The National Humanities Center (NHC) has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in support of a new program designed to improve teaching about the Vietnam War. The grant, totaling $158,283, will help fund a two-week, interdisciplinary institute for high school teachers to be held at the NHC next summer. The summer institute is one of several initiatives currently underway at the National Humanities Center to promote a deeper understanding of this complex period in Cold War-era history.
“Based on surveys we recently conducted among teachers, there is a significant deficit in knowledge about the greater geographic and historical context of the Vietnam War,” says Andy Mink, vice president for education programs at the National Humanities Center. “In particular, teachers indicated that they had little working knowledge of post-World War II Southeast Asia or how the events of the First Indochina War (1946–54) between the French and the Vietnamese factored into America’s involvement in the war between North and South Vietnamese forces in the 1960s.”
In addition to greater historical understanding, NHC initiatives about Vietnam seek to situate the war within a broader context using an interdisciplinary framework that incorporates a variety of humanities lenses, including literature and poetry, anthropology, political science, and economics alongside world history and global studies.
Institute participants will work with a number of experts in these areas to help them develop a fuller appreciation for the war as it was understood both within the United States and by those directly involved in the region.
Also, using a variety of emerging technologies, institute participants will be able to interact with content and create visualized instructional materials for classroom use. “Teachers are always looking for new ways to help students learn,” says Mink, “and digital tools that connect different kinds of materials and help students visualize complex relationships and concepts are incredibly valuable. For that reason, we focus not only on increasing content knowledge but on working with teachers to employ state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies in their classrooms.”
In addition to next summers’ institute, the Center will be offering two live, professional development webinars for teachers about the events that preceded and precipitated American involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Presented in collaboration with UNC-TV, these webinars are timed to coincide with the premier of the new ten-episode, 18-hour documentary series, The Vietnam War, from filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
The first of these webinars, “The First American Commitment to Vietnam, 1945–54,” will take place on September 12th and will be led by historian Andy Rotter from Colgate University. This webinar is being offered in partnership with the Organization of American Historians as a part of their Distinguished Speaker Series. The second webinar, on September 21st, entitled “Massive Firepower Meets the Jungle: Fighting the Ground War in Vietnam,” will be led by historian of technology Bernie Carlson from the University of Virginia. It is being offered in partnership with the National Council for History Education.
The grant supporting NHC’s Vietnam institute was one of thirty-two awards totaling $4.87 million recently made by the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide opportunities for teachers to work intensively alongside scholarly experts on significant humanities topics. “We are continually grateful for the support we’ve received from the NEH, including this most recent gift allowing us to offer this important project for teachers,” said NHC President Robert D. Newman. “As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive, a major turning point in the Vietnam War as well as a significant moment in modern U.S. and world history, projects such as this are needed to help teachers and students understand events whose repercussions continue to shape our world.”
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The National Humanities Center is the world’s only independent institute dedicated exclusively to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. Through its residential fellowship program, the Center provides scholars with the resources necessary to generate new knowledge and to further understanding of all forms of cultural expression, social interaction, and human thought. Through its education programs, the Center strengthens teaching on the collegiate and pre-collegiate levels. Through public engagement intimately linked to its scholarly and educational programs, the Center promotes understanding of the humanities and advocates for their foundational role in a democratic society.