Youth Historians in Harlem (YHH) engages students in partner Harlem high schools in collaborative inquiry on the history of their community, including the history of education in Harlem. Since 2013, students have completed a range of individual and collaborative projects on the history of their schools, on how Black and Latinx Harlem residents have defined educational equity and fought for it, and on, a range of other topics of interest to students including community activism, segregation, curriculum, and artistic expression.
Starting in 2018, Youth Historians adult leaders, who are graduate students at Teachers College, collaborate with teachers at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Visual and Performing Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II to craft semester-long courses called Harlem Civics, that makes the history of local Black and Latinx educational activism the hub of discussions of US government and citizenship. In the Summer of 2019, 8 students from Wadleigh participating in a three-week long summer institute to explore the history of their school.
The partnership expanded to Central Park East High School in 2021, with Youth Historians leaders contributing to curriculum projects on “Harlem East to West” and a social justice inquiry unit on education.
Youth Historians have shared their work in presentations to peers, teachers and friends, as leaders of walking tours on Harlem’s history for current and future educators, in youth summits and education conferences in New York City, and in digital exhibits included in the Harlem Education History Project.
Youth Historians is motivated by youth participatory action research projects that make history their focus. YHH recognizes the rich intellectual and personal growth that studying the past can bring young people, but also values the ways that a collaborative, multi-generational research project like the Harlem Education History Project can benefit from hearing the questions about the past, and understandings of the relationship between the past and the present, that young people bring.
Youth Historians in Harlem was first developed by Teachers College doctoral candidate Barry Goldenberg, with support from the Edmund W. Gordon Institute from Urban and Minority Education. The program has received support from the Zankel Fellowship, the Duquès Social Justice Fellowship, and the Center on History and Education at Teachers College.
Youth Historians work takes various forms, including after-school, summer-intensive, enrichment program, and other contexts. Across all contexts, we maintain a commitment to four key principles, which are themselves works in progress:
Student-centered: We build from youth interest and questions in the YPAR tradition, while focusing on supporting students’ holistic development. Not only do students conduct research, but have space to process their learning of “hard histories” of racism and oppression in challenging times.
Place-based in Harlem: The program is focused on Harlem, both because it is a rich locale for historical inquiry and an important site in US, African American, and African diasporic history. We also focus on the particular opportunities for place-based learning, reflecting on how students learn about and make meaning in the places where students live, go to school, and/or traverse each day.
Students as experts: The program cultivates venues in which students can share their work with multiple public audiences, so that their developing expertise can be recognized and valued.
Past and present – The program engages students in historical inquiry, which is both launched by and connects to questions about the present day. Exploring the relationship between past and present is a key part of the program’s effort to encourage students’ historical literacy and take an explicitly antiracist stance.
Barry Goldenberg, “Youth Historians in Harlem: Exploring the Possibilities in Collaborative Research between Local Youth and Scholars,” (2015) (link https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1013&context=eduhist)