Digital Project Proposal: American Girl


I may not be where I am in life if not for American Girl dolls. I was introduced to American Girl dolls at a very young age and they are a largely responsible for my interest in history. Through American Girl dolls and their accompanying stories, I got to learn about history and culture in a fun, interesting, and relatable context. The history was written both for me and featured a girl like me (girl, aged 7-12). As we learned in Rosenzweig and Thelen’s The Presence of the Past, history has more meaning and impact when it relates personally, which is what makes American Girl dolls so effective. Although they are fictional, they are personal and therefore create a connection to history.

With this project I want to expand the historical reach of American Girl dolls. I will create historical content that adds more depth and context to the history in the dolls’ books, while still creating historical content specifically for upper elementary aged children.


Girls, aged 8-12. A periphery audience is their parents since parental interest and participation is integral to involving children.

The Project, Itself

I will create a historical tour of San Francisco using the sites and events in Julie Albright’s and Ivy Ling’s stories. Julie and Ivy’s stories are set in 1974-1975 San Francisco and involve the feminist, environmental, and disability rights movements. Ivy’s story also delves into the history of Chinese-Americans in San Francisco.

My aim for this tour is that it can be used solely as a digital resource as well as a resource for exploring the physical place.

Comparison to Other Projects

There are multiple historical sites and museums that use(d) American Girl dolls as a bridge to the history. In 2011, the National Museum of American History offered a self-guided tour called Addy’s World, which allowed “children, ages 8 to 13, to explore the museum and see what life would have been like for the fictional character Addy Walker, a nine-year-old American girl who was born into slavery and escapes to freedom with her mother during the Civil War.” The tour takes artifacts on display in the museum and contextualizes them from Addy’s perspective and makes meaning based on Addy’s story.

Outreach and Publicity

I would hopefully partner with different organizations to get the word out about this resource. In a perfect world, I would collaborate directly with American Girl to publish this resource. Their support and publicity resources would both validate the project and help it reach a wide audience. In a less perfect world, I would work with San Francisco organizations to promote the resource. The specific organizations will depend on what histories I decide to highlight on the tour, but one that stands out at the moment is the San Francisco Public Library. I could possibly try to work with schools, but working with K-12 organizations is always particularly difficult due to various bureaucratic factors.

I’d also create a social media presence. Possibly creating a hashtag for the tour that users can tweet photos of themselves at the different stopping points with or without their own American Girl doll.


A successful project is one that is used. I will hopefully get social media response to the tour, which will indicate use. I may build the tour using Historypin. If this is the case, Historypin allows engagement directly on the site through comments and it shows how views each pin has received, both of which would be incredibly useful to understanding engagement with the tour.

3 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal: American Girl”

  1. Hi Emily! This seems like a really fun and interesting project. I was thinking to make this even more interactive, you could have an oral component of people/historians, or even children, who have a similar connection to American Girl dolls. They could discuss what they’ve learned via the dolls, or how similar the doll’s stories are to history. This could help explore whether the dolls successfully teach young children history.

  2. This sounds like an engaging and useful project that will attract a large audience since the American Girl dolls are so popular and the brand has expanded so much over the last twenty years. Have you considered creating a parents guide or teachers guide that could supplement the tour? I think for educators in particular this could serve as a valuable resource. The project sounds great, good luck!

  3. I love this idea. I think taking a successful product that has a historical bent to it, like American Dolls, and then developing some resources that encourage further exploration around history in this area is great. It’s also great that you have identified such a specific geographic area that this set of dolls connects and relates to.

    I think there are some really huge opportunities for outreach and connecting with potential users. Like you could try and see if there are any mommy bloggers in the area you are working in that would be up to talk with you about the concept for this and then pilot and share out the results of what you are working on. Along with that, I think there is a chance that the American Dolls Company might be game to give you ideas and input on what you are doing. They could also be a great resource for helping to promote or draw attention to some of the results from your project. The public library is a great potential point of contact for this too.

    I think it makes sense to try building the tour or tours in historypin. With that noted, I think it would also be good to try and build your content separately. I could also imagine these being really nice little print brochures that could have the same content on them as the digital maps and then could also include links to where to get the digital maps on the brochure too.

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