We’re going to begin our project on famous Minnesotans!” Or Alabamans, or _____ (you fill in the blank). The famous state, person, or city report is a rite of passage in most schools. Not that long ago, finding information meant digging through often dull or trite printed materials for facts about governors, explorers, inventors, or possibly well-known entertainers or athletes. Information on smaller cities was limited to basic facts. Pinpointing suitable information was challenging, especially when students were excited about a lesser-known person or place. Digitization has changed the process dramatically. Local museums, libraries, businesses, and passionate volunteers are digitizing primary resources and providing other digital content through processes once only affordable or possible by larger entities.
These unique resources have value that extends beyond projects and research. Local history connects students to the past, making it more relevant. It is doing history. Students get excited as they learn about where they are living right now. Local history resources help create a sense of place and a sense of community pride, helping students become responsible citizens. Students learn that history (in the broadest sense of the word) occurs in their own backyards. But it’s not just about the study of history. Local history resources can be integrated into many content areas to help make learning more personal.
Accessibility and student use depend on knowing where to find these resources. Where should we start?
Explore your own neighborhood or your school’s community. You will have fun and be amazed by your discoveries. Public, university, special, and corporate libraries are a good starting place. Museums, houses, businesses, medical facilities, and even personal websites can be sources of local history in both physical and digital form. Here are a few examples from smaller Minnesota cities to jump-start your thinking.
Winona, a city with a population of about 28,000, is home to the Winona County History Center. The archives have digitized images, newspapers, telephone books, and census information. A Civil War Journal, Company K, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg is a digital primary source collection of journals and letters including those by Charles Goddard, the central character in Gary Paulsen’s Civil War young adult novel Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers. Related classroom resources that can be used by teachers and students everywhere are included. An architectural history tour of Winona’s downtown is available for smartphones or computers. Another local museum celebrates the town’s Polish heritage and is translating and digitizing records, a task numerous small museums are now able to do.
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