This workshop is sponsored by the Montana Historical Society and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for Schoolteachers. Highlights of “The Richest Hills” include an exploration of four of the Treasure State’s most colorful and historically significant communities:

Bannack. Nestled along the banks of Grasshopper Creek, Bannack was the site of Montana’s first major gold strike. Now a state park Download
Welcome Letter PDF
NEH Application Information PDF
Detailed Schedule PDF
Required Bibliography PDF
Optional Bibliography PDF
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and a National Historic Landmark, the territory’s first capital epitomizes the “boom and bust” pattern typical of so many western gold camps that lived fast and died quickly. Virginia City. The best-preserved gold rush town in the American West, Virginia City is a National Historic Landmark that has been compared in importance to Colonial Williamsburg for its power to evoke the mining frontier. Located among the once-gold-laden hills of Alder Gulch, the numerous well-preserved, gold-rush era, false-front buildings provide an excellent classroom in which to explore the 1860s gold rush.

2011 NEH Summer Scholars and World Mining Museum guide demonstrate a mine shaft cage.

Helena. Montana’s state capital, was home to the fourth largest gold strike in the United States. “Last Chance Gulch” grew from a miner’s camp into an important political and banking center, noted for the stately business blocks and elegant mansions that still characterize the “Queen City of the Rockies.” In addition to hands-on exercises in interpreting this remarkable architectural legacy, NEH Summer Scholars will spend time analyzing historic photographs from the Montana Historical Society's remarkable collection of images.

Butte. Copper deposits were discovered just at the moment the United States needed the red metal to electrify the country, quickly cementing Butte's reputation as “the Richest Hill on Earth.” Once the most celebrated and lively cosmopolitan center between Minneapolis and Seattle, this one-of-a-kind mining town is now part of the largest National Historic Landmark in the United States. In addition to other aspects of the mining story, Butte owes much its landmark status to its association with labor history and was often called “the Gibraltar of Unionism.”

historical themes

Using Montana as a case study, “The Richest Hills: Mining in the Far West, 1862–1920,” will bring NEH Summer Scholars to four distinctive mining communities: Bannack, Virginia City, Helena, and Butte. All four communities retain a rich historic fabric, with many buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Bannack, Butte, and Virginia City have been recognized as National Historic Landmarks for the exceptional value they possess in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States.

NEH Scholars in a mine shaft cage in Butte.
NEH Summer Scholars explore a gallus headframe in a Butte mine yard in 2011.

Through walking tours, museum visits, lectures, readings, and hands-on primary source activities, NEH Summer Scholars will learn about the development of placer gold mining, hard rock silver mining, and industrial copper mining; the racial and ethnic diversity of the mining West; mining's impact on American Indians; mining's environmental effects; and the relationship between capital and labor in mining communities. Most importantly they will come to understand the place western mining held within the larger context of the last phase of the Industrial Revolution (sometimes described as the Second Industrial Revolution) in the United States.

In addition, NEH Summer Scholars will gain new tools to analyze and understand primary sources, particularly photographs, maps, and historic buildings. Tips for teaching with historic places and incorporating primary sources into the classroom will help NEH Summer Scholars transfer what they learn to their own classrooms.


The five-and-a-half day workshop blends lectures, tours, and hands-on learning activities. NEH Summer Scholars will be provided with a collection of readings that they are expected to have finished before the workshop starts as well as a large number of optional readings, which they can refer to as they create their final project or use later for reference. Although the workshop days are busy and long, the activities allow for extensive interaction with the faculty, time to work with the primary documents, time to develop a classroom unit, and numerous opportunities to experience the West as a place.

A focus on using and interpreting primary sources will be maintained throughout—with an emphasis on the idea that buildings, cemeteries, head frames, and other traces on the land can be among the most intriguing primary sources of all. To fully participate in the experience, NEH Summer Scholars will need sturdy shoes and a spirit of adventure. The altitude in the communities we will be visiting ranges between 4,000 and 6,500 feet and walking over uneven terrain is central to the experience. Weather extremes are possible any time of year—plan for sunshine but don't be surprised by snow. Because there is so much to see and learn, every minute will count—time spent on the private chartered bus that will transport Scholars between communities will be devoted to lecture and discussion of the passing landscape and its import to the mining story.

academic resources

NEH Summer Scholars will be provided with books and pdfs of relevant articles in advance, samples of primary sources, and templates for lesson plans. Scholars will be allocated time to explore resources at the Montana Historical Society in Helena. Faculty members and archivists will be available to help NEH Summer Scholars investigate relevant primary sources. Scholars are highly encouraged to bring laptops as computer facilities will not always be available. Scholars will also find digital cameras of use. There will be periods during which scholars will not have access to the internet or cell phone service.


NEH Summer Scholars will be required to complete a self-evaluation and a lesson plan that uses primary sources (either photographs, maps, buildings, or documents) to explore place and its relationship to a historical theme. The lesson plan can either adapt workshop strategies to an NEH Scholar's own locale or employ the workshop's specifically western materials. The self-evaluation and lesson plan can be turned in at the end of the week or be submitted via surface mail or email within two weeks after the workshop ends. Although all faculty members have extensive experience in curriculum development, the project’s curriculum specialist, Cheryl Hughes, will be on hand throughout the workshop to assist NEH Summer Scholars in developing their lesson plans or adapting workshop approaches to their own settings. All projects submitted by NEH Summer Scholars attending this workshop will ultimately be made available on line.