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University of Iowa News Release


May 15, 2007

CORRECTED RELEASE: This release corrects the date for the trip from Monday, May 21 to Friday, May 25.

Fifth Graders Learn About Iowa's Past As Part Of Youth Diary Project

During a visit to the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on Friday, May 25, 40 fifth-graders from Van Allen Elementary School in North Liberty will get a glimpse of what life was like in the late 1800s. The students will be touring the museum during the afternoon as part of the museum's Iowa Youth Diaries Project, which enlivens Iowa's past and peoples for students studying state history.

The museum invites the press to observe the tour from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m.

The Van Allen students will view an interactive display of 11 young Iowans' diaries from the 1850s to early 1900s. Before coming to the Old Capitol, the students kept their own diaries for a week, recording what they did each day, their likes and dislikes, thoughts, feelings, frustrations or dreams. During their visit, the fifth graders will compare their entries to those of young Iowans 150 years ago.

Students will also be part of a reenactment of the 1846 Constitutional Convention for the establishment of the State of Iowa. Each student will portray a delegate, taking a seat the House Chambers of the Old Capitol -- the same place where the delegates sat in 1846.

Their adventure also includes a tour the museum's period rooms -- recreated to the 1840s to 1850s time period when the building served as Iowa's first state capitol.

The Old Capitol Museum staff collaborated with Margie Hood, Iowa City Community School District social studies curriculum director for middle school students, who teaches Iowa studies to 5th graders at Horn Elementary and helped create the curriculum for the tours. Hood also helped organize an in-service program for area social studies teachers at the museum, which generated teacher input and support for the tour.

The Diaries Project portion of the tour is aimed at discovering similarities and differences of life in Iowa, past to present.

"Through journaling, essays and discussions, participants in the program describe what it means to be an Iowan, what it is like to grow up in Iowa, their favorite or least favorite things to do, or a typical day in their lives -- much like many young settlers wrote about 150 years ago," said Elisa Ewing, education and outreach coordinator for the Old Capitol Museum.

The Old Capitol Museum collaborated with the Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries and the State Historical Society of Iowa to gather the collection of diaries. Museum staff then digitized 11 diaries and created history lessons surrounding their stories. In December 2006 these diaries became part of two interactive displays on Iowa history, housed in the Discovery Center on the ground floor of Old Capitol Museum.

The museum has grouped selections from young pioneer's writings into specific themes that align with Iowa state history requirements and the project's goal of uncovering youth experiences in Iowa. These topics address Native Americans in Iowa, pioneers on the prairie, agriculture and rural life, Civil War and 19th century politics, developments in technology and transportation, urbanization, daily routine from homework to chores, entertainment, games and activities.

This spring, the Noon Optimist Club in Iowa City sponsored nine fifth-grade classes from Iowa City public schools to participate in the Diaries Project; the Van Allen Elementary visit is the last one of the school year. Elementary Schools that have previously participated include Wickham, Hoover, Penn, Grant Wood, Horace Mann, Horn, Lucas and Mark Twain. After receiving feedback from the Iowa City schools, the museum plans to expand the tours to more schools across the state in fall 2007 and spring 2008.

"Our goal is to make these entertaining, fragile and rare primary documents accessible to all, particularly to students studying state history, as well as all Old Capitol Museum visitors," Ewing said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

PROGRAM CONTACT: Elisa Ewing, 319-335-3591,

MEDIA CONTACT: George McCrory, 319-384-0012,