Now in my 7th year of teaching a full-year 9th grade course on Western New York History in an all-girls independent high school in Buffalo (Buffalo Seminary), I’m convinced that local history offers untapped potential to inspire students – but I think I’ve just scratched the surface.
I also suspect that other teachers have made the same discovery, so I’m looking to identify and connect with local history teachers in order to support and learn from each other.
For me, three things have made teaching local history different from teaching other history courses. First, students usually arrive in class knowing much more about the subject than they anticipate, quickly discovering a source of empowerment. They see the connections among related historical narratives.
As an example, Buffalo is a city of immigrants and migrants, and ethnic communities typically have retained strong identities. Many of my students already feel an affinity with one or more of these identities and readily understand the significance and the logic of asking the powerful questions: Why did [insert the name of an immigrant or migrant people] leave their former home? Why did they choose to settle in Buffalo?
Second, most students have an instinctive curiosity about the place where they live. This curiosity manifests among students who have always lived in Western New York, those who recently moved here, and also boarding students whose homes may be hundreds or thousands of miles distant. This curiosity opens a window of opportunity for teaching and learning.
Third, a family member interest in the subject matter often helps invest students in the course. This dynamic seems to work in a few ways. Sometimes students derive a sense of validation from parents when they share something from class that the parent knows a little about or is interested in, especially when the student discovers she knows more. A simple example might be the student helping the family navigate during a car or bus ride, using her new knowledge of the city’s geography and street plan. And sometimes a student discovers that a parent has relevant personal knowledge, a book, or an artifact that she can share with her class — students are often eager to bring these in.
I’ve recently begun an exciting project: to write a text on Western New York history for young adults – roughly 7th -10th grades – that is also appropriate for use in teaching a course in Western New York history. As far as I have been able to determine, a contemporary version of such a text does not exist. During the 20th Century, and as recently as 1985, authors have written several general texts on Buffalo or Western New York history that were intended for young adult or child readers. Some of these were designed specifically for use in teaching courses on Buffalo history.
While still in the preliminary phase of my WNY history writing project, I would like to find examples of similarly intentioned texts for young people, especially contemporary examples, from around the US and Canada.
To reiterate, I am seeking help specifically in identifying:
teachers of local history anywhere in New York State, the US, and Canada, and
local history texts written for young people.
You can leave a comment below, or send an e-mail to email@example.com
Douglas Hopkins is Chair of History Department at Buffalo Seminary.