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Local History Projects

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Suzanne Judson-Whitehouse, Director of Educator Licensure at CES, models a visit to a local archive at Northampton’s Forbes Library.


Visit a local archive

  • What is your goal for students? To observe physical archives? To learn about their community’s local history? To create and publish local histories?
  • Start with staffed archives. They know their collections and can guide novices.
  • Brainstorm possible topics and time periods, yet keep an open mind to what stories and facts local sources and local experts have to tell.
  • Call in advance to set up an appointment.
  • Scan Library of Congress and other online resources–including maps, newspaper articles, and photos–to gain context and primary sources to contextualize the history of your community.


Study project guidelines and examples from local history projects

Download slides from Emerging America’s Windows on History graduate course.


Additional Resources for Organizing Projects

Emerging America – Windows on History Graduate Course

  • Emerging America periodically offers the Windows on History graduate course on the basics of project design. Check our Professional Development page or contact us for info.


Library of Congress

  • From photographs and town maps to newspaper articles and oral histories, the Library of Congress digital collections offer a profusion of resources for communities throughout the U.S. Start with this blog post by Danna Bell.
  • Chronicling America offers hundreds of newspapers from the 1780s to the 1960s. (Alas, there are no Massachusetts newspapers in Chronicling America, so see this link for Massachusetts newspapers.) 
  • Zoom into Maps, an older Library of Congress online exhibit (now somewhat challenging to find) is a great portal to local maps in the U.S. 


The National History Education Clearinghouse

  • The National History Education Clearinghouse offers a mix of resources on local history projects, including this blog post from Daisy Martin.


National History Day

  • National History Day programs in your state can help organize local history research and offers opportunities for students to showcase their projects.


Past Local History Projects Online

Components of Emerging America’s Windows on History program are based on prior work by the Center for Educational Software Development (CESD) at UMass with area schools and historical organizations. Visit these excellent interactive examples of local history projects!

Historical Investigation into the Past: The Lizzie Borden/Fall River Case Study

Using late nineteenth century primary source materials from the Lizzie Borden murder trial and from Fall River, Massachusetts, this project teaches students at all levels to reconstruct the historical past using their own ideas to explore the evidence at hand.

Goody Parsons

The Goody Parsons website explores the story of Mary Parsons, who lived in Northampton, Massachusetts in the mid-seventeenth century, and was accused of witchcraft. The site provides primary source documents, transcripts, narrative text tailored to elementary school students, and interactivities. Local teachers provided lesson plans and other curricular materials for download from the site.

Local History Online

The Local History Online project seeks to expose students to historical methods by putting at their fingertips primary source materials pertaining to a place or event from their community’s history. The project allowed students to share their work through the creation of their own websites. It involved elementary school students from Amherst, Hatfield, Pelham, Petersham and New Salem, Massachusetts. The project website includes a Teacher Guide with ideas about project implementation. (Note that over time, many of the links to student sites have gone dormant.)

Forge of Innovation

Forge of Innovation is a multi-part project on the Springfield Armory in United States history, comprising five periods, or “postholes,” of which one is in place: The Industrialization of the Springfield Armory, 1812-1865. This period saw the development of precision manufacturing with interchangeable parts and mass production; the primary source documents, essays, images, video clips and inter-activities in the site explore the effects of these innovations on the workers, the local community, and the nation as a whole.


Examples of Local History Projects from Other Organizations

Citizen Power Challenge Grant Winners:

Fifteen educators won ‘Citizen Power Challenge’ Grants for Books Based on Theme of Student Projects in Their Communities. Examples of classroom projects include:

  • Learning about global cultural perspectives as a way to build compassion
  • Planning a community garden to promote healthy eating
  • Combating bullying
  • Learning American Sign Language
  • Building a health and wellness library

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