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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Van Valen's Gold Rush Journey

People's Choice:
2 votes


National Museum of American History


Second Story Interactive Studios




In Van Valen’s Gold Rush Journey, students investigate the journal of Alex Van Valen, a man who set sail in 1849 to stake his claim in California, to discover what life was like during the gold rush. This resource guides students through close analysis of primary documents and provides images of artifacts and background information to supplement the information provided in the journal.

Students complete this project by using an interactive map [] to unearth evidence needed to answer the questions presented in the accompanying student worksheet [].  The student worksheet is created as a writeable PDF, which allows students to print out an attractive and professional  publication of their research. The teacher guide includes suggested discussion questions, answers to the student questions, a sheet of Frequently Asked Questions about the gold rush journal, and a summary of what Smithsonian curators learned about the journal's author. Although intended as a project, elements of the site can also be used independently to develop historical research skills.

Based on surveys and conversations with teachers, it is clear that many educators are eager for materials that provide opportunities for critical analysis in unique and engaging ways, are structured so that they can be easily implemented but allow some level of flexibility and customization by the teacher, and that produce an elegant final product that can be included in student portfolios.  Van Valen’s Gold Rush Journey is designed to meet all of these needs.

The museum has received positive feedback from teachers on this resource.  Comments include the following:

  • GREAT integration of primary sources.  Completing the module “feels” like doing history. 
  • It is great to be able to zoom in to the primary sources and pan around…  Very useful and it will make the students feel like little detectives.
  • The presentation is beautiful.
  • The questions require all sorts of higher order critical thinking skills.  I am ABSOLUTELY going to use this as part of my course. 
  • I think my students will enjoy “thinking like a historian”.  They want to become engaged with the topic and this sends a message right away that they are not just students learning about a topic.
  • Well designed and appears to already have the advantage of teacher input or the hand of someone who has a great sense for what works in the real world classroom.