Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Visit to the Diaries


The other day, I had the opportunity to check out the Youth Diaries here at the Old Capitol Museum. I was really interested in the diaries because I had actually already seen some of the diaries at the Iowa Women’s Archive last spring. I was taking a women’s history course (16A:171:001) and the professor assigned us the task of studying one women’s life that was archived there. It was probably one of my favorite assignments (can you have favorite assignments?) because it was a little like being a detective. Based on the information available (photos, letters, diaries, newspaper clippings) you had to piece together this women’s life and, in doing so, learn about life in Iowa in the 19th Century. By the end of the semester, I felt like I knew the women I researched. This must be how historians feel about the people of the past they research.


What I love about the Old Capitol Museum Youth Diaries Project is how interactive it is! It is incredibly user friendly, especially for younger audiences who might get frustrated working with the documents (they are sometimes very hard to read) at an archive. I was most excited about finding the women I studied at the exhibit! Since I had studied her years as a teacher, I was excited to read about her younger years at the OCM (Old Capitol Museum). I also loved that the exhibit directs you to parts of the diary often overlooked. For instance, with Lucy Van Voorhis White, the exhibit points you to her “code” at the bottom of the page, something you might find in many young girls diaries but would likely not notice. The exhibit also directs you to historical, geographic and political conditions that would have influence the diary writers. The best part? It’s compact! You could spend a half an hour there and walk away with real sense of the person whose diary you studied.

The teacher in me had many thoughts about ways to use these diaries to enhance student learning

Social Studies:

-Using the diaries as a tool for understanding primary documents.

-Mapping the places in Iowa where the diary writers lived. Discuss the influence geography had on the young writers

-Research trends discussed in the diaries (food, fashion, entertainment)

-Choose one person as the subject of a research paper. Include aspect of Iowa and national history pertinent to this person’s life.

-Since many families in the 19th century migrated from other places, trace the journey of this diary writer’s family (there are great resources at the State Historical Society of Iowa for this project)


-Have students keep a journal for several months before starting the project. Once students have viewed the exhibit, have student write a piece that compares the personal diary with the ones view.

-Write a short story based on events from one of the diaries

Next blog topic: One aMAIZEing traveling exhibit!

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