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Bradley Snow Bradley Snow

Historians smiling with boost from federal grants

By Evelyn Boswell

Montana State University's history and philosophy department received a $300,000 boost from the National Science Foundation last summer. A short time later, it learned it would be involved in a $1-million project with the Bozeman School District.

"It was a great year," said department head Robert Rydell. He and Michael Reidy are overseeing the $300,000 project, and Rydell is project director for the $1 million project.

The NSF gave the department a $300,000, three-year Small Grant for Training and Research—one of three offered in the United States—to examine the way humans have used and modified the American West through science and technology. In the process, the grant will enhance MSU's new Ph.D. program in history. The program was approved in 2003 by the Montana Board of Regents.

"Without the Ph.D. program, we wouldn't have the NSF dollars," Rydell said. "Without the NSF dollars, we wouldn't be able to build the program as quickly as we would like."

Reidy said the NSF grant will be used to recruit and retain graduate students, hire guest scholars to teach at the graduate and undergraduate level, and hold three annual conferences that will provide sustained research opportunities for faculty and students. The grant will allow faculty and students to work together on a three-year research project.

Rydell acknowledged that some people may think it's strange that a science foundation would give money to a history department.

"But there's a history to science," he said. "It's very important."

The common research project is called "Mile High, Mile Deep: Imagining and Modifying Topographical and Subterranean Environments." The title suggests a focus on Butte, but Rydell said researchers will incorporate findings from Butte, Yellowstone National Park and the entire American West to understand the importance of space and place for the practice of science.

Diane Smith Bradley Snow (above) and Diane Smith are two of the history department's first three Ph.D. students.
The third starts in January. (photos Erin Raley)

The Ph.D. program has three students enrolled so far, Rydell said. Robert Wilson, the first postdoctoral researcher, is teaching contemporary issues in science this fall as part of MSU's new core curriculum.

The $1-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education is funding a three-year professional development program for Bozeman K-12 and Gallatin County K-8 teachers called "Telling Lives, Teaching Lives." Its purpose is to inspire teachers' passion for history, improve the quality of history teaching and engage students in learning American history from biographies, founding documents and museum artifacts. The project will focus on three turning points in American history: the era of the American Revolution and Constitution; the era of the Civil War; and the era of the Great Depression and World War II.

Besides the Department of History and Philosophy, other MSU partners in the project are Native American Studies and the Museum of the Rockies.

The "Telling Lives" project overlaps another three-year program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. That one, which involves MSU and the Bozeman public schools, is titled, "From the World of Lewis and Clark to the 'World of Tomorrow.'"

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