The Rural Experience in America

At any age, anyone can be a point-in-time historian where they are. With a life-long love of history and the global rural experience, I was delighted to participate in NCHE’s Rural Experience in America Colloquia to learn more about rural life in America. The global rural experience has always fascinated me, leading me to serve in a number of rural places in my career to ensure that the voices of all places and people are represented in history, power, and experience. Educators with unique and diverse experiences participated in this learning journey together, representing both rural and urban areas. In the Rural Experience in America Colloquia learning journey with NCHE, I connected with educators and historians from around the United States to unpack the idea of what is rural, what is the current research around rural life, and how we, as educators, and rising historians contribute to the growing narrative around the experience of place.

During this professional learning opportunity, I participated in some asynchronous opportunities to learn about the resources available through the Library of Congress and develop skills around engaging students in question-based historical inquiries. I immediately shared what I learned from these experiences with my colleagues, and we applied many of the strategies in practice. I used the Primary Source Analysis tool from the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources collection in a visual analysis learning activity with middle school students. This resource supported deep reflection and analysis and high student engagement with the primary sources we selected to analyze. Students requested more of these activities in their historical learning experience throughout the year, and educators shared this strategy with others in our building.

We also had the opportunity to collaborate with historians and fellow educators to hear about their experiences and share strategies that support students in thinking and participating in historical thinking and analysis in their own communities as part of a 3-session zoom series. This virtual training included a discussion of historical thinking, visual analysis strategies, how lives and places are represented in literature, and what we can learn from perspectives around rural life and history. Historians and educational specialists coached the team through presentations and interactive learning activities to allow us to experience learning opportunities as students that we could immediately apply to classroom settings. The discussion allowed participants to share expertise and compare and contrast ideas around the rural experience from around the United States. I am still processing all of the powerful information we learned in the virtual learning experience, and this continued professional development was an essential asset to my development as a humanities educator.

The culminating in-person component of this colloquia included a weekend in Norman, OK where participants from the Rural Experience in America Colloquia and community partners gathered to participate in a public history experience, discuss public history projects, consult with members of history-based agencies, and learn from historians and one another. While there, we visited the Chickasaw Cultural Center to participate in a live public history experience that included a tour of the interactive cultural center and live demonstrations of music and dance from members of the Chickasaw nation.


Additionally, participants had the opportunity to share and receive feedback on their projects from their peers and members of organizations that partner with NCHE, including the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program. This feedback not only helped us prepare for launching our projects with students this fall but also provided an opportunity for us to support one another with resources, knowledge, and questions to support the growth and sustainability of our projects moving forward. We concluded our meeting by viewing and giving feedback for elevator speeches on our projects in partnership with educational specialists, university professors, and professional historians. I was fortunate to be accompanied by one of my community partners, Angie Albright, director of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, in this learning experience. She provided insight on some of the ways in which I could collect, share, and display information in a way that honored our community members and incorporated strategies that museums and historians use to teach communities about local history.


I look forward to sharing my learning as a historian and educator in partnership with community and educational organizations in my local region. I will work with local students to engage in a public history project entitled “Transformational Leaders of a Growing Region” in partnership with the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, The Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas, and my local school and district to record and share the oral histories of transformational leaders with diverse experiences in Arkansas, starting with an exploration of leaders in northwest Arkansas. In recent years, this area of Arkansas has experienced significant population growth and welcomed community members whose backgrounds represent many diverse areas of the world. It is essential that the experiences of our community members are shared and recorded so that everyone can have an opportunity to learn from their neighbors and realize that each of us has a unique history and a story to tell. The act of storytelling brings people together and can help us connect with our neighbors in profound ways.

I have worked with community leaders to establish partnerships and record oral histories of multiple individuals with diverse experiences. I will continue this partnership with students to support the collection of the oral histories of our transformational leaders so that these interviews can be used to support instruction in local classrooms and community learning opportunities. Additionally, the oral histories collected will be shared with local leaders and organizations to highlight the current assets of community leaders in the region. The work of the “Transformational Leaders of a Growing Region” project will ensure that there is an equitable and diverse representation of voice and experience in the oral histories of Arkansans for present and future Arkansans. The students will be able to use the skills they develop by participating in or learning from this project to strengthen their ability to tell their story and the story of our community. The oral histories collected will be primary sources that can be used in a variety of ways to support history education in the years to come. I look forward to partnering with rising historians to ensure that anyone, anywhere, has the opportunity to be a historian in their own community.


Image Credits:
1. Performer at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, photo by NCHE
2. Angie Albright (left), director of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, with Jean Hill, photo by NCHE