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American History on the Web - Savages and Scoundrels

By Gene Santoro 
Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: February 19, 2013 
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Savages and Scoundrels:
The Untold Story of America's Road to Empire
Through Indian Territory

Companion book by Paul VanDevelder (Yale)

Making history fun isn't always easy, especially when the topics are gnarly. But this brilliant one-two combo of engaging narrative nonfiction and educational Web site tackles one of the most vexing sets of issues in American history—what our forebears brandishing Manifest Destiny did to American Indians. This 21st-century mode mixes the joy of discovery and open-ended play with enough verve and flexibility to yield enlightening insights.

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Start with the History Wheel at the Web site's center. Pick a topic, event, individual: eminent domain, Indian treaties, Little Bighorn, George Washington. The Wheel—essentially a library of unfolding data points—opens up different historical contexts behind your choice. Follow the options anywhere: backward and forward in time, across continents, to related topics, events and figures. It's like creating a self-guided trail through our tangled past with the Indians. As with a good mystery, the deeper you get into tracing your jump-off term, the more the trails fork, and the harder it is to stop clicking—and learning.

Check it out, and you'll soon discover why VanDevelder's groundbreaking work is yielding a forthcoming PBS documentary, a comprehensive curriculum package for schools and collaborations with the National Museum of the American Indian. Tracking history's twists and turns this way makes even tragic events part of an expansive puzzle that ensnares and educates curious kids and grownups alike.

—Gene Santoro


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