2021: It’s History
Another year with Made By Us is in the history books. Catch up on how we spent 2021 cultivating seeds for our future in the rich soil of the past.
From the Steering Committee
While the global pandemic and rising tide of social justice awareness dominated the news in 2021, the nation’s leading museums and educational partners banded together to focus their considerable energies on history and civics education. The Made By Us coalition had originally been imagined as a way to engage young Americans — especially Gen Z and Millennials — in the run-up to America250 in 2026. The social and economic upheaval that followed the strife of 2020 made it even more apparent that we all needed to better understand how we arrived at this place in time and how we might best navigate the future.
As we prepare to put 2021 in the history books, we have much to be thankful for and proud of. Made By Us has itself made history. Today hundreds of history organizations have joined the movement. Young people across the nation are helping to design and share programs that appeal to the learning styles and interests of their peers. We launched the first Civic Season and reached hundreds of thousands through educational programs offered by partner institutions and, increasingly, through social media. And we have shared our progress to the benefit of the field through top-performing articles and presentations with the American Alliance of Museums, American Historical Association, AASLH, NCPH and MASS Action.
All of us have suffered in the past year. None has surplus resources. But our superpower is the collective clout we can bring to bear. The Made By Us team is hard at work now designing a bigger and better Civic Season, generating ideas for social media and the conversational “public square,” and embracing the growth that 2022 will bring.
Working together, we are making history!
Made By Us Founding Steering Committee Member
President & CEO, Senator John Heinz History Center | Pittsburgh, PA
2021 Made By Us Highlights At-a-Glance
- We turned 1 year old! (Since going live in March 2020).
- Growing our coalition to 110+ institutional partners across the country, with hundreds more participating in the Civic Season
- Partnering with Airbnb to bring historic experiences to urban travelers, meeting the trend of longer-stay travel, the desire for learning, and urgently needed support for cultural institutions
- Launching the first-ever Civic Season, a new tradition between Juneteenth and July 4th to rewind, reflect and re-imagine our nation’s story
- Generating 450 Civic Season activities and resources, highlighting the voices of emerging leaders like Kahlil Greene, Sara Mora, Jamie Margolin and Taylor Richardson, leading to dynamic conversations on Clubhouse, IG Live and social media, and soon, SXSW
- Meeting curiosity with credibility, connecting history with popular issues, causes and formats, like the ActiVote app, #AllVoteNoPlay Day and of course, memes
Read on to learn more about our exciting year, now coming to an end, and what’s planned for 2022 and beyond.
Made By Us 2021 Year In Review
AN UNPRECEDENTED COLLABORATION
We’re on a mission to connect people ages 18–30 with history in novel ways to spark civic participation, extending that information’s reach beyond museum walls. And that begins by connecting institutions to each other to paint a fuller picture of our past. Made By Us relies on collaboration, each partner institution bringing their special expertise to the table.
In 2021, Made By Us grew to become a coalition of 110 museums, historical sites, societies and institutions stepping into their role as civic hubs for young adults. From the Museum of Chinese in America to Hawaii Humanities Council to Smithsonian’s Latino Center to the First Americans Museum to the Sing Sing Prison Museum to the Susan B. Anthony Museum, our partners brought valuable perspectives from throughout history to bear on what’s happening now. Throughout quarterly All-Hands calls, the coalition came together to catch up on research, share case studies from organizations like HistoryMiami Museum, Oakland Museum of California, Vermont History, Conner Prairie, North Carolina Museum of History and USCIS, and generate input on collaborative programs — like the Civic Season, or our holiday gift guide.
We’re ending the year with two new Lab Groups, one for Social Media and one for Programs, dedicated to incubating and testing new ideas at the intersection of history, civics and younger generations. These are led by staff members from the Kentucky Historical Society, National Archives Foundation, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Atlanta History Center, with dozens of organizations contributing.
NEW NARRATIVES TO UNLEASH CIVIC PARTICIPATION
Storytelling is key to the Made By Us approach. Our theory of change helps younger generations grow along a spectrum, from the first spark of interest generated by a powerful story, to using history every day to shape the future.
As the pandemic raged on, we continued to highlight museums and history organizations who were documenting it by collecting stories and artifacts. Our crowdsourced map of over 500 such initiatives worldwide was covered by CBS This Morning. And as today’s experiences became primary-source material for future historians, we interviewed 13 emerging leaders about Growing Up Black in America Today, weaving their stories into the fabric of history. In the Blavity, Zoe Jenkins shared how a personal connection shaped her relationship with the past when she learned about the Greensboro Four.
