UW American Heritage Center Wins Grant to Help History Day Students

The University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC) has received $180,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help supply primary sources to middle and high school students competing in Wyoming History Day.

The funding, from the federal CARES Act, is for museums and libraries to spend over two years. Competition for IMLS CARES Act dollars was stiff; there were more than 1,600 applications for just $13 million of CARES Act money.

The AHC has been home to Wyoming History Day, the state affiliate of the National History Day contest, for over a decade.

“These funds will allow us to better serve Wyoming History Day students who, due to the state’s rural nature, are at a disadvantage when trying to access primary sources. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation,” Project Director and AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener says. “IMLS CARES Act funds come at a crucial time, as the state’s school systems increasingly rely on online educational resources due to the pandemic.” 

The 2021 National History Day theme of “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding” offers the AHC an opportunity to digitize a wide variety of materials from nearly 90 collections covering about 30 topics, including the Pony Express; wartime journalism and propaganda; the comics industry; and transmission of Native American cultural values. Primary source sets will be placed on an easily accessible website and accompanied by essays and explanations to assist students in comprehending and contextualizing the historical documents.

“Since large numbers of Wyoming History Day students use our historical materials every year — often going on to win their category at the national competition — we are quite gratified and pleased to be able to improve our game at a time when physical access to our collections is difficult,” AHC Director Paul Flesher says.

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Not only will this project support Wyoming’s school-age participants, but a further opportunity — a national one — significantly increases its importance. A marketing campaign using email, internet and social media to spread awareness of the website of primary sources will inform National History Day participants in all 50 states about the digitized materials, giving them access to primary sources provided by the AHC for their projects.

The marketing campaign also will point out to teachers that the digitized resources are not just for History Day, but also can be used for instructional projects for individual students while under lockdown, quarantine or isolation.

The Wyoming History Day website will continue to be updated each year to enable the AHC to provide a location for distributing digitized materials to solve Wyoming’s problem of rural access to primary sources, even when COVID-19 finally recedes.

IMLS is an independent federal government agency that supports America’s museums, libraries and related organizations through grantmaking, research and policy development. The agency received CARES Act money to help its constituents expand digital network access, purchase internet-accessible devices and provide technical support services to their communities.

To learn more about the project, email Waggener at lwaggen2@uwyo.edu or call (307) 766-2557.

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