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Explore Your Community: A Poster for Teachers and Students, Part 1

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This is part one of a three-part series presenting the lesson suggestions on the Explore Your Community Poster (PDF), designed for middle school and high school classrooms. Read Part Two. Read Part Three.

Poster reading "Explore Your Community" with photos of young people engaging in various activities.
“Explore Your Community” Poster (front), American Folklife Center, 2001 (select the image for a larger version). The photo captions are at the end of this post. Available in print and as a PDF.

The American Folklife Center and the the Rural School and Community Trust collaborated on an educational poster designed for middle and high school students called “Explore Your Community” in 2001. It remains one of our most popular publications today. This series of blogs are based on the lesson plans from the poster written by Catherine H. Kerst and updated to provide connections to current educational outreach and content on the American Folklife Center’s site, as well as links to digital Folklife collections and articles from Folklife Today. The illustrations provide some examples from American Folklife Center collection projects for more inspiration. The poster is in full color, 22 x 34 inches, and available free of charge from the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20540-4610, or mail [email protected]. It is also available as a PDF Select this link to view a PDF version of the poster (9 pp., 30 MB, front and back panels).

Promoting Heritage Studies

The 2001 publication of the Explore Your Community poster is one of many educational outreach efforts by the American Folklife Center. Working with folklife collection materials available online from the Library of Congress, teachers can introduce students to working with primary materials, to the concept of oral history as different from written history, and to the idea that cultural activities in their own families and communities are valuable and worthy of study.  As with the poster, the Center often partners with other groups to produce and disseminate educational content. The Library’s staff working on educational materials often includes collection items from the American Folklife Center’s collections in their products.

The Center has recently produced a fully revised edition of Folklife and Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation, by Stephen Winick and Peter Bartis. This booklet provides a step-by-step introduction to documenting culture appropriate for high school and above (available online as a PDF or in print).

A young woman poses with an older man. She is holding a photo.
Students in the 10th grade and above may learn interviewing skills as participants in the Veterans History Project. This is Anna Lucia Simone with Vietnam veteran Terry Mazzotta, whom she recently interviewed for Veterans Heritage Project’s reception/book signing, April 8, 2018 (photo by Barbara Hatch). Read an article related to this photo, “Community Service Hero: Veterans Heritage Project Continues to Shine,” by Barbara Hatch, in Folklife Today (April 2018).

The Veterans History Project, a project of the American Folklife Center, has worked with high school teachers and has an online guide to help students interview veterans. A field kit is available on their site and is appropriate for 10th grade and above.  The projects done by high school students provide them with an opportunity to learn about history by those who have experienced it first hand, as well as the excitement of contributing to a national collection.

For older students, the Center has partnered with educational organizations to hold summer field schools for undergraduate and graduate students to learn fieldwork techniques, including photography, video recording, audio recording, and interview techniques.

In addition, the Center has produced curated essays and digitized collections that present folksongs, oral histories, autobiographical narratives, stories, and other cultural documentation that provides a wealth of materials that may be used by teachers and students. Folklife Today is one place to find this content, as well as to learn about new materials available online. The Center was one of several Library of Congress curatorial divisions that produced The Library of Congress Presents the Songs of America. This used field recordings of songs, sheet music,  song sheets, and early commercial recordings to explore American history through songs. The presentation provides curated essays to describe songs of particular eras and musical styles, as well as essays on the songs of over thirty ethnic groups.

Following is the introductory text from the Explore Your Community Poster:

What Heritage Studies Can Do for You

With this poster, the American Folklife Center and the Rural School and Community Trust hope to encourage middle and high school students to explore the wide range of living cultural expression that exists in their communities. The folklife and cultural heritage activities and resources included here will guide teachers in developing original research projects with their students. They also offer young people creative ideas for engaging in cultural heritage research outside the classroom. And, finally, they demonstrate how students can learn to “read” the living traditional culture in their midst so that their community becomes, in essence, the classroom.

It is important for young people to learn that culture, history, art, and music are not just created by historical figures, famous people, or those living in other places. Culture is created in everyday life by all of us in our various communities, whether in our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, or in ethnic, occupational, or other kinds of groups. You can illuminate and expand classroom instruction with real-world experiences and connect students to their communities—in ways that capture students’ attention, enrich their learning experience, and improve essential reading, research, communications, and writing skills. In addition, students will be contributing to understanding and shaping the culture and traditions of their communities.

By doing cultural heritage research in their own communities, students will discover the rich and often diverse traditions around them and make valuable connections to history, place, and environment. In working on projects such as those listed here, you will help students understand culture by connecting to their communities—and by interacting with their own relatives, people in senior centers, local craftspersons, musicians, storytellers, artisans, and experts in local history. They can visit places of historical or local significance while they document family, school, and neighborhood traditions using tape recorders, video and still photography, and basic observational skills. Likewise, you as the teacher may want to invite people with occupational expertise, storytellers, local historians, traditional musicians or dancers, and others into the classroom to enliven and illustrate the classroom experience.

Bringing Heritage Studies into the curriculum:

  • enhances performance in interdisciplinary learning, team participation, and presentation skills.
  • involves students with their families, neighborhoods, and the community around them, and increases civic awareness.
  • builds self-esteem and pride in self, community, and cultural heritage.
  • provides an opportunity for students to contribute to their community in meaningful ways.
  • fosters awareness and tolerance of cultural diversity.
  • encourages the interpretation, synthesis, and evaluation of various kinds of cultural information.
  • develops technological expertise and skills with documentary equipment.
  • promotes school-community partnerships.
  • offers learning opportunities that value each student’s life and experiences.

Poster photographs, clockwise from top:

  • Young Okinawan Taiko performer,Waikiki, Hawaii,1998. Local Legacies Project. Photo by David M. Shimabukuro.
  • Bob Holt gives private lesson at Hammond Mill Camp, Missouri,June 1999. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Liz Amos and Kathy Casper.
  • Travis Carlson riding bareback bronc at 1996 Greeley Independence Stampede, Colorado. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Dan Hubbell / Greeley Independence Stampede Permanent Collection.
  • Fourth graders at Blue Ridge Elementary School perform a hand-clapping routine, Ararat, Virginia, 1978. Blue Ridge Folklife Project. Photo by Patrick Mullen.
  • Native dancer performs at annual Kee-Boon Mein-Kaa festival, Indiana, marking the end of the huckleberry harvest. Local Legacies Project. Photo by courtesy South Bend Tribune.
  • Volunteers restore planes at the Cradle of Aviation Museum at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Robert Axel.
  • ESPN X-Trials, Louisville,Kentucky,including this bicycle stunt event, became part of the Kentucky Derby Festival in 1999. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Marvin.
  • Young Bass pro Kevin Worth (center) displays winning catch, Charles County, Maryland. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Joanne Roland.
  • Graciela Santiago performs in Stevens Park, Finney County, Kansas, 1999.Local Legacies Project. Photo courtesy of Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau.
  • Blues musician Vasti Jackson sings Robert Johnson tunes, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 1999.Local Legacies Project. Photo by Patrick Snook.
  • Sponges piled on dock in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Nick Caloyianis.
  • Sarah Perzent demonstrates quilting, Clark County,Alabama, November 13, 1999. Local Legacies Project. Photo by Monica Vinston Simpson.

Use this link to find all the parts of the three-part series of posts in Folklife Today presenting the Explore Your Community poster.


Explore Your Community educational poster (9 pp., 30 MB, front and back panels, Library of Congress)

Folklife and Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation, fourth edition, 2016, by Stephen Winick and Peter Bartis (Library of Congress)

Veterans History Project: How to Participate (Library of Congress)

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