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Teacher Workshop on Transcontinental Railroad to Make Another Run

Historic Landmarks Program Gets 4th Round of NEH Funding

A UC Davis-run workshop that brings the history of the Transcontinental Railroad to life for schoolteachers is back on track for next summer, thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

The $180,000 grant, announced earlier this month, is the fourth NEH award received by UC Davis’ History Project for its popular summer workshop, “The Transcontinental Railroad: Transforming California and the Nation.”

The History Project at UC Davis is one of seven California History-Social Science Projects and part of the larger network of California Subject Matter Projects commissioned by the California Legislature to improve K-12 teaching. The statewide office for the California History-Social Science Projects is also based at UC Davis.

The projects bring university scholars and teachers together to deepen the teachers’ subject knowledge and to assist them in conveying the subject — both content and methods of inquiry — to their students, and thus better prepare them for college. Stacey Greer, director of the UC Davis History Project, said: “We call it a K-16 collaboration.” 

Help in Teaching to New State Framework

Such training is especially needed for California teachers, she said, now that the state has adopted a new framework for K-12 history-social science instruction that updates and broadens views of history and increases emphasis on student literacy and inquiry.  

The staff of the statewide California History-Science Project led the efforts to write that framework, working with colleagues around the state (including Greer during her previous job at the state Department of Education). The framework, approved by the State Board of Education in July, is the first such overhaul in more than a decade.

In 2015-16, the UC Davis History Project offered 10 professional development programs to nearly 400 teachers, most of them from Northern California. 

Railroad's Impacts on American Lives

The Transcontinental Railroad workshop, with federal funding, has an even wider reach. More than 200 middle and high school teachers from across North America have come to Sacramento over three summers — 2013, 2015 and 2016 — to study how the 1863-69 construction of the rail line shaped American lives.

Portrait photo of UC Davis historian Louis Warren

Louis Warren (pictured), a history professor who specializes in Western, environmental and Native American history, will co-direct next summer’s two weeklong offerings, along with Greer. (History professors Ari Kelman and Eric Rauchway co-directed the previous railroad teacher workshops.)

The workshop, part of the NEH’s Landmarks of American History and Culture series, will be offered June 25-30 and July 9-14, to up to 36 teachers each session. They will start in Old Sacramento and nearby historic sites, with day trips to Donner Pass, Stanford University and San Francisco.

Experts from Stanford University, California State University East Bay, CSU Chico and the California State Railroad Museum will join Louis in covering the origin and construction of the Overland Route and its social, political and economic impacts.

Participating teachers will get help in translating their experiences to the classroom—developing lesson plans that teach students to use historical records in making their own discoveries and to develop their reading, writing and analytical skills.

In addition to Greer, who is a former schoolteacher, History Project Program Coordinator Katharine Cortes (who is finishing her Ph.D. in history at UC Davis) and Sacramento high school history “teacher leader” Jeff Pollard (a UC Davis history master’s degree alumnus) work closely with program participants.

About the NEH

logo for National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: