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Title: Deifining Social History
Category: Student Writing
Description: Social History Lesson
Defining Social History
Often, people think the study of history means studying governments, battles, and national leaders. These are important history topics, but historians learn much about history by studying the lives of everyday people as well.

Social history is the history of the everyday experiences and beliefs of ordinary people. Social historians look at teachers, store clerks, factory workers, police officers, the unemployed, children, computer programmers -- all kinds of people you might meet in your own life.

The number of social history topics is huge because social history looks at every aspect of day-to-day life -- family life, recreation, work, social life, religious beliefs, and more. Most social historians study one group of people (such as Japanese Americans), one particular area (such as the Great Plains in Nebraska), or a specific topic within social history (such as family life).
Asking Social History Questions
Imagine that you are a social historian studying family life in Massachusetts in three different periods of history. What kinds of questions would you ask?

Here are examples of questions you might research:
·         What kind of food does this family usually eat? How do they get their food?
·         What kinds of natural resources are available where this family lives? How do these resources influence the types of food, shelter, and clothing available?
·         Does every child in the family attend school? Why or why not?
·         Can every member of the family read and write? Why or why not? What kinds of books are available to the family?
·         How important is religion to the family's life?
·         What work does each member of the family do?
·         Does the family own property? Why or why not?
·         Which family members can vote? Which family members do vote?
·         What transportation does the family use to get around?
·         What games do children play? What do adults do for relaxation?
·         What family activities might be considered an art or craft today?

Sources for Learning About Social History
Social historians use many sources -- diaries, letters, songs, census information, artifacts including clothing and tools, photographs, public records including birth, marriage and death certificates, and oral histories.
In this lesson, you will use oral histories to explore social history. You will start by studying oral histories collected as part of the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s. Then you will conduct some oral history interviews yourself.

Now you will be grouped in threes.
  1. Interview each member of the group based on the questions above. Each person will have 10 minutes on the hot seat. Remember not to ask YES/NO questions; discuss each prompt for stories, rather than isolated facts.
  2. Take notes (digital or paper, your call). I will collect them at the end of class for a grade.
  3. Each group member will be responsible for writing a descriptive paragraph about the most interesting aspect of your discussion with another group member. I will assign these, too. Complete in class or for a graded homework assignment.
These skills are laying the foundation for the work we will do as student journalists in a few weeks. 

Add Comment

Comment Posted by: M P at 03:52:27 PM on 12/14/2010

     Thomas Cook is what seems to be a regular fifteen-year-old boy but really his life is anything but ordinary. Cook has “about three” children in his family. He has two siblings that are seven and another that is eighteen. Everyone in Cook’s family can read and write because they all go to school. Cook and one of his siblings both go to Watkins Glen and the other two go to Odessa. Cook lives in a rural home just outside of Watkins Glen near Winners Circle. The Cook family lives here now but before they lived in Watkins Glen and decided to move to North Carolina. This decision put them there for a summer before they realized that they should move back. They moved to North Carolina because they have family there. Cook says that he didn’t like North Carolina because he didn’t like being away from his friends. Cook likes living in Watkins Glen, New York much better than living in North Carolina. Now that he lives in Watkins Glen for good he spends time playing board games with his family and going out to eat with them. Most kids that grow up in Watkins Glen grow up with hopes and dreams of leaving the little town behind. Cook had the experience of living outside of Schuyler County and decided that it’s not so bad after all.

Comment Posted by: C E at 03:41:34 PM on 12/14/2010


food: sandwiches. Cereal. Meat potatoes and a vegetable. Buy food at Wal-Mart and local farmers and grow own food.

Resources: garden for own food, grow flowers. Water, on lake. Farms to get food.

Family: all attend school because parents believe to have a good education to get good jobs.  All can read and write because they all attend school.

