Program Info

“Crossroads of Empire: Cultural Exchange and Imperial Rivalry at Old Fort Niagara.”

National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for School Teachers

 Fall 2010

 Dear Colleague:

        Many thanks for your interest in the 2011 National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for School Teachers “Crossroads of Empire: Cultural Exchange and Imperial Rivalry at Old Fort Niagara.”  

            The workshop centers on the vital history that emanated from Old Fort Niagara, one of most significant and well-preserved eighteenth century historic sites in North America. Fort Niagara served as an important crossroads between the empires of Great Britain, France, the Haudenosaunee (the native people who inhabited what is now much of New York State and surrounding areas, who are also called the Iroquois or the Six Nations), and, later, the United States as they battled each other for control of the North American continent. The Fort threatened American territory during the Revolution, was occupied by both sides during the War of 1812, and then a peace treaty secured the Fort and region for the United States. Negotiation and compromise between these parties created a modus vivendi where no side held sway. The Fort’s dynamic history, therefore, is not one of the inevitable march of empire, but of the contingencies and compromises that led to the rise and fall of several different empires who controlled Fort Niagara. Each sought to dominate this gateway to the west. 

            This workshop will immerse NEH Summer Scholars in the world of eighteenth-century life, from both the Native American and European perspective. Participants will interact with historic interpreters, clamber about ramparts dating to the 1700s, handle beaver pelts and trade goods like fishhooks and beads, and perhaps even fire a musket. One unique feature will be an overnight stay at the French Castle, the 1726 three-story stone fortress and trading post perched above the crashing waves of Lake Ontario. By week’s end NEH Summer Scholars will understand the perspective of the Iroquois people who first inhabited this region, as well as the struggles of ordinary European soldiers who bled and died to control Fort Niagara. You will never think of the native peoples, 18th century warfare, or the expansion of the United States in the same way again. After all, you will have experienced what other people only read about, and will now be able to bring that experience to your classroom.


Program Design

The workshop is constructed around four key components:

(1) lecture from leading scholars addressing Fort Niagara’s significance to the workshop’s themes of Native-European interaction, imperial rivalry, archeology, winning American independence, and westward expansion;

(2) document discussion sessions focusing on research into key historic documents, including an introduction to archival materials and archaeological research;

(3) hands-on demonstrations by the interpretive staff at Old Fort Niagara that illustrate the material presented in lectures and work sessions, with an emphasis on specific fort locations and buildings that illustrate various time periods and peoples; and,

(4) curriculum development sessions where participants draft and demonstrate teaching techniques based on the material that they have engaged, with an emphasis on using primary source material.

These components build successively upon each other to provide a broad knowledge base, deep knowledge of primary sources (both written and architectural), and practical applications that allow each teacher to improve classroom instruction.



During the workshop week, all NEH Summer Scholars must complete either a lesson plan or a research project.  The exact project can take many forms, from traditional lessons plans to digital tours of the site that introduce students to its history and the workshop themes. For those NEH Summer Scholars more interested in a research-based project, workshop staff will assist them in completing annotations of primary source documents or research-based essays.

Participants who create lesson plans and/or curriculum guides for daily topics will work in groups with teachers from similar grade levels where they will be able to collaborate on analyzing the material and brainstorming lesson plans. Each day, the groups will submit an instructional idea to the Master Teacher, who will then provide feedback on how to develop a more formal lesson plan.  Some evening work may be required for the group to complete its curricular project by Friday, the workshop’s last day. On Friday each group will evaluate its portfolio, determine the best lesson plan to emerge from its work, and present it to the workshop as a whole. These examples will be disseminated via the Crossroads webpage to all NEH Summer Scholars as “take away” materials to enhance classroom teaching.

As an alternative, those who choose to pursue individual research will consult with the project staff, who will assist them in completing annotations of primary source documents or research-based essays.  They will be expected to present an outline of their work by Friday and submit the completed project one month after the workshop’s conclusion.

In advance of the workshop each NEH Summer Scholar will receive a packet of readings that they will be expected to complete before arriving at Niagara. We will discuss these readings during workshop sessions, and you will use them as the basis for your lesson plans or research projects.

