This October, I had the pleasure of presenting alongside Annisha Jeffries, Head of Youth Services at the Cleveland Public Library, at the Heritage Ohio Annual Preservation & Revitalization Conference. Our presentation, Junior Citizens: Creatively Connecting Children to Community concluded with the following question from the crowd:
“I work for x-historical society and we have a hard time connecting with children of color, because there were nlo people of color in our community in the 1800s. How can we connect to these youth” - not an exact quote, but close enough
Annisha responded with the following tip:
Reach out to other libraries and institutions to see if they have documentation that may expand your current narrative to be more inclusive of different backgrounds. Every institution has different information, so it would be worthwhile to reach out to state archives/libraries and larger regional libraries to see if they have additional information that may fill in the gaps.
Consider expanding the period of time your site is interpreting. While some communities may have been established by Anglo settlers, your historic society should consider expanding the narrative. Don’t just talk about the 1800s! Your site can talk about the history of your community’s evolution from pre-colonialism to the official date of town settlement to present day. By telling a complete story you can include stories of who/what/when people decided to move to the community. Then connect the past migratory patterns to the children’s personal familial history.
Questions such as this are a reminder that:
Not everyone is aware of how to research to expand a historic narrative.
Histories have been erased, because they were not considered valuable by historians for centuries.
Preservationists have a lot of work to do within their own field to increase relevance and improve heritage interpretation.
Telling a complete story of your community is imperative for creating meaningful connections. Everyone’s story is worth sharing and if you need help to successfully do this, reach out.