students in a dugout canoe

Chicago History from the Portage Site to the Metropolis


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Title Page and Credits

Table of Contents page

Teachers Introduction


Unit 1: Place and Memory
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. Download Unit 1


Unit 2: The Lay of the Land
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. Download Unit 2


Unit 3: First Peoples, First Encounters
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. Download Unit 3


Unit 4: Exploration to Exploitation
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. Download Unit 4


Unit 5: Chicago Becomes an Inland Seaport
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. Download Unit 5


Unit 6: The Science & Politics of Water
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. Download Unit 6


Unit 7: New Uses for Old Sites
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. Download Unit 7


Unit 8: Memory and History
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? Download Unit 8


Unit 9: My Town in Portage Site History?
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. Download Unit 9


Appendix: Worksheets
Throughout the curriculum students are asked to analyze primary sources,
political cartoons, and photographs and prints. Reproducible worksheets are
provided in this section. Download Appendix


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