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Students Uncover Berkshire County Past, Mill by Mill

Published on Mon, 01/07/2013

Exploring Emerging America’s Windows on History Program

Since 2006, Emerging America’s Windows on History program has mobilized more than 30 research teams of K-12 students with their teachers and in partnership with historical societies, museums, town and college libraries, expert individuals, and other very local resources. Students learn to think historically as they track down primary sources to tell the story of their communities and their place in the world. This is the fifth in our series of close-ups on these sites.


Immigration and Industrialization in North Adams By Rebecca Rideout

The web project Windows to History: Immigration and Industrialization in North Adams provides a thorough, well-documented account of this small town’s growth and demonstrates the impact students can have on their community. Teachers Stephanie Kopala and Krista Pinsonneault oversaw its creation as their high school Honors U.S. History classes dug deep into North Adams’ historical records to create this unique local resource.

Student teams of juniors and seniors researched many subtopics under the two main themes of immigration and industrialization. They uncovered little-known gems from North Adams history, from family stories of Chinese and Lebanese immigrants, to accounts of the shoe mill, biscuit company, wool mill, and clothing factory that expanded the town.

“The students were the driving force,” Ms. Pinsonneault concludes. To raise the stakes of quality work, “Each student was held accountable for designing a website that would be used by the public.” A culminating event introduced the new site to the community (see photo).

Using the town’s historical society, public library, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, students selected nearly forty primary sources, including photographs, articles, and speeches. Some teams complemented these documents with family photos and interviews that they gathered personally from local residents.

Student’s pages summarize their topics and often provide a timeline, visual materials, links to additional information, and a list of supporting documents. helped frame the students’ research by organizing notes, assisting in the creation of timelines, and providing storyboard assistance. Students were given three weeks to perform preliminary research and locate their primary sources; the bulk of the work was done outside of class.

While some group members performed research, others acted as web designers. Pinsonneault suggests assigning the technical aspects of the project to a specific group of students. The groups used Google Pages to convey a complex web of information within a simple template. All students built their technical skills by scanning and uploading photos, posting to the website, and employing hyperlinks within their pages.

In addition to thoroughly documenting the town’s history, the teachers provide a detailed explanation of their process from initial research to technical challenges. In this assessment, Kopala and Pinsonneault acknowledge the extent of the work: “We did not anticipate the amount of effort and dedication that went into the development of these sites.” Kopala and Pinsonneault advise that the project benefited from an Emerging America Teaching American History mini-grant. They note that the project took place over the course of an entire school year.

The end result seems worth the trouble. Immigration and Industrialization in North Adams provides an accessible resource to town residents and far-flung researchers, while illustrating the goal of local research - to connect the present to the past. As one student stated, “Learning about local history is important to the community, because it allows us to be informed citizens.”

Rich Cairn

Civics and Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Collaborative for Educational Services
Rich Cairn founded Emerging America in 2006, which features the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Collaborative for Educational Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History program, "Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry." The Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse, supported by the Library of Congress TPS program promotes full inclusion of students with disabilities and English Learners in civics and social studies education.