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Playing with the Past: A Digital History Toolkit

Pew Center for Arts and Heritage logo (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)

The Legacy Center was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Heritage Philadelphia Program (HPP) of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to develop Playing with the Past: A Digital History Toolkit, a web resource that will make the our rich online Women in Medicine collection easily accessible to a new audience of high school students.

Typically, the only members of the public to interact with these materials are our researchers.  By creating a new way to access and interpret these primary sources, we hope to inspire high school students - and others - to enjoy history and encourage them to use historical documents to learn about the past.

While our project was in the planning stages, we found that high school students care deeply about gender inequality and social justice.  Using two of our 'story' ideas, these students read newspaper clippings, letters, and diary entries to delve into the lives of some of our early women physicians.  Approaching historical topics through the lens of individual women’s experience provides, in the words of one student, “a way in,” to history for students who are unmoved by traditional history curricula.  It provides a way for students to learn and understand that history is not just straight facts; history is people, and can be told from many differing viewpoints.

Pew grant advisory team (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)
Pew grant advisory team (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)

For those of you not familiar with us or our collections, our repository holds not only the records for Drexel University College of Medicine, but its predecessor institutions as well, including Hahnemann Medical College and Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.  Woman's Med was the first medical school for women in the United States, and was founded in 1850 in Philadelphia.  With such a rich history, much of our materials are related to these early pioneering women doctors and the obstacles they overcame.

Our collections give substance and meaning to what students are facing today, while encouraging historically informed civic engagement and inspiring young people, especially girls, to pursue careers in science and medicine.  With Playing with the Past, we hope to teach students not only how to work with primary sources, but to love history as well.