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Peer Review

Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture



Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jan 03, 2004 by History Editorial Board
Overview: This site is an extensive collection of multimedia medias about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin. The materials offer both a historical and a cultural context for the novel. The primary source materials include historical texts, newspaper reviews of the novel, adapations of the novel, children's books, plays, songs and images, and film clips. There is an interactive timeline and lesson plans.
Type of Material: A collection of primary texts, cartoons, graphic images, songs, scripts, and video clips.
Recommended Uses: Site materials can be used for research and teaching. It is particularly good for the study of 19th century social history and culture.
Technical Requirements: Real player for audio and Quicktime for video clips.
Identify Major Learning Goals: To develop interpretative skills for reading literature.
To develop critical thinking, research, and use of primary sources skills.
To develop an understanding of the relationship among literature, history, and culture.
To understand the political issues of 19th century United States.
To understand the nature of prejudice in 19th century United States.
To understand the role of the "mother" in ante-bellum culture.
Target Student Population: High School and college.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Students should have a basic knowledge of 19th century United States history.
Students should be able to work with primary sources.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: This site contains a variety of primary sources to help students understand Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the context from which it emerged, and the book's impact on United States culture and politics. The author teaches literature at the University of Virginia and continues to revise the site. The site includes the complete text of Uncle Tom's Cabin, copies of illustrations, and and covers from different editions of the book, text references to the Bible, and words and recordings of songs mentioned in the book. The author offers an abundance of material for history and literature students seeking the political context inwhich Stowe wrote and its impact on American culture. The site materials include: speeches, pamphlets, articles supporting and attacking slavery; information about blackface minstrel shows; religious documents from the era; an interactive timeline on political events; reviews of and articles about the books; adaptations of the book in songs, children's books, and plays; pictures of porcelain figures; and videos of segments from films based on the book. Still under construction is the section containing documents recording the reactioin of African Americans to Stow's work. The quality of the reproductions is excellent. The author's decision to hire professional singers to record songs for this project, rather than rely on existing recordings, ensures clear, clean audio.
Concerns: Students may find it difficult to understand and analyze the racially charged materials without help. Some materials need explanation about context and impact. The author should offer some sample assignments to compliment the text.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The author suggests ways in which the site can be used in the classroom. Links are provided to lesson plans other educators have created from site materials. Most of the lessons arre designed to help students interpret the book. A few assignments address the book's cultural impact. The existing lessonplans provide clear learning objectives and some engaging learning activities. Most pictures can be downloaded. The vast array of site materials creates a wealth of opportunities for lesson plan creation.
Concerns: A lack of explanatory text for much of the material means that teachers may need to help students make sense of the resources.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The site is easy to navigate. The author provides clear instructioins on how to use the site and its audio and video features. All the links work well. The home page is well designed and easy to understand. The materials can be accessed in three ways: search (category, regioin, date, race, and gender), browse, and interpret. Commands lead to various parts of the site. Browse may be the best method for first time users of the site. Some site sections are currently under construction, e.g. the Help page.
Concerns: The only major problem was navigating among lesson plans and between a single group of lesson plans and using the Interpret Mode homepage. When a viewer enters into a lesson plan site, the back button which normally appears at the top of the screen, disappears. This can be frustrating for those who do not know that they can find a back comand by right-clicking on the mouse. Some individual lesson plan pages and buttons at the bottom that would return the viewer to either the lesson plan homepage or the Interpret homepage. Rather than returning to the Interpretation homepage, it might be better to return to the page within the Interpretation site that lists the groups of lesson plans.
Some viewers might be bothered by the downlad times for the music and movies. For those who want the best listening experience, the download time for music in the .wav format was slow. But, the download time in the .ra format was quick and the quality of the sound more than adequate. Download time for the videos was slower than expected.

Other Issues and Comments: This site is attractive for a popular culturist and offers a great variety of cartoons, graphics, and even a series of advertisements featuring Uncle Tom and his cabin. The material on ante-bellum motherhood with graphics is wonderful.