Religion: every important to mom because she is catholic, sister and her are pronounced Catholics but father is atheist. Other two siblings to young to believe in religion. Important because family tradition, deal with stress
Work: mom is a teacher, father helps run winery, sister and I work at house and two restaurants, stone cat and red newt. Other two help out with chores

Property: own property in hector, acre and half lived on, couple of acres with pond and field where grow vegetables in Lodi

Transportation: dad has a dodge truck, mom has a Buick crossover. Shannon has own car. Drive with whoever is driving

Children: two siblings play video games and Farmville. Shoot things with Beebe gun.

Adults: sit at fireplace and drink wine.

Decorate Christmas tree, carve pumpkins.




College: corning like last two sisters who went there and then go to a bigger school. Wants to be an English teacher. Favorite subject because enjoys writing. Is writing a story now, writing poems. Favorite book, little red moon, a child called it. Poems about nature is favorite. Reading, writing and listening to music are favorite activities. Favorite tokio hotel. A German band. Like them because they are different.  Lead singer has a beautiful voice. Dress different. Sing different

Obsession with Germany for eight years. Beautiful place. Wants to visit Germany, not live there. Aunt lives in uk now. Been to Germany.

Would want to travel the world. Been to Canada, California, west virgina, new jersey. Denver. Pennsylvania. 

Family gets together for holidays. Gets along good with whole family. Really close.

Holidays: secret santa this weekend with family.


Favorite food, lasagna, ice cream-strawberry

Favorite movie: the little vampire. Underworld, van helsen. Vampires are favorite type of make believe character. Interesting



Shannon and her family are a very typical American family. Everyone in her family knows how to read and write because her parents believe that you need to attend school in order to be successful in life. After my short interview with Shannon, I am sure she will be very successful. She is very hardworking, a skill that will get someone far in life. Shannon has showed how hardworking she really is in more ways than one. Shannon attends school everyday and comes home and makes sure to get all of her homework done. While she is in all advanced classes, this never seems to stop Shannon from doing more. Shannon is the secretary of student Council and is involved in various other clubs, which she actively participates in. Furthermore, Shannon also works two jobs in her hometown at the Stone Cat and The Red Newt. Not only does Shannon work at school and at work, she also works around the house. She helps her sister do chores because her family is very busy because they own a winery and that requires a lot of attention to keep it successful. This portrays Shannon’s real character. She is hardworking and determined, some qualities that are going to get her far in life. 

Comment Posted by: R P at 01:14:54 PM on 12/14/2010

Meat potatoes and vegetable
Grows, buy, farm
Garden grows flowers.
Water from lake, dirt
Dandy mart, farm
Everyone attends school so they can get jobs.
Yes they all can read and write.
Realign is really important, catholic.
Good way to deal with stress
Moms a teacher
Dad helps run a winery
Sister helps with chores and work at red newt and red cat
Own property in hector
Dad has a truck mom has a beuic
Megan and Patrick play video games
Shot things with Beebe gun
Decorate xmas tree, carve pumpkins
a lot of chicken
mom makes own food
bake a lot together
Not many family dinner
Does not go out to eat a lot
Mom: works at Cornell, pays for all actives that goes on there, manages money
Wants to go to Cornell for college, already applied
Has no job                                                                                                  
Going for teaching: High school: history: Accent Rome, favorite time
Finds it unique and interesting
Has applied 9 schools
Top choice, n/a
Likes bigger schools better
Most excited about college, getting away, meeting new people
Wants to go to South America, speeches Spanish, will have to partice
Does not believe in realign
Visited all college, but vender belt and NYU
Been expeped to Elmira and Oneonta
If she doesn’t go to a big school she will play soccer
Join clubs, wants to be invaled
Best campus, Cornell
Vender belt looks pretty,

