University of Pittsburgh
November 5, 2003

Pitt Receives Grant for "Voices Across Time" Institute

Secondary school teachers will learn how to help students explore American history through music

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—Pitt's Center for American Music, part of the University Library System, has been awarded a federal grant to host an institute for teachers next summer called "Voices Across Time: American History Through Song."

The $146,705 grant, from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), will allow 25 secondary school teachers to come to Pitt in July 2004 to learn how to teach American history by using music.

The institute will expand upon the ideas the center used to develop "Voices Across Time," a unique teacher-resource guide used in a successful pilot project in 1999. The guide consists of nine units, each dedicated to a different historical era. The music and popular songs of those particular times in history will help broaden and enhance the students' understanding of the people who lived the events, as well as their ethnic, political, and socioeconomic diversity.

"The sound of history is missing from our classrooms," says Pitt Professor of Musicology Deane Root, director of the center, codirector of the institute, chair of Pitt's music department, and Fletcher Hodges Jr. Curator of Pitt's Foster Hall Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of materials relating to the life and music of Stephen Foster. "Over the years, songs have allowed everyday people to voice their attitudes, opinions, or beliefs. Music provides a very real soundtrack to events throughout history." For example, students will listen to the spiritual "Go Down, Moses" to better understand slavery. They will hear Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" as a representation of the American populist movement of the mid-20th century. And John Lennon's "Imagine" will help them explore the idealism of the 1960s.

According to Root, arguably the nation's leading authority on Stephen Foster, studies have shown that music helps a student pay attention, retain information, and perform better on standardized tests. In the pilot project, teachers who used "Voices Across Time" to integrate music into their social studies or American history curriculum reported that students who had been struggling beforehand were making significant progress in class. "Voices Across Time" is specifically designed to aid teachers in grades 7 through 12, though it is adaptable for other grade levels.

Participants in next summer's institute, which will run from July 12-Aug. 13, will analyze popular songs to gain fresh material for historical inquiry. Field trips, authentic performances, historians, musicologists, and education specialists will help the teachers develop innovative strategies to integrate music into their teaching of American history. The summer institute is one of 29 projects designated by the NEH as "We the People" projects, designed to explore significant issues in U.S. history and culture for teachers and the general public.

"Voices Across Time" is funded through the Vira I. Heinz Endowment and the Grable Foundation. Teachers who wish to participate can contact codirector Mariana Whitmer at 412-624-3031 or