The California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP)

By Mellor, Ronald | Social Studies Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP)


Mellor, Ronald, Social Studies Review


In 19921 became co-Director, together with Nick Entrikin, of the new UCLA site of the California HistorySocial Science Project. We called the site the "UCLA History-Geography Project," and we determined to give special emphasis to geography instruction in the California schools. As it happened, Nick was the Chair of the Geography department and I was Chair of History.

In the past dozen years I have learned an enormous amount from the CHSSP community: from K-12 teachers, from university presenters, from other site directors, and from Nick himself. Of course I was fortunate to have as departmental colleagues at UCLA Gary Nash, founder of the National Center for History in the Schools, and Ed Berenson, the first Executive Director of CHSSP. Many of my colleagues had already been working with teachers in developing the National Standards, so we immediately found a supportive community for advancing that schoolsuniversity partnership. Eventually I became the statewide Faculty Advisor for the CHSSP.

It was easy for me to see the central role of K-12 education. My own life and career has been shaped by the four years at Regis, a free Catholic high school in Manhattan. This generously endowed school gave scholarships to boys from all over the NY metropolitan area, so most of us commuted two hours or more each day. In ninth grade ancient history, we were walked to the nearby Metropolitan Museum on Friday afternoons to examine Egyptian mummies, Assyrian sculpture, Greek pottery, and the reconstructed rooms from Pompeii. I had many field trips in elementary and secondary school, but almost none in college. It was then I learned that museums were not just repositories of art, but of history as well. That lesson has never left me. I was also fortunate to take four years of Latin and three years of Greek at Regis. Years later, when I visited Rome on my junior-year abroad and decided I wanted to spend my life "traveling to the Mediterranean," I was lucky enough to be well prepared to do so.

One early lesson of CHSSP was the importance of explicitly addressing geography. My own field is ancient Mediterranean history - Greece and Rome - and I have always shown maps and taken much else for granted. I discovered that most teachers were much more familiar with history than geography - in fact the geography standards were slightly terrifying - so we needed to bring history and geography together. To model this Nick and I developed a presentation to bring both history and geography together on the first day of our Summer Institute.

I particularly enjoyed our session on Water in the urban landscape. I would present to teachers on water in ancient Rome: destructive (floods; malaria); beneficial (aqueducts; sewers; baths; public fountains); ritual meaning in religion; the Tiber River. It was history with lots of geography. Then Nick presented an image of water in the creation of Los Angeles: erosion; agriculture; development (the San Fernando Valley); Metropolitan Water District; sewage and the Santa Monica Bay; the Los Angeles River. This was geography with lots of history. The destruction of Rome's aqueducts was the crucial element in seeing the city's population decline from over one million to about 20,000 in the Middle Ages. And the question: how many people could live in LA without important water. Now, when I teach about water in antiquity, I use more geography and more comparison with modern water usage.

I now realize that my dozens of visits to Rome and Greece were a vital part of my education as an historian. Geography is absolutely essential for the history teacher and student - whether learned from books, teachers, or on the ground. When I began to teach world history in 1993, I decided I had to visit China as well. I am convinced that my two educational tours of China - from Shanghai to the Silk Road - has made me understand Chinese history much better, and has made me a more enthusiastic teacher of it. …

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