and cleverly presented exhibition of Native American culture and history.

Virtual Jamestown Archive
Website Type: Archive
Date Reviewed: Oct. 9, 2008

The Virtual Jamestown Archive collects and exhibits a diverse body of sources regarding the settlement of Virginia’s Jamestown colony in the 17th century. Interactive maps, court records, labor contracts, newspapers, handwritten letters, drawings, and many other types of documents constitute a collection that includes twelve distinct sections. Of special note is the site’s collection of the watercolor drawings of John White and the corresponding engravings of Theodor De Bry, whose works are presented alongside informative annotation. Beyond this collection, however, the site also includes several entertaining interactive exhibits, including a “virtual reality” Jamestown that allows a physical exploration of the colony itself. Virtual Jamestown’s strength ultimately lies in its allowance for detailed personal exploration of the many visual resources it presents. For instance, one branch of the site exhibits maps and images from the Jamestown era, with each image embedded with a zoom function that permits the user to run a digital magnifying lens over any area of interest. By employing this type of innovative technology alongside traditional historical narrative, this site engages American history by laying a careful groundwork of scholarly writing, then setting users loose to draw their own conclusions from the visual evidence.

Cartography: Historical Maps of New Jersey
Website Type: Exhibit
Date Reviewed: Aug. 31, 2010

Curated by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, this website provides dozens of historical maps of New Jersey. The vast majority of maps included on the site are digitized from the holdings of Rutgers Special Collections. These are supplemented by maps held by the Library of Congress, the New Jersey State Library and other repositories. The earliest map dates from approximately 1639, and the collection spans to the late twentieth century. The site includes maps for all historical and contemporary New Jersey counties and for many towns in New Jersey. Specialized maps document New Jersey’s natural features including ice movement, geology, watersheds, inland waterways, forests and land types. Other maps explore New Jersey’s man-made constructions including maps documenting the locations of canals, civil divisions, postal routes, high schools, tourist sites, prisons, railroads, mines, quarries, state parks, campuses and roads in different eras. These maps were produced by a wide variety of groups, including corporations, governmental agencies, entrepreneurs, adventurers and advocacy organizations. In many cases, entire volumes of atlases and surveying reports can be viewed page-by-page. A section on New Jersey’s Revolutionary War history includes maps of battles as well as links to pamphlets from the era. The 1872 New Jersey Atlas is available in full. The site links to state, county and town historical societies, and provides a list of tips for students researching local history.