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UTOPIA introduces Constitution Day Web site

UTOPIA, the online knowledge gateway at The University of Texas at Austin, has introduced an informational Web site in celebration of Constitution Day 2005 on Sept. 16.

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AUSTIN, Texas—UTOPIA, the online knowledge gateway at The University of Texas at Austin, has introduced an informational Web site in celebration of Constitution Day 2005 on Sept. 16.

The UTOPIA Constitution Day site features short video lectures on constitutional history, recommended Internet resources which provide access to the text of the United States Constitution and related documents, Web sites that explore the connections between the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution of Texas, a suggested reading list compiled by university faculty and online materials designed specifically for educators.

Constitution Day, mandated by legislation Congress passed in 2004, requires all educational institutions receiving federal funds to hold educational programs on the Constitution. It commemorates the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, and celebrates its legacy.

“The concept of Congress passing a law calling for the celebration of the Constitution is in itself a fascinating example of the complex system the document creates,” said Dr. James Henson, assistant director of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services and content editor for the site. “The federal government is essentially ordering federally funded universities to create resources to foster awareness and understanding of the Constitution.

“However much this seems like the imposition of a mandate,” he added, “it created an opportunity for people at UT to create interesting and valuable resources. This is one of the key features of the system of federalism the Constitution creates: it seeks to create enough central authority to provide direction, but also to allow enough latitude to states, localities and citizens to act independently within that framework.”

Five “mini-lectures” prepared specifically for the site by Dr. William S. Livingston, senior vice president and professor emeritus in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin, describe the origins of the Constitution, from the political and social developments that preceded the 1787 convention to the final approval of the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights) four years later. The lectures are presented in a short video format used regularly by UTOPIA to make resources at the university more accessible to Web site visitors.

The lectures are augmented with photographs, maps and other images drawn from the Library of Congress and the National Archives that depict many of the people, places and events of those momentous times. Each presentation chronicles a specific portion of the path to ratification and features commentary by Livingston, a constitutional scholar. The presentations are designed to be viewed in chronological order for a full telling of the story, but each episode is self-contained and capable of standing on its own.

In addition to being of general interest to those seeking information on Constitutional history, the Constitution Day site features educational components that will be beneficial to teachers.

“There is immense educational value in celebrating the work of our founding fathers on Constitution Day,” said Kimberly Christian, UTOPIA’s K-12 coordinator from the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment. “The site contains TEKS-aligned lesson plans adapted for elementary, middle and high school students to help bring a ‘modern day’ understanding to a document written more than 200 years ago. It was relevant then, and it is even more so now.”

The UTOPIA site is a collaborative venture of the University of Texas Libraries, the College of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services, the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment and UTOPIA.

UTOPIA is the university’s digital knowledge gateway into the treasures of libraries, museums, galleries and laboratories of The University of Texas at Austin. It is designed to open to the public the knowledge, research and information and share these resources free of charge. UTOPIA also presents the research of key faculty members to general audiences through online articles, presentations, lessons and discussions.

For more information contact: Travis Willmann, University of Texas Libraries, 512-495-4644.