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 I will create historical content that adds more depth and context to the history in the dolls’ books, while still creating historical content specifically for upper elementary aged children.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.