Youth Historians in Harlem Project | Teachers College Columbia University

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Youth Historians in Harlem Project

At the heart of IUME is its commitment to activism through research, using research as a tool for social justice. Therefore, the Institute is proud to announce an array of research projects that IUME students and staff are either leading or heavily involved in producing, each that promote teaching and learning and/or educational issues through an anti-deficit framework. Additionally, we encourage the community to be a part of our research, further collaborating with those who our research intends to benefit. 

About Youth Historians in Harlem (YHIH)

The Youth Historians in Harlem (YHIH) project is a new critical approach to teaching history in urban schools in Harlem, focusing on empowering minority youth through their own cultural experiences, involving students in the practice of "doing" history through guided projects, programs, and participatory action research. Through a collaboration between the History and Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME), Youth Historians in Harlem seeks to increase students' interest in history through innovative and engaging pedagogical approaches that help them become historians, researching the rich historical past of ‘their’ Harlem community. While YHIH seeks to advance the historical knowledge of education in Harlem, above all, our project seeks to make history relevant to urban students and help increase academic achievement.

Specifically, the Youth Historians in Harlem (YHIH) project is a year-long after-school program designed to engage high school youth in Harlem's public schools in history through the process of 'doing' history. Participants of the program will learn the work of historians and then, as emerging youth historians, research a topic within the history of Harlem (and/or related to education and schools, specifically) that they feel is relevant and interesting to them. Due to the rich and elaborate history of Harlem as well as with the guidance of YHIH advisors, students will learn history by 'doing' history through engaging in the historical process instead of reading out of a textbook. After participating in YHIH, students are expected to have a deeper appreciation of history while also consequently increasing their literacy and critical thinking skills.


Why "Youth Historians?" And Why History Pedagogy?

Among urban youth, there is a large historical 'need' for this type of innovative instruction. Specifically, 

  1. Lack of interest in history among youth​
  2. Lack of focus on local history in K-12 education​
  3. Little to no infusion of Harlem's rich history in classroom discussions
  4. Lack of integration of history of education, schooling, and youth into many local history efforts
  5. Lack of connection between historians work and K-12 history instruction​
  6. Low levels of academic literacy and college-going among city youth

In addition, using the status quo of test score framing, according to recent NAEP test scores, not only are students not interested in history, but all students are doing worse in history than any other subject.

Project Details and Specifics

This project, in its pilot year, will take place over the two academic semesters with 10-13 students led by graduate students. While the project will be student led and organically grow through the unique interests of the students, there are a few "skills" and goals of the project. Some of them include for students, in the process of becoming "youth historians," is too:

  • Document and conduct oral history of community members
  • Work through historical archives and library collections related to Harlem
  • Interpret and conduct historiographical work
  • Use history as a sociological and anthropological tool to "discover" stories and narratives
  • Develop a critical lens on race, culture, class, and equity in schools and education


Following participation in YHIH, students will have created and/or written a research paper/project on a historical topic relevant to their lives.

Of course, from a research standpoint--following the successful implementation of the after-school program--this project has mass potential to "rethink" history instruction and illustrate how teachers can better engage students in history to both increase academic engagement and critical thinking/historical/literacy skills.


For more Information...

Visit http://www.youthhistorians.com to learn more and contact the Project Director, Barry Goldenberg, atbmg2136@columbia.edu

For further information about the research design, click here to download the framework for this project.