Clicking into Iowa history


Sergio Flores

The Iowa State Capitol is shown on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015.

Get schooled in Iowa history — for free.

By Kenyon Ellsworth

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If you build it, they will come.

That’s the idea with a new free online course called Iowa 101 that is being offered to anyone with interest and Internet access.

Tom Morain, the head of government relations at Graceland University and the course’s creator, said the course is a seven-part series based on Iowa’s frontier days.

“Each topic has an article online from a history journal,” Morain said. “There is also an intro that puts the article in context, as well as a short video.”

The project is a partnership among Morain, Graceland University, Des Moines Area Community College, Humanities Iowa, and the Des Moines Register.

Morain has long since been interested in history and educating the public in Iowa’s history. He was director of the State Historical Society, Living History Farm’s director of history, and also taught Iowa history at Iowa State University and Graceland.

“I wanted to do more Iowa history outreach when I was at the State Historical Society,” Morain said. “We had the content, but now we have the means of getting the information out.”

Morain said participant feedback is an asset to Iowa 101.

“This project is under the category of public history. There’s classroom history, but a lot of people are lifelong learners,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes to get materials, and this puts it at your fingertips. The whole course is shaped like a statewide book club.”

Christopher Rossi, the executive director of Humanities Iowa, said the course is a baby step in advancing Iowa’s cultural literacy through a greater appreciation of the state’s history.

Rossi said he believes the courses online format is conducive to this goal.

“Public history should be accessible, not stuffed away in special collections, although some has to be for preservation purposes,” Rossi said. “With click of a mouse, that can happen.”

Rossi said many students in the state are taught Iowa history as a subset to social studies in the fifth grade, and the material only receives a few weeks of attention.

The University of Iowa currently offers one class focused on Iowa history, called “History of Iowa and the Midwest.”

R. Tyler Priest, a UI associate professor of history and geography, said although there are not many classes specifically on Iowa’s history, that does not mean it is not being taught in other courses.

“I’m teaching a course in American environmental history, and the final research project is on Iowa history,” Priest said. “I think it’s important to understand the history that you’re immersed in.”

Overall, numerous learning outlets pertaining to Iowa’s history can only benefit university students and the general public alike.

“History is a celebratory and conflictual subject matter that needs to be approached without prejudice,” Rossi said. “Without inviting many voices, we will only hear the din of one point of view.”

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