Welcome to the Inaugural Issue of History Now

By Carol Berkin

The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s quarterly American history online journal. The journal’s primary mission: to promote the study of American history with articles from noted historians as well as lesson plans, resource guides, links to related websites, and other resources for teachers and students. 

We are at an important time in the teaching of American history. A host of distractions compete for our students' attention; education budgets are strained; and changes in education guidelines reduce the time students spend in the classroom. Yet the need for young people to understand and examine American history has never been more urgent. Students deserve what American history can give them: an appreciation of the past; a working knowledge of their government; and skills they can take with them out of the classroom and into their adult lives. HISTORY NOW dedicates itself to these goals and to the call—issued by the founders more than two centuries ago—for an informed and enlightened citizenry upon which to base a growing democracy. 

HISTORY NOW is available to anyone who is interested in American history and has access to the Web. But the journal is designed with American history teachers in mind. In each issue, the editors will bring together historians, master teachers and archivists to comment on a single historical theme. THE HISTORIAN’S PERSPECTIVE offers challenging interpretations of particular events related to the selected theme. FROM THE TEACHER'S DESK—written by master teachers—will suggest lesson plans and other activities to engage students in the topic. ASK THE ARCHIVIST will offer resources that can be used inside and outside of the classroom, as well as suggestions for additional reading. 

But no one knows the classroom better than you, our audience. With this in mind, HISTORY NOW encourages readers to use our Digital Drop-Box to share lesson plans, comment on our articles, ask questions of our staff, and let us know what you think about our journal. 

The first edition of HISTORY NOW tackles an issue at the forefront of current debate: the election of the nation’s chief executive. In 2000 the media engaged in a lengthy examination of the Electoral College, voting rights, states' rights, and the role of the Supreme Court. The coming election will offer more opportunities to connect current events to the past and to engage students in a close analysis of American history. 

Our guest historians have delivered four perspectives on our topic. Joanne Freeman discusses the contested election of 1800, a tense moment when the Electoral College did not pick a winner in the presidential election and the choice was thrown to the House of Representatives for resolution. 

Choice is a key issue in understanding electoral history. But universal or near-universal choice in elections was not always available to Americans. Steven Mintz examines the history of voting rights and the struggle to secure suffrage for African Americans, women and other excluded groups.

In the past, the expansion of the electorate has necessitated changes in electoral politics. Candidates, particularly those who were running for national office, adapted their strategies to new audiences and to even newer technologies. The role played by media in elections has expanded exponentially over the past fifty years. Liette Gidlow looks at this experience through the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the first presidential debates to be held on television. 

Finally, in an article that describes his experience teaching American history to Muslim students, many of whom are from countries where democracy is not a given, Ted Widmer reflects on the electoral process from an exchange student's perspective. 

Wondering how to use all of this in the classroom? Our master teachers and our archivist have assembled an enriching package of suggestions.

The editors would like to thank the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for the opportunity to put together such an exciting project and for sharing their collection of images and documents with us. Special thanks to James Basker, Lesley Herrmann, Karina Gaige and the education staff at the Institute, and to Sabina Daley, Director of Online Design at Thirteen/WNET. 

Most of all, we would like to thank you, our readers, for your interest in HISTORY NOW, and we invite you to return for our next issue, when we will look at the topic of slavery through primary sources such as letters, diaries and slave narratives. We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions. 



Carol Berkin                                                          Angelo Angelis
Editor, History Now                                                Associate Editor

Carol Berkin is Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence. 

Angelo Angelis is an Assistant Professor of History at Hunter College. He has recently completed an essay on Bacon’s Rebellion for an upcoming collection on colonial Chesapeake and is currently working on the manuscript for From Constitution to Revolution: Political Culture in Massachusetts, 17741788.