Swamp to City - Curricula
Swamp to City: Chicago History from the Portage to the Metropolis
The Chicago Portage is introduced to students from the eyes of one its first European explorers, Louis Jolliet. Since most of the Chicago Portage is buried by the built environment, students will need to consider the importance of remembering places and thinking about how memory is kept alive. This introductory unit acts as a thematic preface to the entire curriculum; some teachers may want to begin with a more traditional approach which may be found in Unit 2.
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This unit introduces the basic physical origins and characteristics of the Chicago Portage and the unique formation of the waterways that attracted and served the purposes of Native Americans, Europeans, and Americans. Students are asked to interpret visual images, analyze primary sources, and read maps so they may understand the geographic context in which the Chicago Portage developed.
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Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette did not "discover" the Chicago Portage as it is written in many books. Instead, they were led to this shortcut by the Kaskaskian, a major Native American civilization based in Illinois. The early perceptions of First Peoples by the French—and visa versa—can be found in such primary sources as narratives and drawings; in this unit, students have the opportunity to interpret each groups’ ideas of the other.
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The fur trade is examined as a complex economic and political relationship between the Native American and European/American nations. By exploring the establishment of the fur trade and the necessary infrastructure to support it, students will learn the fundamental role that controlling natural resources play in colonization. The early days of Chicago begin to emerge in this unit as well. The final lesson focuses specifically on women on the frontier.
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Before the web of railroads, before O’Hare, Chicago was known as a great inland seaport. The unit introduces students to the seaport at the peak of its success and then leads them through an inquiry about how such development happened. They study each phase, and make connections between social, economic, and political spheres at both the local and national level. Students examine how human actions and decisions rather than simple geography account for Chicago’s burgeoning commercial success.
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As Chicago urbanized and became a metropolis the expansion of people and industry had an adverse impact on the condition of the lake and rivers. The rights of individuals and the public came into conflict and Chicago’s commercial success threatened its own health and safety as well as people in towns downriver. The unit opens in the early years of the city of Chicago and closes with the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
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As transportation became less dependent on waterways, the role of the Portage Site and the Illinois & Michigan Canal diminished. This change coincided with the Progressive era commitment to the establishment of recreation, green space, and historic preservation. Students will have the opportunity to involve themselves in historic preservation and heritage tourism, and investigate the ways these movements affect the cultural and economic life of the city.
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Through a number of engaging activities, students will explore how Chicago’s past is remembered and how historical significance is determined. In a sense, it revisits some of the questions posed in Unit 1: how do we remember the past and find meaning and significance in it?
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The Chicago Portage impacted many communities in the region. Students may be interested in relating their own town’s history to the Portage, using the same themes developed in this curriculum. A framework and timeline is provided to support such inquiry.
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Throughout the curriculum students are asked to analyze primary sources, political cartoons, and photographs and prints. Reproducible worksheets are provided in this section.