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Online programs and virtual tours continue while CAC tours are currently suspended and the Center is closed, in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines from the State of Illinois.

Landmarks of American History and Culture workshops give K-12 educators a chance to intensively study and discuss important topics in American history and culture, supplemented by in-person experiences at significant historical and cultural sites. Over the course of a week, participants have ample opportunities to connect workshop content to what they teach, and to develop individual teaching or research materials.

Through the CAC Summer Scholars program, educators will investigate the skyscraper as a physical and cultural concept, with new themes every day. A combination of selected humanities readings, field studies and lively lectures by scholars will lead participants—and in turn, their students—to a deeper understanding of the role of tall buildings in the history of American urbanization.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our 2021 workshops (July 11−17 and July 25−31) will be conducted virtually. The syllabus below outlines our planned program content. This coming summer’s course is currently being adapted to allow for meaningful online engagement and offline activities.

program highlights

Please note that our final daily schedule will adhere to Central Time. We will work to ensure accessibility across all U.S. time zones.

DAY 1: Skyscrapers and National Identity

What is a skyscraper? How are urges to define the skyscraper, label the “first” skyscraper, and hold on to the notion of the lone designer antithetical to the true dynamic nature of invention?

Activities will include:

  • A virtual cruise along the Chicago River led by a CAC docent, who will share fascinating stories behind more than 50 buildings along the river
  • A get-to-know-you “lunch” focusing on participants’ regional “tallest buildings” and skylines

DAY 2: Geography and Political Economy of Skyscrapers

What is the relationship between Chicago’s geography and its growth as a metropolis?

Activities will include:

  • Working in groups to create an historical timeline of the United States focusing on the development of skyscrapers and building technologies in context
  • Learning how to “read” a building using observation-based techniques

DAY 3: Skyscrapers in Context

In what ways did skyscrapers help define urban culture in the late 19th century? What did this new building type symbolize for the people of Chicago and the nation? How did skyscraper technology change American society?

Activities will include:

  • Small group virtual tours of historic Chicago skyscrapers, including the Monadnock Building, Board of Trade, The Rookery, Tribune Tower, and Sullivan Center
  • A virtual neighborhood bus tour exploring nationally significant sites, including Haymarket Square, Jane Addams Hull-House and the site of the Union Stock Yards

DAY 4: Skyscrapers and Visual Representation

How were architects visually representing skyscrapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? How do such images inform and influence public opinion and the design of buildings to follow?

Activities will include:

  • A virtual workshop with archivists at the Ryerson Burnham Library at the Art Institute of Chicago, where we will examine primary source materials created by several renowned Chicago architects

DAY 5: Skyscrapers and Identity

How does a city’s civic identity influence what buildings are kept, torn down and built? If buildings are not supposed to last forever, what lengths/costs are acceptable to “save” structures? How does the Chicago skyline reflect a narrative between preservationists and modernists?

Activities will include:

  • Virtual discussions with preservation architects about restorations of the Reliance Building and Federal Center
  • A field study of historically preserved buildings in the Loop and in participants’ local communities, to demonstrate adaptability of classroom activities and lesson plans culled from the CAC’s Schoolyards to Skylines curriculum guide

DAY 6: Skyscrapers and New Landmarks

How does the tremendous growth of 19th century Chicago compare and contrast with growth of cities in 21st century Asia and the Middle East? In what ways is the appearance of skyscrapers defining urban culture and identity for Asian and Middle Eastern cities today?

Activities will include:

  • Virtually tour the office of Goettsch Partners, an international firm well-known for its work in designing tall buildings in Chicago and throughout China
  • A discussion about current international design and technology trends in tall buildings

DAY 7: Curriculum Project Exchange

During the program, participants will begin developing a curriculum project, while they have access to workshop leaders, scholars and new colleagues. They will complete lesson plans after the workshop concludes. The day’s wrap-up discussion will explore the power of place-based teaching. The day will conclude with final evaluations and details for completing and turning in final projects.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this workshop do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.