Local History Education and Digital Media in Historical Societies (or I haven’t come up with a catchier title yet)

Cultural institutions, archives, and museums have often incorporated educational initiatives into their mission statements and organizational activities. The dissemination of these resources in the teaching of history, however, has changed with the proliferation of technology and digital media.[1] More and more, these organizations are offering educators online lesson plans, access to digitized collections, and interactive exhibits and tours. Specifically, a strong focus has developed on providing interactive online resources and information for K-12 teachers and students. Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig note that “online lesson plans have become so ubiquitous that no one has yet cataloged them.” While it is clear that digital teaching and learning tools are increasingly becoming standard for cultural institutions, it is less clear how these resources are aligning themselves with actual educator needs. How are online resources designed and to what extent are they serving local and national educational requirements?

For my print project I am interested in analyzing the educational resources of three particular institutions: the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the New York Historical Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. I am interested in exploring how these three local state historical societies use digital media and educational resources to teach national history from a local perspective; and more particularly what each institutions’ goals are in teaching history through digital media. How are digital tools employed? Is the educational content of each site more often packaged lesson plans or interactive activities students can engage with?[2] What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? How are these different teaching tools changing history education? As Orville Burton asks “Will the partnership [between history education and digital technologies] revolutionize the ways in which history is taught and researched or will it simply offer additional tools to improve traditional practices?”[3]

I am also interested in analyzing each institutions’ view of educators (and their goals in meeting actual educator needs). Are these sites aligning their online educational content with required state social studies standards and frameworks? If so, how? Are they simply creating digital educational content to deliver further information about their own collections, or are they working instead to actively meet local and state education requirements? Are these societies providing easy to implement/packaged units or are they more basic resources that teachers can use themselves to create their own lesson plans, etc.?

I hope that through investigation of the digital educational resources at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the New York Historical Society, I will gain a better understanding of the ways in which digital content can effectively aid in the teaching of local and national history.


[1] Orville Vernon Burton notes in his article “American Digital History” that “U.S History and Computing have had a long history of partnership in teaching and research,” see, Burton, “American Digital History,” Social Science Computer Review 2 (Summer 2005): 206. Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig dedicate a section of their book, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, to teaching and learning. They note that “the web reaches unprecedented numbers of K-12 students and teachers” and “a very large percentage of websites, regardless of their primary focus, have incorporated teaching materials and advice.”

[2] Cohen and Rosenzweig note that “Most teaching websites offer resources (especially primary sources) and advice (for teachers on how to teach, for students on how to work with evidence). What has been talked about endlessly but has been much harder to achieve is interactive learning exercises.” See Cohen and Rosenzweig Teaching Digital History.

[3] Burton, “American Digital History,”abstract.