Comment Posted by: A S at 01:14:42 PM on 12/14/2010

2 brothers and 5 sisters, all attend school because parents want them to have a good education.
Family is hardest part. Mom and dad fight a lot. Talk to friends about it, helps a lot.
Lives up by reading center, enjoys it because its in the middle of nowhere. Likes it better than living in town, woods, walks.
Hangs out with family, nothing specific. Geocashing, use a GPS put coordinate in it, and it leads to a specific spot that has an amo can. Look up information, gives you a specific spot to go. Find it on different websites. Does activity once a month. Leaves, McDonald’s toy. Nothing specific. Likes getting out in nature, and getting exercise. Gone to Washington DC (farthest location). Found collectable state knife. For every item you take, you have to leave an item. Participating for five years.
Excited for Christmas for the joy of giving items and receiving them. Hopes to get money. Family is big into Christmas. Stockings on Christmas, eat big breakfast, open presents, Christmas dinner.    
Likes horses, Has one horses but doesn’t ride much because its winter, cold. Started doing 4H got interested in horses bought own horse in 2007. Horse: 14.4 hands high, brown and white, 13 years old. Bought with own money, not that expensive. Unpredictable horse, she has fallen off a lot. Acts like a dog that likes attention. Sage, horse came with her name. Sister tries to be interested in horses, but maegan thinks she only does this to be cool. Doesn’t show the same interst.
Career nothing to do with animals. Undecided. Possibly the health field because lots of money to live a successful life.   Has to be something that she likes but makes a lot of money. Horses are more of a hobby.
When Stephanie went to college…..
Maegan got her old room.. Didn’t like what sister had done with it. She didn’t have a reliable ride anymore.
Got a facebook when she left the first time, skyped. AS she got further into college life stopped using skype, facebook and texting. Don’t talk as much at all. Last time saw her was thanksgiving. 
Misses her sometimes but when she was home they didn’t interact that much.
2 sisters. Maegan and little sister developed new attitudes. Communication has decreased. Completely different. More like her big sister (divas, preppy, bossy) Maegan more independent, reserved, shy. They were outspoken and obnoxious. Dependant on parents. 

Comment Posted by: M P at 01:14:01 PM on 12/14/2010

Random food from night night
Almost like a feed yourself night everynight
Or go out to eat like burgerking TGI Fridays, Arbys
TGI Fridays is best
Drive over to walmart
Five minuets away from house
Ceral, milk, things absolutely need
Don’t have any
No farm
If lived on farm would possibly get food from there
Everyone attends school
About three or four kids
Two are seven, the other is eighteen
He is fifteen
Seven year olds are not twins
Everyone can read and write
Him and another one go to Watkins
Otheres go to Odessa
Do their own thing
One plays video games, one reads do a whole bunch of stuff
Play board games together
Drive in a silver car 2007 dodge van
Four can drive
Read watch tv go somewhere without the children- parents relaxation
Don’t have any arts or crafts
Own property, a lot to him, rural area, outside of WG by winners circle
Goes to winners circles when its open
Sherbert- favorite ice cream
Religion not very important-been to church for weddings and Christmas parties
Has moved from Watkins to a summer in north Carolina then they moved back
Visited family, went to school
Doesn’t miss north Carolina
Didn’t like north Carolina – didn’t like being away from all his friends
Only been to North Carolina
Drove so has been to other sates
D.C.- wants to go there
Lots of food, pizza, roast beef, chicken,pork loin, hamburgers, corn, salad
Michelle cooks food dad can’t cook
Buy the food at walmart, sams club, tops, wegmans
Favorite grocery store is wegmans
Salt, lake- they don’t influence family
Not every child attends school, Christopher doesn’t because hes a baby and babys don’t go to school
All family members go to Watkins- step mom went to Watkins
Went to a private catholic school in Elmira
Notre Dames middle school
It sucked- not very religious so it didn’t match very well- among required classes was a religious class- about catholisicm- work book- bible readings
Before went to school didn’t have opinion on religion but realized he didn’t belong there
Wanted to go there originally because it was a private catholic school- seventh and eighth grade- knew people that went there had friends
Not very many kids and quite a bit of faculty- nuns were weird
Still went to church- confirmation- said he wanted to go back to WG
Didn’t like having to go to Elmira to then not enjoy what I had to do in school all day