America 101: The Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA

by Rebecca Johnston

Many United States citizens have become more interested in politics in the last year, spurred on by such events as the 2020 Presidential election and January 2021’s attempted capital insurrection. Because of these new conversations around civic engagement, many cultural heritage institutions are weighing in and promoting their own collections and interpretations. To increase civic engagement and knowledge within the city of Pittsburgh and beyond, the Senator John Heinz History Center launched the America 101 initiative in October 2020. This wide-ranging proposal includes events hosted by the History Center, the formation of a coalition with civic and history organizations across the country, and the development of two mobile applications. The History Center’s goal is that by 2026, the citizens of Western Pennsylvania will know more about American history and demonstrate this knowledge by passing the history and civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test. The motivation for this proposal was in part the passage of Act 35 in Pennsylvania, mandating that all middle and high schools test their students on the “history, government, and civics” of the United States.

As an online viewer, this project includes quite a few items of interest, although I will focus on only one in detail here: the History Center’s development of two free mobile apps, Citizen You and America 101. After downloading both, I can attest that they are both appealing in different ways. Citizen You “gamifies” civic engagement and service in day to day life. Choosing from a wide variety of activities, users can earn points in return for making a positive impact in their communities, including voting, volunteering, and connecting with others. In order to reinforce this behavior, Citizen You encourages you to connect with other users and see how they are being good citizens. Clearly, this app targets members of the public interested in social media, and there has been some success because users are choosing to participate. Meanwhile, America 101 focuses on the collections within the History Center; available through the GuidiGo, the app leads users through exhibits at the History Center and challenges them to engage by answering questions and photographing specific items. Directed toward younger users, this app also awards points. Unfortunately, neither Citizen You nor America 101 have received reviews by users, so it is difficult to tell how the apps are being received.

While these apps present interesting opportunities, I think it is worth noting some potential issues with the cohesiveness and impact of this project. For example, the development and implementation of America 101 involved a number of different departments—including Marketing and Communications, the Library and Archives, and IT, at the very least—but the project seems to be fairly decentralized, with each department taking part in different activities. This makes me wonder what the experience of this initiative would be like on the ground—whether it would be difficult to carry the themes of the initiative throughout an experience at the History Center, making it less impactful overall. Furthermore, outside of the History Center’s website, there does not seem to be much publicity about the initiative as a whole. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has not reported on it, and the History Center’s Twitter makes only a few mentions of minor events associated with the initiative.

I originally chose the America 101 initiative because I was so impressed with all that the project entailed, as well as its mission in general: I also think it is important to promote civic education and engagement. And as many of our course readings have pointed out, our role as cultural heritage professionals is to engage in social justice work, whether it be in what we collect or what we display (see Jimerson’s “Archives for All”, Through the Archival Looking Glass). According to the History Center, it is “committed to telling the American story and inspiring a community of citizens to explore what it means to be an American.” This initiative clearly falls in line with those goals, but there did seem to be some gaps or disconnect in implementation. With the whole of Western Pennsylvania as the intended audience, it is difficult to specifically engage with groups and make an impact, and while the timeline of 2026 gives some breathing room to make progress, it also seems like there is not currently enough advertising or public awareness to promote this project. America 101 provides an excellent opportunity for outreach, especially to students, but it has not yet made the impact that could be possible.

The Maine Memory Network

by Rose Dionne

Online may not be the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the State of Maine, but maybe it should be. Maine Memory Network is an online archival resource sharing network created by Maine Historical Society that currently works in partnership with almost three hundred other cultural heritage organizations all over the state of Maine. This project’s mission is to digitize Maine’s history, have a place to share the collections related to it and provide context through essays, digital exhibits and educational resources. These resources can be easily accessed by the public and also cultural heritage professionals at other institutions in the area, creating a more connected understanding of local history that is based on more widely distributed resources than any one institution has access to.

Maine Memory Network was launched in 2006, with 10,000 records contributed by 160 organizations. Today there are over 45,000, resources dating from ancient archeological findings from the many Native Americans that have called this place home, plenty of 19th century photographs of a flourishing trolley system, and prominent citizens, to digital photographs from the 2000s of mill towns going through downtown revitalizations, and oral histories told by people who have spent their whole lives in Maine. With this range of collected materials there is something for almost everyone, and every project. It is also an active website with many of the newest exhibits focused on Maine’s recent bicentennial, which is an event that Maine Historical has been taking the lead in commemorating.  While Maine Memory is certainly not a comprehensive resource of all the archived material that exists in the hundreds of archives, libraries, museums and historical societies, all over the state, (Maine Historical notes that only 1% of their collections are available on Maine Memory Network) it’s strengths lie in the specific resources aimed at teachers or anyone curious about history. While this site is not really aimed what might be considered the traditional archival audience, the fact that much of the material is curated into exhibits and lesson plans that are aimed educators, young students or average people makes it a great advocacy tool. Teaching young people that these resources are out there is important for creating a generation of people who will use and advocate for archives.

