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A People's Guide to your Community


This assignment asks students to use social history, the experience of every day people, to connect their community to the twentieth century. This lesson plan uses Howard Zinn’s model of social history to inspire students to create guides to their communities. Social history is the study of the past “from the bottom up” with a focus on everyday events and the experience of every day periods. Social history emerged in the late 1950s from the French Annales School and was redefined in the United States as a result of the different civil rights movements that occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1970s social history focused on labor, unionization movements, and allowed for a growing body of histories that used race and ethnicity, as well as gender, sexuality and family as ways of exploring the past. In the United States, Howard Zinn connected the importance of social history to organizing for civil rights. As an historian, Zinn came to believe that the point of view expressed in traditional history books was often limited and wrote the history textbook A People's History of the United States in 1980 with the goal of providing other perspectives of American history including the struggles of oppressed groups to receive justice and equality.


Social history
Chamber of Commerce


Pre-planning: Lesson plan length: 3 - 8 weeks.

You will need:
Information on local history to supplement textbooks.
Access to a local library or online sources.
A World Atlas (suggested).
Presentation tools depending upon class capabilities. low tech: poster board for each group to write out city guide for display in class room. high tech: computer assisted PowerPoint presentations to post on the classroom website.

Pre-Assessment: Initially, instructors play a directive role in going over the reading, glossary terms, and local history information. Instructors should evaluate the enclosed resources and determine the relevancy of the samples to their students. Instructors should consider integrating a local history and sources if they are available. This assignment is excellently combined with a trip to the library or to the Chamber of Commerce.

Lesson Hypothesis: In the recent past, scholars have promoted the idea of a “Living Past” in order to show how history may inform the present. Nowhere is this more notable than in the rise of social history and the history of every day people. Creating a guide to one’s community which highlights social history for a foreign group or visitor may give residents a new appreciation for where they live and teach how its history may have broader consequences than originally assumed.

goals & objectives

In completing this lesson, successful students will:

• Define and understand the glossary terms included.
• Investigate the evolution of modern international military and economic diplomacy.
• Study the trajectory of America’s role as a decision maker in worldwide affairs.
• Observe the increased interconnectedness between modern cultures as a result of the globalization fostered by technology.
• Compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.
• Analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.
• Use a variety of maps and documents to interpret human movement, including major patterns of domestic and international migration, changing environmental preferences and settlement patterns, the frictions that develop between population groups, and the diffusion of ideas, technological innovations, and goods.
• Relate current events to the physical and human characteristics of places and regions.
• Distinguish valid arguments from fallacious arguments in historical interpretations.
• Identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.
• Evaluate major debates among historians concerning alternative interpretations of the past, including an analysis of authors’ use of evidence and the distinctions between sound generalizations and misleading oversimplifications.
• Construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations.
• Show the connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments.
• Recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including the limitations on determining cause and effect. • Interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.
• Understand the meaning, implication, and impact of historical events and recognize that events could have taken other directions.
• Analyze human modifications of landscapes and examine the resulting environmental policy issues.
• Conduct cost-benefit analyses and apply basic economic indicators to analyze the aggregate economic behavior of the U.S. economy.
• Gather information that is place specific from in class texts and the enclosed readings.
• List and detail places.
• Define each entry using the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why).
• Determine the importance of each entry in relation to the development of “America’s democratic institutions.”
• Draft an “in progress People’s Guide” that is edited using group consensus and definition.
• Create a People’s Guide that reflects the determined classifications on either poster board or in digital format.
• Share the Guide with the class.

the lesson
Exercise 1: Defining a People’s Guide
Students are encouraged to review what they have learned in social studies to date and explore how attitudes about a place are created. Instructors should go over the following questions with the class as a group:
  • The news media: what types of stories does the news use to portray the community?
  • The entertainment industry: how is your city used by the entertainment industry? Is it used in movies, television or video games?
  • Textbooks: how does your textbook represent your community? Does it? Your family: does your family have stories about where you live? What are they?

Do these different outlets (news, entertainment industry, textbooks, etc.) profit from this particular representation of your community. If so, how does each group profit?

The instructor should review local guides to their city. Go over the choices made by its authors.

For Homework, have students pick one of the guides included as a Case Study and answer the following questions: What is the main lens or point of view that each guide uses? Is this an acceptable lens? What are other ways to determine historic sites for a place? Which ways would you use? Divide students into groups of 3-4 and have students in each group determine 30 places a visitor must visit in their community to get the real flavor of its social history. Each group should pick a team leader and note taker. Be sure to pick criterion on which to base their choices, for example, race and ethnicity is the lens to view Dr. Laura Pulido's A People’s Guide to LA ( Consider places of leisure like restaurants and places for entertainment as well as where people have worked, studied, fought battles, or protested.

Divide the 30 places among the students in each group. Over the next three weeks, students should research each entry assigned to them. The leader of each group should check in with each student to ensure the definitions for each entry follow the 5 W’s of academic writing. After all of the entries are defined and collected, the group will re-convene to edit and arrive at a group consensus for the final Guide.

To edit is to collect, prepare, and arrange (materials) for publication. For example, an editor of a newspaper decides where articles are arranged, whether to shorten or lengthen a story, or to remove an item altogether. It is in the editing of information that the writing of history happens. What will be included or not reveals the subjectivity or position of the author. For example, someone creating a timeline on military history may include battle sites and important peace treaties, while another person focusing on agriculture may not include any of these entries. In general, historians only publish 50% of the information they gather due to a variety of issues: from the need to use space effectively, to the attention span of their reader or limitations of the medium in which they are communicating; not everything can be included. As a result, historians must heavily edit what they include in publication and determine the most important or relevant information.

After each group has defined 30 entries, each group must “edit” the list down to only 20 – 25 entries. Because students will be working in groups, each person in the group should approve each entry. This requirement reflects the working environment of historians—history builds on the writing of past historians and historians work in a community of scholars who will critique or approve of historical methods or publications.

After the students have pared down their guides have them answer the following questions and prompts:

Compare and contrast the difference between the two groups. What has changed? What has been omitted? Do you agree with the changes? Why or why not?

Exercise 2: Creating Your Guide
Drafting. After deciding which entries will stay and which entries will go, students should sketch a draft of their Guide. In making this draft, students should consider how the information should appear. The Guide should include a timeline, introductory essay, and resources to go further. Using the justifications they have created, students should create a rough draft for each Guide. Are there any images that may assist in making it? What is the goal of conveying this information? What sources are available to use?

Creating. After completing a draft and having each of the students in the group sign off on the final list and design, students should then create their Guide using in class material or a computer program, depending on the availability of each in the classroom. Students should account for periods of work time in a clear manner.

Sharing. Share the completed Guide by displaying it in the classroom and through class presentations. Are there any differences between the Guides?

Wrap-Up: Ask class what they learned about process. Did they enjoy it? How does this activity make students become more cognizant of the role of memory in creating contemporary community? What other information or activities might be helpful in assisting students in completing this assignment? Suggestions for the future?

case studies
A People's Guide to Los Angeles.


copyright 2010 the Studio for Southern California History