Teacher's Guide

Investigating Local History

Vintage Saint Paul Minnesota Postcard, The High Bridge And Harriet Island, Printed In USA, circa 1910s.
Photo caption

Vintage Saint Paul Minnesota Postcard, The High Bridge And Harriet Island, Printed In USA, circa 1910s.

Our Teacher's Guide provides compelling questions, links to humanities organizations and local projects, and research activity ideas for integrating local history into humanities courses using a collection of NEH and State Council funded digital encyclopedias about the history, politics, geography, and culture of many U.S. states and territories. Note: Not every state and territory has produced an encyclopedia. Resources for historical, humanities, and arts councils are available for all states and territories. 

Guiding Questions

Who lives in your state or territory?

How has the function and structure of your state or territorial government changed over time?  

What artistic and cultural contributions have individuals and groups made to your state or territory and the United States?

What technological innovations have been created in your state or territory and how have they affected the people, environment, and culture?

How are local history and culture related to what you are studying?

State and Territory Encyclopedias & Resources

"It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand."

— Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

 

Since April 2001, the National Endowment for the Humanities has made grant funds available for all 50 states, all five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to create comprehensive online encyclopedias. Included below with the state encyclopedias that have been created to date are links to state humanities councils, arts councils, and historical society websites in the interest of telling as full a story as possible about history and the humanities across the United States.  

Alabama

Alaska

Arkansas

Connecticut

Florida

Georgia

Guam

Louisiana

Massachusetts

Minnesota

Nebraska

Nevada

North Carolina

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Puerto Rico

South Carolina

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia 

Wyoming

Teaching and Learning Local History

A place-responsive approach to teaching U.S. history and culture can bring lessons alive for students and help close gaps that emerge when looking to answer the question of relevancy and application in students's lives. The lesson ideas below blend concepts, content, and skill building for investigating change over time when studying time and place.

Designing Compelling Questions

Inquiry into the local begins with a question. Students can design their own question based on a topic or event of interest or being studied, or they can work with the following: How have events and individuals shaped the history and culture of this place?

Questions for teachers and students to consider when planning:

  • What was the last topic studied that included connections to the local?
  • What individuals, organizations, and other local resources can be included in this investigation?
  • Does this project warrant an oral history component?
  • Whose perspectives will be included when examining local history and culture?
  • What monuments, markers, and other relevant identifiers of local history already exist?
  • What is considered common knowledge and what has been mythologized within local history?
  • Who can be part of an audience for students to present their work to during this project?
  • How has the local changed over time due to innovation, economics, and movement of people?

 

 

  • How did the states get their shapes? The above video offers a preview of the the series produced by the History Channel that explored the often quirky reasons for why state borders formed the outlines we know today.

Researching with Local Newspapers

Chronicling America provides access to local and national newspapers dating back to the 17th century. Use the "search by state" feature to find local newspapers that can be used to teach primary source research skills such as gathering and evaluating information, comparative analysis, critical thinking, and the use of archival technology. You will also find collections of newspaper articles related to significant events, people, and eras in U.S. history and can search for newspapers published for and by multiple ethnic groups in the United States.

Sample questions to investigate when using Chronicling America to teach local history:

  • How did the local press report on the happenings of the civil war?
  • How did the press in your state or territory respond to the outbreak of WWI?
  • What did the editorials in your state or territory newspapers have to say about a landmark Supreme Court ruling?
  • What does an analysis of advertisements included in newspapers tell you about culture and consumerism?
  • How have changes in journalism and media affected how news is reported?

Suggestions for incorporating Chronicling America into your research and more activity ideas are available at our Chronicling America Teacher's Guide.

Digitally Documenting Local History

CLIO

This NEH-funded educational website and mobile application guides the public to thousands of historical and cultural sites throughout the United States. Users can contribute to a growing database of projects designed to tell the history of places using photographs, mobile technology, and research on historical sites and events.

Activity ideas for using CLIO

Students tend to observe a lot as they move between school and home, thus making the spaces between those locations educative. Place-based learning can help bridge past and present while also asking students to reflect on their experiences and the relevance of the local to their lives. By using CLIO, students have an opportunity to document the past, analyze change over time, and evaluate the processes and forces at work in relation to place-making and history.