The goals of the workshop are to provide teachers with content background as well as specific models for the innovative teaching of this material anywhere in the United States.  Since the workshop content is consistent with individual states’ Social Studies standards, NEH Summer Scholars will find the material studied especially applicable to their teaching of Native peoples’ roles in early America, colonial settlement in the United States, the wars for American independence, and westward expansion.



            One of this workshop’s key assets is its faculty. Internationally recognized experts will present the latest and most innovative research on native-European interaction on the western frontier. Each has been selected for his or her scholarly credentials and dynamic presentation skills. The Project Director, Thomas A. Chambers, teaches courses in early American history at Niagara University and is completing a book on battlefield tourism and commemorating the American Revolution. This will be the third year he has directed this NEH Workshop. He organized a 2009 international conference on the Seven Years War in conjunction with Old Fort Niagara and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, is active in War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations, and began his career as a costumed interpreter at a similar 18th century fort. We are particularly pleased that Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor of the University of California-Davis will be joining the workshop to discuss his many works on the region during the War of 1812. His new book—The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies—masterfully narrates the constantly changing border between Canada and United States in the Niagara region, as well as the key players who shaped that history. Keith Jamieson is a well-respected scholar and activist who will bring a perspective that many Americans never hear, that of the Six Nations and their history. Jon Parmenter is the author of the recently published book, The Edge of the Woods: Iroquoia, 1534-1701, and teaches in the History Department at Cornell University. Susan Maguire, a member of the Anthropology Department at Buffalo State College, has logged many hours conducting archeological digs at Old Fort Niagara and has published many of her findings. Carl Benn, History Department Chair at Ryerson University in Toronto, boasts an unparalleled reputation as the foremost experts in the Revolutionary-era Iroquois experience; David Preston of The Citadel is fast emerging as a leading expert on the Iroquois during the Revolution, and is the author of The Texture of Contact. European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783. Douglas W. DeCroix offers the unique combination of strong War of 1812 scholarly credentials and many years of hands-on experience as a historic interpreter. Jere Brubaker, the Curator at Old Fort Niagara, will lead sessions on the Fort’s archival resources and eighteenth-century documents. Add in the award-winning teaching of Douglas Kohler, a past workshop participant and active member of many history-related initiatives in western New York, and we have an All- Star lineup that promises to present the latest scholarship and most innovative teaching strategies available.

Daily Schedule and Topics

Each day’s sessions focus around a chronological period and topic within the workshop’s larger themes of cultural contact between the Haudenosaunee and Europeans, and westward expansion, as well as an architectural feature that highlights that day’s theme. On Monday, Project Director Thomas A. Chambers will introduce the workshop and guide NEH Summer Scholars around the workshop’s historic landmark, Old Fort Niagara. Visiting faculty member Keith Jamieson (Six Nations) will lecture on “First Contact—Europe and America Meet.” Today and throughout the week, Chambers and Master Teacher Douglas Kohler will conduct work sessions based upon readings from the Jesuit Relations, 17th-18th century reports from French missionaries to various Indian nations, and other French and Iroquois sources. This day’s sessions are devoted to creating a common knowledge set about Native-European contact, Iroquois culture, and early French colonization. A box lunch at the Fort allows for time to explore the site, as well as to attend sessions on archival sources led by the Fort’s Curator, Jere Brubaker.

            Tuesday brings historian Jon Parmenter (Cornell University; Week), an expert on the Fort’s Native American history. He will speak about the interactions between French traders and soldiers and the Iroquois. Fort Niagara’s Native American interpretive staff will augment these lectures with demonstrations of Iroquois folkways; the Gate of the Five Nations, where Iroquois entered the Fort, will serve as the architectural focus of this day’s sessions. Excerpts from The Papers of Sir William Johnson that discuss the 1764 Fort Niagara Indian Congress that solidified British domination of the region will provide a basis for further research into cross-cultural conflict during the eighteenth century, and particularly the declining power of the Iroquois once the British controlled the vital Niagara crossroads. An added dimension to Tuesday’s program is a presentation by visiting faculty Susan Maguire (Buffalo State College) on her many archeological digs at the Fort.

            By Wednesday we will have reached the period of the American Revolution, when Fort Niagara served as a base for Loyalist and Indian raids on the Tthirteen coloniesColonies. Visiting Faculty members Carl Benn (Ryerson University, Week 1) or David Preston (The Citadel, Week 2) will discuss “Iroquois Culture and Diplomacy” and guide NEH Summer Scholars through primary sources from The Papers of Sir William Johnson. Later Wednesday afternoon visiting faculty Douglas DeCroix (Western New York Heritage) will discuss the plight of Loyalists at the Fort during the Revolution. You can imagine the sense of desperation these displaced people—many from the Mohawk Valley—felt during their time at the Fort while you sleep overnight at the French Castle on Old Fort Niagara’s grounds. Bring your sleeping bag and camp mattress, since the 1726 fortification lacks four-star hotel accommodations! Past participants rated the overnight stay—including presentations on material culture, a lantern tour, and the sunrise over Lake Ontario—as one the workshop’s’ highlights. There is even a chance that you will be able to fire a musket Thursday morning!

            After a chance to rest and clean up, Thursday afternoon’s focus is the interwar period, when Great Britain and the United States both claimed and alternated possession of the Fort, with little regard for Native Americans in the area. We will visit American fortifications from the 1812 era, as well as the Rush-Bagot Treaty monument that commemorates the demilitarization of the U.S.-Canada border. Award-winning historian Alan Taylor will discuss the Fort and the Niagara region’s role in the War of 1812, topics discussed in his two most recent books, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, and the newly released The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (Knopf, October 2010). Readings from Indian agents, military officials, and Seneca leaders will detail how European nations gradually dispossessed the Iroquois.

We conclude the workshop Friday with a lecture on “Westward Expansion and Settlement” by Project Director Thomas A. Chambers. Once the War of 1812 ended, Americans expropriated Indian lands, poured into the Niagara region to settle farmland and see the natural wonders of Niagara Falls. Relevant readings highlight the sense of opportunity and wonder felt by settlers and tourists, as well as the anger and loss experienced by the Seneca. The final session wraps up the workshop themes with presentations of group lesson plans and individual research projects.


Academic Resources

         Niagara University has extensive on-campus computer and information technology resources, including the standard public workstations, campus-wide network, and wireless capability in most buildings. Access to the university network is available from on-campus dormitories and apartments. Public computer labs are open 8:30am-9:30pm weekdays, noon-5:00pm Saturdays, and 1:00-9:00pm Sundays. Computer access is also available during summer library hours, Mondays-Thursdays 8:00am-9:00pm, Fridays 8:00am-4:00pm, and Saturdays 10:00am-4:00pm. The library collection consists of nearly 200,000 books and more than 21,000 periodical titles in print and electronic formats. NEH Summer Scholars will receive a temporary password allowing them full access to campus computing resources, from which they can access the Internet and email (web-based only). Printing is also available for a small per-page fee.


Stipend and Expenses

            Each NEH Summer Scholar will receive a $1200.00 stipend intended to help cover transportation, housing, meals, and incidental expenses.



NEH Summer Scholars seeking professional development credit have three options for documenting their activities at the workshop.

1)      For those seeking in-service or professional development credit, the College of Arts & Sciences at Niagara University will provide a letter specifying the dates, total instructional hours, and content of the workshop.

2)      Niagara University’s Office of Continuing and Community Education will provide, free of charge, a certificate for those participants seeking continuing education units (CEUs). Based on the standard rate of one (1) CEU for ten (10) hours of instructional time, this workshop would award each participant with three (3) CEUs.

3)      Graduate credit is available through Niagara University’s M.A.-Interdisciplinary Studies program. NEH Summer Scholars desiring this option will enroll as non-matriculating students (transcript required) in three-credit-hour course, which requires additional research and writing beyond the workshop content. Please contact the Project Director for details and cost.



