Homespun: Teaching Local History in Grades 6-12

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Homespun: Teaching Local History in Grades 6-12 by Robert L. Stevens Heinemann Publishing Company A Division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Portsmouth, New Hampshire ISBN 0-325-00334-1 Published in 2001

This is an excellent publication on how to do local history in the 6-12 classroom. The author starts from the premise that "it is important to capture the imagination of middle and secondary students through activitybased history lessons." On this point, I could not agree more. And, one of best ways to accomplish this is to have students look into the history of their own, or nearby communities. As the author indicates, a study of local history reveals much about state and national history as well. Another advantage of doing local history is that you can actually "do" it-- visit and explore the historic sites themselves, engaging in hands-on projects.

Stevens bases his compilation of ideas and activities on National Council for the Social Studies: Time, Continuity, and Change; Peoples, Places, and Environments; Individual Development and Identity. These standards promote students to ask questions such as: Who am I?, How am I connected to those in the past?, and To what extent do local values influence student behavior? In terms of geography, students probe concepts such as: Where are things located? and What patterns are reflected in the grouping of things?

The book begins with introductory chapters that help teachers, who have not explored the educational possibilities of local history, realize the multitude of resources. These resources can range from school records to census records. He also recommends that teachers look at family photographs, old buildings and, of course, cemeteries. Chapter two focuses on preparing and caring out a full research activity at a local cemetery. Students learn about the different styles of grave markers and how to begin to trace a family history.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Homespun is its treatment of the American home. Stevens provides an excellent summary of the development of American home architecture beginning with Medieval (1620-1675), Colonial (1650-1700), Georgian (1720-- 1810), Federal (1810-1830), Greek Revival (1820-1849) and Victorian (1836-- 1900). Students learn about these styles, then create a house plan. Finally, the class constructs a scale model of a selected style, or a representative example from their community.

In another fascinating chapter, Stevens uses community photos from local historical societies and older town members to trace child labor in company towns. The revealing photos describe working conditions that students "discover" through a group activity. Likewise, the author cleverly shows how local historical maps can tell a dramatic story of history, and he uses as his example the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Students learn that local county offices contain many historic maps and diagrams that, when studied, reveal much about what has happened in the local community.

Some of the interesting activities offered in Homespun have students creating a community mural, a "Chamber of Commerce" type brochure. The selection of activities only hint at the variety of interactive projects that teachers can implement within their existing social studies curriculum. In a practical conclusion to his work, Stevens speaks directly to the liability of conducting field trips, the utility of recruiting community guest speakers and the exciting new opportunities of virtual field trips, via the Internet.

Despite poorly reproduced maps and photographs, Stevens' book is an important addition to the literature of local history methodology. Teachers interested in investigating local resources and integrating hands-on activities of these resources into their curriculum will be well advised to start with Homespun.

One of the most interesting aspects of Stevens' approach to virtual fields is his realization that they share many of the same problems that actual field trips pose. …