Top of page

Explore Your Community: A Poster for Teachers and Students, Part 3

Share this post:

This is part three 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 One. Read Part Two.

Mapping Your World

A woman with audio recording equipment and a camera stands in a creek at the edge of the water talking with two men standing in the creek. One man is holding a large net.
(Detail) Folklorist Mary Hufford (left) talks with Ray Cottrell and Randy Sprouse (center) who are catching dobsonfly larvae, called hellgrammites, to use as bait. Trap Stewart Hole near the mouth of Hazy Creek, West Virginia. Photo by Terry Eiler, 1997. This photo is part of the presentation Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia.

All communities—whether urban, suburban, or rural—have their own cultural heritage. Did you ever explain your neighborhood to someone visiting your area? What did you say? What interesting places would you want a student new to the area to know about? What kinds of things would you tell them that you  do in those places?  Folklorists are often the stranger in the neighborhood, asking the people who live there about where the live. There are lots of ways to do that.

When Mary Hufford wanted to learn more about the way people in southern West Virginia near the Coal River saw the place they lived in, one of the things she did was to ask people to go for a drive or a walk with her. Sometimes she would ask a few people so she could also listen to them talk to each other. On one walk along Hazy Creek, she took two older men who knew the history of the place, and a young woman who might know different things then the men who were older.  In this clip from that walking interview, the two men, Dave Bailey and Woody Boggs, did most of the talking, while the young woman, Vicky Jarrell asked them questions. This was great! Vicky knew to ask some questions that Mary wouldn’t have thought  to ask because Vicky knew something about the area and wanted to know more. In another part of that same walk, Vicky had something important to tell Mary about, a place to find spring water.  The two men added to that conversation, too.  So what Mary was doing was learning part of the local map, not the kind of a map that is just a drawing of roads or boundaries, but the map of the way people who live in a place  think about that place. (These examples are from the presentation, Tending the Commons.)

Here are some ideas from the Explore your Community Poster:

What You Can Do

Create a Tour:

Boys swimming in Custer Creek, Montana, during the Crow Fair, a powwow and rodeo held at the Crow Agency, Montana. Do you have a favorite place to hang out? Do you know shortcuts to get there? Places you go with friends and ways you get there could be part of “mapping your world.” This photo is from the Montana Folklife Survey Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Photo by Michael Crummett, 1981.

Create a driving tour, audio map, Web-based tour, or walking plan of significant or curious places in your city or county that outsiders would be interested to know about. Historic buildings, local cemeteries, places with local legends, and places that have significance within your community play an important role in your world. Plot sites on your map with descriptive material about each place. Research their history or geology and interview people who may know something about their origin or know stories about them. Can you find old photos of these places? Do any places on your tour have names that don’t exist on printed maps? Interview local people to find out more about place-names and local history.

Study Old Buildings or a Business District:

Study and document a historically significant building in your community. Measure it, do rough sketches of its dimensions, photograph it. Is the architecture characteristic of your community or region? Is the building made from a particular kind of stone, clay, or other material native to your area? How has it been used over time? What role did it play in the economic or social life of the community? What was happening in history when it was built? Can you find information about the builders, masons, or inhabitants of the building? Do library research in old newspapers and local histories about it; interview older members of the community about it.

Choose a Topic, any Topic — Chances are It Has Links To Folklife or Cultural Heritage

Three women seated at a table.
During World War I, immigrants came to the United States. During the war and the Great Depression that followed, Americans moved within the United States to find work. In the 1930s, folklorist Sidney Roberson Cowell saw an opportunity to document the songs and music of these recent immigrants and migrants in California. This portrait shows Aurora Calderon, Elinor Rodriguez, and Cruz Losada, all from Puerto Rico, in 1939. At this link you can hear Elinor Rodriguez sing a song in Spanish about hardships in Puerto Rico, recorded by Cowell. Part of California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

There are many aspects of creativity in culture that you might choose to document, songs, stories, food traditions, religious traditions, and holidays are just a few ideas. Hopefully this presentation has given you some ideas.