            Some of the most rewarding aspects of this type of workshop come outside the scheduled sessions and site visits. Sharing a meal, talking in lounges, or just walking across campus provide informal opportunities to meet your colleagues and discuss topics as varied as yesterday’s lecture to last night’s baseball game. To facilitate these kinds of informal exchanges between NEH Summer Scholars, we encourage all attendees to lodge on the Niagara University campus.

On-campus housing is in the campus apartments, located about one-quarter mile from the main classroom building and dining hall, with ample parking. These four-person suites (four single rooms, one shared bath) feature full kitchens and a common space with TV, as well as a bed, desk, closet, internet access (bring an ethernet cord), and an overhead light. Built in 2002, they are a popular option with upper-level students during the academic year. Rates are approximately $40 per day. Best of all, they’re air conditioned!

All participants may select to take their meals in the campus dining hall, which offers a wide variety of food choices, including vegetarian options, in its food-court-style serving area. Full-day meals plans are available at approximately $29 per day, a lunch-only option costs $10 per day. The latter is strongly encouraged for participants not staying in campus housing.


Planning Your Stay

The Fort is located on a beautiful peninsula at the junction of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, near the historic and natural attractions of the Niagara Falls region—on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. Niagara University sits on a bluff overlooking the Niagara River gorge, and its 160-acre campus is noted for its beauty. Summers are glorious here, with ample sun and warm temperatures. The slight breeze off the lake or the gorge makes even the hottest summer days (that’s the upper 80s around here) enjoyable. We have built in time on Wednesday evening to visit the Falls.

Since the workshop features a full schedule, NEH Summer Scholars will need to arrive Sunday evening. The workshop will end in time for Friday night or Saturday morning departures. The Buffalo-Niagara International Airport is approximately a 30-minute drive from Niagara University, and is served by all major airlines. Amtrak service stops three miles from campus. Either the city of Niagara Falls or the town of Lewiston is a five-to-ten minute drive away, should you need any supplies, and bus routes reach both spots.

If you choose to extend your stay either before or after the workshop, there are ample opportunities for tourism and outdoor activities. The Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation can assist with planning post-workshop activities, including locating lodging across the price spectrum through its easy online reservation system.



            The workshop is open to full-time and part-time classroom teachers in public, private, parochial, and charter schools, as well as home-schooling parents. Other K-12 school personnel, including administrators, substitute teachers, classroom professionals and librarians, are also eligible to participate, subject to available space. Preference will be given to those applicants who have not previously attended na a NEH Landmarks workshop. Teachers from all grade levels are encouraged to apply, especially those who cover native-European interaction as part of their regular grade-level curriculum. All disciplines are welcome; social studies is an obvious choice, but someone teaching literature might bring an interesting perspective on captivity narratives or a math teacher might enable participants to better understand the geometry of eighteenth-century warfare. We hope to attract as broad a pool of applicants as possible.


Application Deadline and Procedures

         Application information is available at A completed application packet consists of three collated copies of these four elements:

1) the completed application cover sheet (fill and print on-line at Remember to hit “submit”!

2) your resume

3) the application essay. The most important part of the completed application is an essay of up to one double-spaced page. This essay should include information about your professional background and interest in the subject of the Workshop; your special perspectives, skills, or experiences that would contribute to the Workshop; and how the experience would enhance your teaching or school service.

4) a letter of recommendation from the principal, department head, or district administrator of your teaching institution or the head of a home schooling association in support of your application. Please ask your referee to sign his/her name across the seal on the back of the envelope containing the letter. Send it along with your application packet.

We cannot accept applications via fax, email, or as email attachments. Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 1, 2011, and should be addressed as follows:


Thomas A. Chambers, Project Director

Crossroads of Empire: Cultural Exchange and Imperial Rivalry at Old Fort Niagara

Niagara University
Timon Hall, Room 130

P.O. Box 1932
Niagara University, NY  14109


If you have any additional questions about any aspect of the workshop, please do not hesitate to contact either me or Allison Violante, Project Coordinator, at 716-286-8091 or

I hope that you find this workshop of interest, invite your application, and hope to see you at Old Fort Niagara this July!



Thomas A. Chambers

Project Director

Associate Professor of History, Niagara University