Last Spring, Somerville High School students enrolled in teacher Alicia Kersten’s 11th grade American History classes took part in an innovative learning experience called Project LOCAL.
Traditional teaching of history focuses on facts and dates, but does little to spark student interest. Project LOCAL (Learning Our Community’s American Lore) attempts both to connect students to the history of their local community and to teach history by allowing students to “do history” in a way that is analogous to the research and analysis performed by professional scholars.
The final step in the work of the professional historian is the publication of his or her findings in the public sphere. The current exhibition represents that public presentation for this history project, an examination of the community of Somerville, Massachusetts, in relation to its participation in the Vietnam War. The important questions that were asked, and answered, in the course of this project included “How did the war in Vietnam impact the people of Somerville?” and “What kinds of attitudes towards the Vietnam War were expressed in public and in the local media?” The original research, oral history interviews, and other discoveries that are presented here were all performed by the Somerville High students. Likewise, all views expressed or implied and any conclusions that have been reached are the result of the analysis performed by the student researchers.
After the project was completed and the school year had ended, a group of students who participated in this special program spent three days designing and installing the present exhibit, with the aim of sharing their research project with you, the Somerville Museum community and audience.
In the mid-1980's, photographer Marcus Halevi accompanied several groups of American veterans who felt compelled to revisit the scenes of their armed service one decade after the end of the war in Vietnam --known to the Vietnamese as The American War. From the Ashes of the American War: Vietnam in the Eighties features 22 new black and white prints selected from photographs taken by Halevi during his journeys. Halevi's images provide a rare and far-ranging look at Vietnam in the mid-1980’s, including scenes of family life, industry, farming, and transportation. Presented in conjunction with the Somerville Museum's Project LOCAL exhibit featuring Somerville High School students' study of Somerville during the Vietnam War, this group of photographs focuses especially on the generation of Vietnamese coming of age in the years immediately following the war who are attempting to forge a new life in a changing society. Halevi's photographs depict both the horrors of war and the resilience of the Vietnamese people and testify to the ongoing recovery of Vietnam from its years of conflict with western nations.
Project LOCAL (Learning Our Community’s American Lore) is a teacher training institute implemented by Tufts University in collaboration with the school districts of Everett, Medford, Revere, Somerville and Winthrop and the Shore Educational Collaborative.
The purpose of the three year project is to train teachers to incorporate local examples of American history into traditional American history curriculum. Project LOCAL teachers will develop curriculum in which students learn to think like and do the work of historians by learning the narrative of American history, the practice of historical research and ways of connecting the national experience to their local community. In exploring history through local sites, students engage in learning about their own lives and communities.
Project LOCAL was created in 2004 with the help of a 3-year, $914,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the input of several education professionals, including Daniel Cogan-Drew, Director of Tufts University’s Curriculum Resource Center; Tufts Department of Education lecturer Steven Cohen; former Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Steven Levy; Clavin Carpenter of the Medford Public Schools; Robert McGreevey, a graduate student in American history at Brandeis University; and the Shore Educational Collaborative of Chelsea, MA. Together, this group has worked with school districts in Everett, Medford, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop to address the teaching of history at the elementary and high school levels.
In many schools across the country, history is taught in the “traditional method.” In short, teachers focus on facts and dates that do little to spark student interest. Project LOCAL hopes to change this educational process by helping teachers and students become connected to the history of their local communities through a process of “doing history.”
“The idea of ‘doing history’ really stems from the way historians approach their craft,” says Cogan-Drew, who is also an education graduate student. “It’s thinking about the practice of historians doing research, analyzing different perspectives, making connections, identifying themes and then presenting their work.” Cogan-Drew and his colleagues hope that students in each of the participating districts will adopt this method when approaching subjects of historical significance. Once they do, the Project LOCAL team believes they will be transformed into active, engaged learners.
For more on Project LOCAL, visit the website: ase.tufts.edu/local