Starting the Inquiry

The following questions are designed to catalyze student research projects on local history and draw upon personal experiences and observations in the places where they live, play, work, and go to school. Students are encouraged to design their own questions as they select topics, eras, events, and places to investigate.

  • What events of significance occurred 10, 100, or even 250 years ago in your area?
  • How has the local environment (natural and physical) changed over time?
  • To what extent are the local developments and events you have highlighted tied to national events?
  • Who are the schools in your area named after and why?
  • Why were monuments or other historical markers erected in your area?
  • What local traditions and events are still practiced by members of the community?

 

Researching Place and Time

After students have selected a topic (which might be a local place), they will need to conduct research to learn more before the final stage that includes capturing photos and digitally organizing their CLIO project. The following list offers sources of information and methods for collecting information.

Historical Societies and Libraries—State, county, and local historical societies, along with public and university libraries provide free access to historical archives. Working with archivists and librarians, students can ask questions of experts and search through primary sources that tell the story of the topics and places they are researching. If your state or territory is not listed above, you can access a complete list of State Historical and Preservation Organizations to learn more about what is offered in your area.

Oral History—Interviewing people ;who own or have owned long running businesses, served in public office, run an organization, or lived in your area for a long time is one approach to learning how places have changed over time. Contacting someone to speak with about the topic, drafting questions related to the topic and project, conducting the interview, and transcribing that interview in order to use excerpts in the final product takes students through the inquiry process. Our Oral History Toolkit provides tips, resources, and other information pertinent to conducting oral history projects. 

Historical Newspapers—The Chronicling America database provides access to millions of pages from digitized newspaper dating back to the 17th century. You can search by state and newspaper name to learn if and how what you are researching was covered by the press.

Mapping Place and Time

Using the information collected during the research process, students create a digital map or a hand drawn map of the area they are focusing on. Creating multiple maps, depending on the topic, to illustrate change over time will assist with organizing information and telling the story of the place and events they have chosen to focus on. Students should create a map that can then serve as a guide for the places they will need to go to capture photographs and plot out for the CLIO project they create.

Creating a Digital CLIO

Students may upload photographs taken during their research along with those they capture after they have completed their map(s) in the previous stage of the activity.  Using the models provided at the CLIO website, students will upload their photos, curate the collection with information gathered from multiple sources during their research, and provide their own evaluation of why and how the places they live in and interact with have changed over time. Have they uncovered an event, learned about a heretofore forgotten person, or discovered some other information that may warrant public attention?

NEH in Your State and Territory

The National Endowment for the Humanities continues to support high-quality projects and programs in the humanities and makes the humanities available to all Americans. So whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, visiting an area museum, or spending time with friends and family at home, you will find that the NEH is just around the corner (or already in your hands). NEH funded affiliates and collaborators on state and local history and culture projects, and how they connect to the national story of the United States, can be found through the resources below:

NEH Federal/State Partnership Office—The Office of Federal/State Partnership is the liaison between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the nonprofit network of 55 state and jurisdictional humanities councils.

NEH Division of Education Programs Grant for Landmarks of American Culture and History—This program supports a series of one-week workshops for K-12 educators across the nation that enhance and strengthen humanities teaching at the K-12 level.

NEH Division of Public Programs—The Division of Public Programs supports a wide range of public humanities programming that reaches large and diverse public audiences and make use of a variety of formats—interpretation at historic sites, television and radio productions, museum exhibitions, podcasts, short videos, digital games, websites, mobile apps, and other digital media. 

NEH Division of Preservation and Access—A substantial portion of the nation’s cultural heritage and intellectual legacy is held in libraries, archives, and museums. All of the Division of Preservation and Access’s programs focus on ensuring the long-term and wide availability of primary resources in the humanities.

State Humanities Councils—The State Humanities Councils are funded in part by the federal government through NEH's Federal/State Partnership Office. They also receive funding from private donations, foundations, corporations, and, in some cases, state government.

National Humanities Alliance—The National Humanities Alliance is on top of all NEH related events, exhibits, and projects taking place around the country. 

NEH on the Road—Is there a NEH sponsored exhibit near you? Would you like there to be? NEH on the Road provides ready-to-go exhibits for organizations and classrooms. Learn if one is currently available near you and how to set one up on your own.