Magazine article Teacher Librarian

A Dozen Ways to Promote Cultural Heritage through Image Collections

Magazine article Teacher Librarian

A Dozen Ways to Promote Cultural Heritage through Image Collections

Article excerpt

Connecting students with their past prepares them for the present and future. Local people, places, events, and history are often overlooked in today's standardized curriculum. However, exploring local culture is essential for providing context for discussions in the humanities as well as across the curriculum.

Whether students live in an area rich with urban legacies or a rural area that connects with Native American and pioneer cultures, teacher librarians have the opportunity to bring local tradition to life for children and their families.

The Sparking Humanities Conversations project is funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Entrada Institute, a rural Utah nonprofit. The 3-year series of programs used historical photographs to make cultural heritage accessible to youth and the community. This article explores ideas and resources from this project that can be applied to cultural heritage projects in school libraries and communities everywhere.


Most countries have developed digital collections that reflect their rich history. The National Library of Australia's Trove and the Library and Archives of Canada are examples. In the United States, the Library of Congress and the National Archives house popular digital resources. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of these national digital collections, so look for relevant collections to meet your needs.

The Library of Congress houses photographs useful for cultural heritage projects across America. Seek local connections within specific collections. For instance, acclaimed Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange took photos for the Farm Security Administration in the late 1930s. Nearly 4,000 of these photos are available online at the Library of Congress .

While people are most familiar with her Migrant Woman photo taken in Oklahoma, Lange documented the Depression years across the western part of the United States. The photo titled Utah Farm Family in the Orchard at Peach Harvest accurately represents the experiences of rural families during the fruit harvest. This photo was used in discussions with children about the local tradition of picking peaches, apricots, and apples.

Rather than simply searching for a topic, try terms associated with your location, such as your city or state. Also, look for specific subgroups within your area, such as an immigrant group or a Native American tribe. These types of searches may lead to a collection of interest. For instance, a search for "Southern Paiute" leads to dozens of photos from the late 19th century.


Increasingly, museums are making their artifact collections available digitally. From Native American drums and rattles to wooden bowls, these visuals provide concrete examples of items used by people long ago. Ask youth to make comparisons between these historical artifacts and the items they use every day.

The Smithsonian Digital Collection contains both physical artifacts that have been photographed, along with over a million books and documents that have been scanned. Children can view 19th- and 20th-century tools, clothing, toys, and other items to connect them with their past.

During the 19th century, explorers brought back artifacts on their many travels west. As a result, students can explore collections that reflect famous expeditions. For instance, artifacts brought back from Major John W. Powell's expedition in the 1870s to the American Southwest include materials made from stone, wood, shells, fibers, and other materials.

Show children photos of different types of baskets. Ask them to brainstorm how they might have been used. The Southern Paiute people used baskets to gather seeds and berries, but they also used them for fishing. …

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