Another element of archival outreach that this project accomplishes is towards local institutions. While 50% of the Network’s resources come directly from Maine Historical Society, that means that half are from those other cultural heritage organizations. Many of the organizations that share their resources on this platform are small historical societies and local libraries that may not have the funding or resources to create and maintain their own public digital collections database. By giving them a place to share those collections Maine Memory Network creates an online presence and public access to the materials specifically, but that also leads to a larger audience. If three hundred different organizations are directing collections material and people to one website that creates both a wide-ranging collection, and wide-ranging audience.

Sharing resources in the chronically underfunded cultural heritage field is a fantastic practice that can expand access to collections, access to well curated information and create a larger audience than any one organization can reach. As an outreach project this network reaches cultural heritage organizations that can expand the network, and people who might not otherwise work with archival resources regularly. Maine Memory Network brings an awareness and appreciation of history, that all arc

Vermont History Day and the Vermont Historical Society

by Toben Traver

What happens when we engage students in the process of historic documentation and research? This is the question that drives the annual Vermont History Day (VHD) program and competition. Since 1983, VHD, administered by the Vermont Historical Society(VHS) in affiliation with National History Day (NHD), has worked to provide Vermont 5th12th grade students with opportunities to develop research skills,grapple critically with historic topics, and present the fruits of their labor to their peers and community. All student projects are organized around a common theme selected each year by NHD, a national nonprofit organization committed to teaching, preparing, and inspiring the next generation of historicallygrounded citizens. Students are charged with delving into the topic of their choice, and encouraged to bring in creative skills and interests; projects solo or in groups of up to five can take the form of an essay, a performance, an exhibit, a documentary, or a website. Placing first or second in the statewide April competition qualifies students to compete at the national level in June. In 2021, as in 2020, these competitions will be virtual events due to the ongoing COVID19 Pandemic.

VHD fits squarely within the mission of the VHS, which is to engage a wide audiencein the exploration of our state’s rich heritage… through our outstanding collections, statewide outreach, and dynamic programming(Vermont Historical Society, 2021). The program provides an opportunity for students, parents, and teachers from across Vermont to connect with and learn to value historic materials. VHS also demonstrates a clear understanding of how they can tailor their services to this group of users by highlighting possible project ideas oriented to the issues that animate them environmental degradation, social justice, and indigenous rights, for instance. Howto guides and tutorials are written with gradeschool students in mind, using language and imagery they might find approachable. Resources on the VHS website guide participants in how to locate and evaluate primary and secondary sources, a critical component of building archival and information literacy. Further, resources link to various other libraries, museums, local historical societies, and repositories throughout the state. In this way, the project helps raise awareness of the broader environment of cultural heritage centers throughout Vermont, and provides avenues for outreach to critical partner organizations and future potential allies of the VHS.

Students are one of the primary audiences for VHD, though they are certainly not its only beneficiaries. While, according the VHS website, one hundred and sixtyseven students participated in the VHD competition in 2020, a virtual exhibition allows a broad swath of the public to learn about the individual topics and projects, and perhaps connect with the VHS, Vermont State Archives, or other organizations that house cultural heritage materials (Vermont Historical Society, 2020). Educators are a central target of this program as well. VHD provides tools for incorporating historical teaching and learning into the classroom, including suggested topics of study relevant to Vermont’s history, and creative methodologies for engaging in research, such as oral history.

While many of the students engaged in this program have benefited immensely, judging by their glowing reviews on the VHD webpage, it is difficult to quantify the programs impact. Many of the winning projects in 2020 originated from one school and one town,suggesting that some teachers and communities have found ways to fold the program into their classrooms successfully, while others may have not. That said, local history, culture, and politics have long been celebrated in Vermont, and the VHS has secured a prominent role in educating, promoting, and preserving Vermontersconnections with their past. VHD provides a clear avenue for this kind of wrestling with history, offering students the chance to direct their own learning, and showing all involved the power that historical materials can have. In this way, the program helps secure a loyal base of support for the VHS, and ensure the organization can continue its mission into the future.

Links for further reading:

The Vermont Historical Society:

Vermont History Day:

National History Day:


Vermont Historical Society. (2020). Vermont History Day 2020. Vermont History. URL:

Vermont Historical Society. (2021). Mission & Strategic Plan. Vermont History. URL: