(This is the introduction to Carol Buswells curriculum unit, “Exploring Your Community.”)


This curriculum follows the Honoring Tribal Legacies, Place-Based Multiliteracies Framework (Inglebret and Pavel) model. It is a project based curriculum involving students from the very first day in their own discovery of their unique community. This will be accomplished by student-led creation of records, modeled after those produced by both the Corps of Discovery and Native Peoples living along the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. In the process, students will learn to create and recognize both primary and secondary sources and to balance their research to include as many points of view as possible.

The activities and materials here are about our own relationship with community. Our community nurtures us. It feeds us. It provides us with roads to travel, homes to live in, and a sense of belonging. It helps define who we are. It cares for travelers passing through as well as those who have lived there for generations or even thousands of years. Without community, we are alone and hungry for connection. We will start with ourselves and our relationship to the earth upon which we stand. We will talk with our neighbors and listen to memories. Tradition and ceremony will be explored. Books, oral histories, and journal articles will give us glimpses into our community’s past. Original, primary source documents will provide us with stepping stones of truth. In the process, we will learn what actually happened over time, events that perhaps have never come to light before our examination began.

An endeavor of this kind can be conducted more easily thanks to the ever-growing availability of resources on the Internet. In the not so distant past conducting research meant driving long distances in order to visit libraries or archives. Today, there are thousands of libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies all over the world continuously scanning and photographing original material. They are making many of these resources available online so they can be accessed from a personal or library computer. Unfortunately, it is sometimes easy to get lost among the growing numbers of resources on the web. In order to avoid this peril, for this exercise, we will focus primarily on a few of the most document rich resources available: the Lewis and Clark Tribal Legacies Project created by the National Park Service, the National Archives’ DocsTeach, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Library of Congress.

But what about the records and information that are not yet on the Internet? Billions of documents are still languishing in acid-free boxes in archives and special collections all across the country that perhaps have not been touched for hundreds of years, let alone scanned and made available online. Additionally, these records are often organized in ways that seem foreign to a researcher accustomed to library research. Searching for these important records requires a basic understanding of archival organization. Basic information is provided for navigating these rough waters, along with instructions for contacting the archivists and librarians who know the records so much better than any of the rest of us ever will.

As we search through all of these materials, how will we know what is true? In the search for truth, we often find conflicting stories, realities, and opinions. We will need to be cautious. Materials always need to be analyzed in as objective a way as possible, with some understanding of our own learned biases and opinions. Stories were, after all, created by humans and therefore have something of a life of their own. This also applies to original documents. Even the most boring of financial entries tells the story of a person or group of people. Documents need to be compared to each other and discussed with other researchers. In “figuring out” the truth in this way, we learn to participate in society, we learn critical thinking. We learn the foundations of integrity.

Discovering the story of our community can be a fulfilling and invigorating task. It can bring up emotions we did not even know we had. Fortunately or unfortunately, truth can be both exhilarating and profoundly disappointing. Even whether or not we actually know the whole truth is always under debate. New evidence can change the entire story, so writing a community history probably can never be entirely finished. It will always be a work in progress.