Cowboys are found in many countries around the world. In Chile, they are called huasos, in Argentina gauchos, in Australia jackeroos, and in Venezuela llaneros. The original cowboys in North America were Spanish and were called vaqueros. They were very skilled in driving and handling the long-horned cattle that they introduced to on the continent in the seventeenth century. As with the black cowboys, Mexican cowboys also faced discrimination, earning less pay and being prevented from advancing to foreman or trail boss.
While their urban counterparts were restricted to more traditional female roles in the late 1800’s, women of the American West were roping and riding broncs. The term “cowgirl” first appeared in print by the early 1890s. Daughters of pioneer ranchers grew up riding and roping along with their brothers because on small ranches, everyone helped with the cattle. Attitudes of the day deemed it improper for a woman to dress and ride like a man, so many women wore full skirts and rode sidesaddle. During the Wild West shows, women first appeared as competitors with women like sharpshooter Annie Oakley, bronc rider Bertha Blancett, and steer-roper Mabel Strickland.
Dime-store novels and Wild West television shows helped construct the stereotypical images of the “white” cowboy and the red-skinned Indian “savages.” As the West was often portrayed as a battlefield between these two groups, it may be difficult for students to understand that so-called Indians were often also cowboys. However, this narrative of the Wild West is incomplete, and teachers can easily rectify this by teaching about the indigenous experience during this westward expansion period. Early Spanish missionaries actually trained Native Americans as cattle herders, leading many indigenous peoples to adopt ranching into their economies.
The cowboy is viewed as an American icon: rugged rider of the range; champion of the good. Yet our understanding of cowboys has, for the most part, been informed by movies and television shows. Cowboy culture and history are a product of diverse men and women of all backgrounds; therefore, it is important for teachers to expose students to the varied cultures that influenced the American West.
Clay has been used for many things throughout history, including writing surfaces, money, cooking vessels, and building materials. Archaeologists use ceramics as a tool for dating cultures, which can be impactful to note in the social studies classroom. Teaching the evolution of tiles, ceramics, and clay throughout various cultures can inform students about how civilizations utilized these materials and advanced throughout history.
“The camera doesn’t lie” is often assumed to be true about historical photographs, even though we know that maxim is certainly not true in the twenty-first century. This phrase first began to be used in the late nineteenth century when new technology allowed photographs to be printed in books, magazines, and newspapers.
Adam Smith and his famous book The Wealth of Nations often make lists of things to know about the eighteenth century in economics and history classes. How can teachers explain his impact instead of making Smith just another factoid to memorize? Adam Smith was witness to and influenced by three major movements: the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. Associate Smith’s economic thought with these larger events to make him memorable.
Most times a movement promotes a direct change in society. A revolution creates a volcanic chain reaction that leaves an indelible mark on the world.
The skills and content taught in science and social studies are often relegated to a secondary importance when compared to literacy and math. We can see this in how districts allocate funding and what states decide to test. However, while social studies skills are often taken for granted, the current political climate in the United States demands that we revisit, analyze, and update the skills that students will need not only to be successful in their future workplace but most importantly to be able to contribute to a healthy social dialogue as active citizens. We need to be able to have civil conversations about how we want to live together as a nation, what values we want to give priority to, and how we understand our past in order to promote a robust and healthy national future.
Writing has become an integral part of the social studies curriculum. Students need to know that this activity strengthens their reading skills as well as helps them to embrace the content more fluidly. When writing about specific historical events, oftentimes students must research their topic to gain factual knowledge. This is an important aspect to documenting and understanding historical events accurately.