Local Research Assignments with Historypin

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I recently had the chance to visit a former student who now teaches at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, where we spent an evening talking about the research his students have been doing to study important local issues. In one of his classes, he engaged students in studying the cruise industry and its relationship to Juneau, noting that this small city of 32,000 receives “about one and a half million cruise ship passengers” every year. (I have been such a passenger; you may have too.) Most of his students took this state of affairs for granted and were grateful for the jobs created by the industry; most said they’d never thought much about it. That was before, however, they began their own research. Working in small groups, they began to gather data about the history and impact of the cruise industry on their city—on air and water quality, on quality of life, on employment and education, even on homelessness. They began to trace the web of connections between the desires of the cruise companies and local government policies.


As the progressed in their research, the students made use of Historypin, a not-for-profit organization that partners with cultural and civic organizations to help build better and stronger communities. According to their website:

We collect, curate and structure stories to bring people together, one story at a time…

Through our projects we bring communities together. We get people talking. About shared experiences. About their connections with each other. About the places they’ve lived, worked and played. About the history that’s alive in the buildings and spaces around them.

If you run our programme in your local café, library or museum you’ll unlock new connections and understanding. We can also help you present the stories on our interactive mapping platform historypin.org

The students used this platform to “map” the connections they were finding, creating a dense matrix that began to reveal certain trends and facts about how their city was being affected—in ways none of them could have begun to imagine just a couple of months before. As their teacher remarked, “The act of ‘pinning’ constitutes a visual special tactic in that they make visible sites and experiences that are often invisible, unknown or disregarded.” In short, these students were becoming powerful researchers, creating new knowledge that could be of great importance to their community.


Their teacher, Richard Simpson, is at work on a long essay detailing this classroom project even as he plans for a new project on a new subject for the coming term. I will write more about it when this article is published. In the meantime, if you do not know about Historypin and its many programs, checking it out may give you some great ideas for local projects your students could take on.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 2650303 by piviso, used under the Pixabay License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.