[What's In This Curriculum | Curriculum Overview|Goals|Using This Curriculum ]

About This Curriculum

What's In This Curriculum

Unit 2: Early Industrialization Unit 3: True Colors Unit 7: Synthetic Fibers

The curriculum is composed of eight independent units that examine the history of textiles, the technology and science of production, and their consumption. Each unit deals with some aspect of cloth or clothing production or use. The modules drop in and connect to the traditional American history, American Studies, and American Social History courses as taught in middle and high schools. On the one hand, teachers could select certain of the many activities offered within every unit or present some units and not others, or simply read the materials and integrate the concepts as they choose. On the other hand, in schools where it is possible, this curriculum could be a separate interdisciplinary course (semester or year-long).

Units currently available at this site:

Unit 2: Early Industrialization examines early American industrialization through textile technology and invention. Students appreciate the complexity of the past by exploring the impact of technology and the process of industrialization on early American culture, people, and roles. Students learn that industrialization involves increases in the scale of production, the application of power, the invention of machines, the control of work forces, and the commercialization of products.

One activity, for example, explores the nature of invention by asking students to debate "Inventing a Cotton Gin" while another ("Fixing A Gin") contains a demonstration of a cotton gin done in the Hands On History Room at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Unit 3: True Colors explores the technology and invention of dyes and dyeing in the context of international economics and politics. By dyeing things themselves, students investigate the skills, materials, and equipment involved in the difficult dyeing process as well as the scientific method (the basis for dyeing methods and recipes). Students also use a range of primary documents to learn about the role of World War I in the invention of synthetic dyes, continuity over time (as an important historical principle), and the influence of science and technology on each other.

Several of the activities in this unit formed part of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation's symposium "The Colors of Invention: An Exploration of Color, Technology, and Culture" held at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in November 1997 as well as the Lemelson Center's "Innovative Lives" project designed to engage young people in the exploration of invention and innovation.

Unit 7: Synthetic Fibers tells the story of the invention of nylon. Students learn about the roles of scientists and corporations in modern invention and the effects of World War II on invention. In the twentieth century, invention is often deliberate and part of a marketing strategy designed to influence consumer response. Consumers play a role in the history of technology and invention too, and so the materials explore the ways in which women's stockings are sold and used.

If you want to learn more about contemporary inventors, go to the "Innovative Lives" program sponsored by the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, which brings school children and inventors together to experience invention first hand. Two textile inventors, Stephanie Kwolek (Kevlar) and Sally Fox (naturally colored cotton), are featured.

Curriculum Overview

This curriculum contains:

  • Eight units examining the chronological history of textiles, and the technology and science of their invention and use;

  • Information about women and all people of color, encouraging them to think of themselves as technological and inventive people;

  • Interdisciplinary units that drop-in, or connect, to American history/social studies courses in middle and high schools;

  • Materials that bridge the often undigested sources available on the World Wide Web and in the classroom by providing lesson plans, primary source materials (both images and documents), and scholarly articles. See each unit's "At a Glance" for a quick overview of what's available.

  • A wide range of materials including: This concept circle appears throughout the site to tie concepts to themes and activities, and graphically represents some of the content goals of this curriculum.

    Concepts Overview Diagram
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    Curriculum Goals

    Through this curriculum, we hope that teachers and students will learn more about technology and invention, about American history, and about how women and people of color interacted with technology throughout history. The goals of the curriculum are to support teachers in:

    Curriculum Overview

    "Whole Cloth: Discovering Science and Technology Through American Textile History" is an interdisciplinary curriculum that brings ideas about science, technology, and invention into the social studies classroom with the hope of encouraging women and all students of color into technological careers. Written by historians of technology from universities and museums in collaboration with social studies, science, and vocational education teachers, these materials present cutting-edge historical content in African American, women's, labor, and social history through interactive, and document-based activities. The curriculum puts women and African Americans at the center of American history and the history of technology and invention, and shows them that people such as themselves have always used and understood technology, and have always been inventive.

    The eight modular, drop-in units focus on the history of textiles because students have an interest in clothing and because textiles have been a crucial component of American industrialization. Each unit contains five to ten hands-on activities, including lesson plans, teacher notes, and student handouts.

    Using this Curriculum

    The activities included in this curriculum can be used as enrichment for a U.S. history course or as content for a separate class (lasting up to a year) in technology studies or the history of technology.


    Copyright © 1998 The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

    Comments and questions to the Lemelson Center:lemcen@si.edu

    Last Revision: 2/15/05