If you are interested in history, there are different ways you might approach an historical event. There might be songs about it, or traditions marking an event.  People who study culture are often interested in the ways that people react to and try to understand an historical event as well, especially those people who never make it into a history book. The ways that people experience history give a richer understanding of events. The American Folklife Center has collected personal recollections of historical events, including ones where high school students were the collectors and/or the participants being interviewed. For example, there are a number of accounts of the attack on September 11, 2001, that included students as interviewers and interviewees, and are available online in the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project. In this recording, Allison Treutler, Arlington Heights, Illinois, shortly after the event, Benjamin Treutler asks her about what happened and how she felt.  A large collection project, the Veterans History Project, documents the experiences of American war veterans. In this post in Folklife Today by intern Victoria Anderson, you can read about her experience interviewing veterans: “Honored and Blessed: My Summer Spent with Arkansas Veterans.”

Here are some suggestions from the poster that might give you some more ideas:

What You Can Do

The Good Old Days:

Research and write about an event in the history of your community or some special quality of your neighborhood, something that it is known for. Interview parents, neighbors, and seniors. Check old newspapers, memoirs, and historic records, maps, and photographs. Create a time-line using what you have gathered to show how the community has changed since the “Good Old Days.” Were the “old days” really so “good”? Prepare an exhibit in your school or local library or develop a multi-media presentation or Web site using materials you have gathered.

The Immigrant Experience:

From the beginning, our nation has been a meeting ground for different cultures. Today, American culture is made up of many cultural groups. Stories of immigration, or migrant experiences, contribute to a sense of belonging for a group. Collect family stories about moving to a new home or interview a recent immigrant in your community and learn about his or her culture and experiences. Read about historic events at the time of migration and write a history of this culture and its role in your community. Describe and document a local ethnic community festival or celebration using still and video photography and audio recording.

Publish a Cookbook:

Folklorists call the cooking traditions of a group or family “foodways.” Collect traditional recipes from people in your community or from your family, perhaps focusing on one kind of food or the food of a specific cultural group. Interview people about how they learned recipes and the role that these traditional foods play in their lives and heritage. Study the production of a food or crop that is special to your community or celebrated at a local festival. Publish a cookbook, using quotes from people you have interviewed, historical details about the importance of the dishes, and photographs and sketches.

About the American Folklife Center and the Rural School and Community Trust

Explore Your Community Poster Panel Six

(This section has been updated from the print edition with current links)

A young woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono and scarf.
A student learning Japanese dance. Japanese dancing instruction, Chicago Buddhist Temple, 1151 W. Leland, Chicago. Chicago, Illinois, June 19, 1977. Sometimes ethnic traditions, such as dance and music, are taught formally or informally. In the US there are many language and heritage schools that help students learn the language and traditions of their ancestral country. Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

The American Folklife Center

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress was created by Congress in 1976 “to preserve and present American Folklife.” Its enabling legislation includes the following definition of American folklife: “the traditional, expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, and regional; expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms, such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, and handicraft; these expressions are mainly learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction.” (Public Law 94-201)

The American Folklife Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established at the Library in 1928 as a repository for American Folk Music and has grown to become one of the most significant collections of American and international cultural research materials in the world.

The Center has a staff of folklorists and reference librarians who conduct programs under the general guidance of the Librarian of Congress and a board of trustees. It serves the U.S. Congress; federal and state agencies; national, international, regional, and local organizations; scholars, researchers, and students; and the general public. The Center’s programs and services include field projects, conferences, exhibitions, workshops, concerts, both print and online publications, online digital collections, archival processing and preservation, reference service, and advisory assistance.

To Learn More: 

The Rural School and Community Trust

The Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to enlarging student learning and improving community life by strengthening relationships between rural schools and communities and engaging students in community-based public work.

Through advocacy, research, and outreach, the Rural Trust strives to create a more favorable environment for rural schooling, for student work with a public audience and use, and for more active community participation in schooling.

Founded as the Annenberg Rural Challenge in 1995, the Rural Trust today works with more than 700 rural elementary and secondary schools in 35 states.

The theory that has guided the work of the Rural Trust is that when rural public schools base their teaching on the culture, history, ecology, and economy of the communities they serve, and fully engage members of the community in the work of the school, schools and communities improve together. Students who participate in this kind of “place-based” learning routinely meet or exceed the most rigorous educational standards. Communities where place-based learning takes place are at the vanguard of a nationwide rural schools movement.

To Learn More:

  • For an overview of the Rural School and Community Trust’s activities, and descriptions of school-based projects, go to the Rural Trust’s Web.
  • Questions can be directed to the Rural School and Community Trust, 1825 K Street, NW, Suite 703, Washington, DC 20006. Phone: (202) 955-7177. FAX: (202) 955-7179. E-mail inquiries: [email protected].

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)

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *