December 26, 2023

Expanding Narratives through Educational Opportunities at Historic Sites

For historic sites and preservation organizations across the country, educational programming is an essential part of their mission. Having the ability to connect with and reach out to the next generation is not only an act of preservation, but also an means of accessibility, creating opportunities to share these important narratives beyond geographic and physical boundaries.

In 2021, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, through the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $2.5 million to 80 organizations through the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund. A major focus of some of the awards were projects focused on creating and increasing access to educational tools, including curriculums suitable for a variety of school-aged children, apps, virtual tours, videos/documentaries, oral histories, and more. As Seri Worden, senior director of preservation programs said, "historic preservation organizations, guided by the principles of equity and justice, are channeling their funding towards educational initiatives that center historically excluded populations. By doing so, they don't merely restore buildings; they restore voices."

View of a camera crew interviewing an elderly man at Amache, a Japanese American incarceration camp.

photo by: North Shore Productions

A film crew collecting interviews with individuals who were incarcerated by the U.S. Government at Camp Amache in Colorado. The documentary was funded by the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund.

Three of the awardees—Whitney Plantation, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and Colorado Preservation Inc.—used their funding to not only center historically excluded populations in educational programming, but also focus on equity, justice, and inclusion. Learn more about these projects and their impact below.

Whitney Plantation: Building Educational Capacity for Student and Teacher Engagement

In Wallace, Louisiana, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, sits the Whitney Plantation, a historic site known for how it pays tribute to the lives and legacies of those enslaved by the Haydel family on the plantation’s 200 acres. The museum plays a vital role in working with the local community—which is predominantly Black and includes descendants of those that were enslaved—with an approach that “[centers] on Black personhood, placing enslaved and self-liberating people at the center of the story of slavery” and has been well-received locally and regionally.

However, not all schools are able to take their students to the Whitney Plantation for field trips, especially those further away from Louisiana. This proved a challenge before the pandemic, but with the additional stress of widespread lockdowns, it became apparent that for the Whitney Plantation to continue its work, the museum needed to expand its reach virtually.

A group of students with masks standing in front of a statue at Whitney Plantation as Amber Mitchell speaks with them about the site.

photo by: Whitney Plantation

A group of students listening to one of the educational tours at the Whitney Plantation.

The Telling the Full History grant funds were used to create a virtual tour and curriculum materials making the Whitney Plantation work accessible nationwide. The curriculum, which can be downloaded from their website, includes age-appropriate resources for K-12 educators, complete with images, vocabulary, maps, and short biographies of key people. With the grant and a partnership with the Media and Broadcasting department at the nearby Belaire Magnet High School, the museum was able to further its mission of sharing stories of enslavement from Black perspectives, including everyday life on the plantation, how enslaved people resisted their white oppressors, and how the international and domestic slave trade impacted individuals and communities.

As the former Director of Education at Whitney Plantation, Amber Mitchell said, “Like most other institutions [Whitney Plantation] was affected by not only the pandemic—and the gradual return of guests post pandemic—but also having to deal with the unfortunate reality of living in the middle of climate change on the coast. It forced us to think critically about how our mission was being connected to people in all kinds of ways and spaces.

The Telling the Full History grant allowed us to really sit and dedicate time, resources, and energy towards creating virtual programming and a foundation on which we could build out a whole new type of educational effort for our organization. Without this grant, this new programming would not have been [possible] for us, period.”

Two students stand in front of a sculpture on Whitney Plantation.

photo by: Whitney Plantation

Two children standing before "The Field of Angels," a memorial to the enslaved children that died in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Seaside Stories: BIPOC Youth Maritime Storytelling Project

One of the defining features of life in the Pacific Northwest is the connection to coastal waterways and inlets. That’s why the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation used its Telling the Full History grant to fund a water-focused storytelling project with youths who identify as Black, Indigenous, and from other historically excluded communities .

The Seaside Stories project highlights Black, Asian, Latine, and Native Americans, as well as immigrant, cultural narratives of Washington’s 3,000-mile saltwater coastline. This includes stories tied to specific sites along the coast, such as Alki Beach in Seattle, Lummi Nation’s Stommish Grounds, Pike Place Market, Washington State Ferries, and the Pacific beaches of Olympic National Park.

A group of students sitting at a table with a woman standing at the front next to a projector. All individuals in the frame are masked.

photo by: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

Students gather to learn about the art of interviewing as part of the "Seaside Stories" project at the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area.

“The Seaside Stories project put local teens in conversation with members of their diverse communities about Washington’s historic saltwater shores. Participants spent several weeks learning about the art of interviewing, discussing the roles of intent versus impact, consent, compassion, accountability, and patience,” says Alex Gradwohl, Maritime Washington National Heritage Area’s program director. “They then put those skills to work by recording interviews with parents, teachers, mentors, and other folks in their community, diving into their relationships with Washington’s maritime places and resources.”

“The teen participants gained new interviewing skills and confidence, but Washington’s entire maritime heritage community benefited from the stories and insights they brought to light,” said Gradwohl.

Additionally, Seaside Stories helped spur a partnership between the Washington Trust and Sea Potential, which is an organization with similar goals in increasing representation in maritime work, stories, and art.

And that’s not all.

“Seaside Stories also helped inspire a new storytelling festival on the Seattle waterfront in fall 2023, where it was featured alongside interviews from the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, the Wing Luke Museum, the Black Spatial Histories Institute, and more,” said Gradwohl. “We are incredibly grateful to the National Trust for making this project and the many partnerships it has strengthened possible.” This community-led initiative is now hosted online for all the world to see.

Two students sitting on chairs, masked practicing some of the skills to conduct interviews as part of a program with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

photo by: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

Two students practice interviewing skills as part of the "Seaside Stories" project.

Amache Documentary Film and Educational Curriculum Project

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II, the United States forced many Japanese Americans into incarceration camps. This targeted racism has had far-reaching effects and continues to impact families whose relatives were incarcerated to this day.

Located in Granada, Colorado, the Granada Relocation Center (known as Camp Amache) was one of 75 known incarceration centers that held Japanese Americans during WWII. Now turned into a historic site run by the National Park Service, the Amache Preservation Society, and the Amache Alliance, those incarcerated at Amache and their descendants, as well as volunteers, make the grounds accessible via tours, educational materials, and a dedicated research center.

A drone view of the Amache incarceration camp.

photo by: North Shore Productions

A drone view of Camp Amache.

To extend this reach even further, Colorado Preservation, Inc, used their Telling the Full History grant to team up with North Shore Productions to create a documentary film about the Japanese Americans incarcerated on the grounds. The film was designed to be shown at the Amache Museum and on TV via local and regional public access channels.

“The Telling the Full History grant we received was wonderful in helping us gather more direct data that otherwise would not have happened. We are quickly losing firsthand survivors, so we thank the National Trust for supporting our project,” said Jane Daniels, who was the director of preservation programs at Colorado Preservation, Inc.

The documentary features the lived experiences of the survivors paired with present-day footage of the Amache historic site, including restored and preserved areas such as the barracks, recreation hall, guard tower, and cemetery.

A black and white image of incarcerated Japanese Americans working in a wood shop at Camp Amache in Colorado.

photo by: National Archives and Records Administration

A historic view of one of the shops at Camp Amache.

A sepia toned image of some of the buildings at Camp Amache, an incarceration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II in Colorado.

photo by: National Archives and Records Administration

An exterior (historical) view of Camp Amache in Colorado.

“Gathering direct oral history data from internees and descendants has been key to our goal to tell the history of the Japanese American incarceration through their eyes, and to fulfill their wishes in pursuit of preserving the physical site, Amache, as part of their story,” said Daniels.

To better share Amache with the world, especially young people, the museum created educational curricula and cut the documentary into shorter clips so teachers could use the materials in their 6-12th grade classrooms. Projects like this are vital for helping students experience living history even from afar.

Daniels continued, “there is not enough awareness regarding this shameful history and each time we can share it, especially with our youth, I believe we grow awareness, and with it comes sensitivity, kindness, and hopefully a path towards preventing future similar injustices.”

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Mandy Shunnarah (they/them) is a writer who loves old things. When they're not writing their next book, they can often be found wandering around historic places like theatres, cemeteries, and author homes (usually with permission). Learn more at

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