Digging into the History of Mining With K–12 Teachers
With NEH funding, the Montana Historical Society hosted The Richest Hills: Mining in the Far West, 1862–1920 in 2011, 2013, and 2015. As part of this professional development workshop, between 76 and 80 K–12 teachers from across the United States gathered each summer to learn about the history of mining in the American West, including its impact on the second Industrial Revolution, the human capital that mining brought to the region, and the industry’s long-term ecological impact.
Educators, who taught subjects as varied as American history and marine biology, came from across the country, hailing from rural schools and urban centers alike. Over the course of a week, they attended lectures and participated in workshops led by local history experts and university professors. They visited towns and historical sites that were established during the mining boom, including Bannack, Anaconda, Butte, Virginia City, and Helena. There, participants learned about the history and development of mining techniques and the racial and ethnic diversity that mining brought to the region, as well as the industry’s impact on the Native Americans who had inhabited the region for centuries. At the World Museum of Mining, teachers saw a nineteenth-century no-smoking sign printed in 17 different languages. From Dr. Andrea Stierle, an organic chemist, they learned about the Berkeley Pit, once the nation’s largest truck-operated pit copper mine and now part of its largest Superfund site.
Participants leave with a much more nuanced understanding of mining and the history of the American West, as well as an arsenal of ways to use this information in the classroom. In addition, they know how to incorporate primary source documents, the built environment, and local history into their teaching. And according to Kirby Lambert, who directed the program, NEH funding had a significant impact on the towns the teachers visited (the populations of which varied from 200 to 30,000): “Having 80 people come spend the night, eat in the restaurants and shop in the gift store, that’s a huge economic impact.”