In March, Andrew Zimmern and food history curators from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History joined Made By Us for a livestream about the changing American dinner table. In April, during Earth Month as the challenge of climate change loomed large, we highlighted three young women whose passion was inspired by history and learning, in our Environment+ series.
For the anniversary of the 26th Amendment which lowered the U.S. voting age to 18, we joined democracy-builders from the Girl Scouts and Spread the Vote for a conversation with the National Archives Foundation on the power of young women in politics and voting — then and now.
And when the end of 2021 had us all feeling a bit like “wait…what year is it?” we rallied organizations across the country for “Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.” Historic Alexandria shared one of their most popular posts yet, and Oklahoma Historical Society went back in time to stop the inventor of the parking meter, Carl Magee.
All year long, our popular #MBUMonday series continued with weekly features of young people harnessing the power of history to build and improve their world.
ASKING THE BIG QUESTIONS
Throughout the year, we brought everyone under the big tent — celebrity chefs and young changemakers alike, joined together by the power of history. After all, it’s our shared story that unites us. This often begins by digging into the parts of history that are complicated and nuanced, surfacing expertise and credible resources from our many partners, and discussing online and offline.
In 2022, we’ll be taking this show on the road, leading two panels at SXSW in Austin, TX with friends like Jason Steinhauer, Kahlil Greene, and Kelley Deetz of Stratford Hall; generating new content for popular platforms like Snap and TikTok; and building a community of history fans around the globe.
THE INAUGURAL CIVIC SEASON
Early in 2021, as we approached the 1-year anniversary of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the launch of Made By Us, the tumultuous events of the last year were front of mind. As we began to speak with our young advisors from Civics Unplugged about their “new normal,” looking toward the spring and summer, it became clear there were a lot of conflicting sentiments about our past, present and future as a nation. The immense loss of life, disruption of work and school, and political and social tensions had grounded us in a harsh reality that made it hard to celebrate July 4th in the “same old” way, with hot dogs and parades. At the same time, these events unleashed renewed interest in our country’s story, it’s past in all of its complexity, and a deep passion for what it might become next.
So we got to work, leaning in to the “both/and” tension of the American experience, and the intergenerational superpowers that emerge when you bring the keepers of the past together with the inheritors of our nation’s future. Enter the Civic Season, a time to rewind and re-imagine our story between Juneteenth and July 4th, two tentpole dates that call to mind the gap between our nation’s promise and practice — and call us to action in the course of that reflection. Hundreds of organizations, large and small, rural and urban, embraced the Civic Season by submitting programs and resources — like pop-up events, reference guides, walking tours, blood drives, interactives like the citizenship quiz from New-York Historical Society, live programs like the Jubilee Freedom Weekend from the Charles H. Wright Museum, wellness programs from Missouri Historical Society, citizenship ceremonies like the one at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and traveling exhibits like “American Democracy” at the Senator Heinz History Center:
Thanks to the support of American Heritage Chocolate and the design of Citizen Best, we built a dynamic, interactive website and a wide variety of ways to get started, from the Civic Season Superpowers quiz to videos and Clubhouse chats on History Club. Young leaders took the helm to spread the message of Civic Season far and wide, writing articles and op-eds and hosting livestreams, and the city of Madison, Wisconsin passed a resolution officially declaring the “Civic Season.” Communities from Utah to Atlanta put their own spin on the Civic Season through efforts like the Educators’ Guide from New American History and the comedy special Tea Party Tonight from Revolutionary Spaces.
By the time Juneteenth was named a federal holiday, the nation was in a passionate conversation about how and what we celebrate — and the Civic Season, which explores exactly that, was an idea that was right on time.
Because we are a data-driven project, we spent several months after Civic Season gathering and analyzing the effort. What worked? What should we improve? How can we grow?
We’re elated to be able to continue this trajectory with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the 2022 Civic Season. With 11 Civic Season Design Fellows steering the ship and an innovative team leading the design and execution, the 2022 Civic Season will lay the groundwork for this to become an ongoing nationwide tradition through the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.
EXPERIMENTING AND LEARNING
Because we are constantly evolving our approach to meet the (ever-changing) needs of our favorite group of people — 18–30 year-olds in the United States — we work in a series of iterative experiments, rather than static programs. It’s part of our audience-first mandate, and it allows Made By Us’ programming to stay relevant and timely. This often means working on smaller, lightweight project sprints. In 2021, we were thrilled to work with likeminded partners on such experiments.
In the fall, with travel on the rise, we teamed up with Airbnb for a partnership that served urban travelers looking for education, delight and “doing good” on their longer-term stays (thanks to COVID-19 and remote work). 9 Made By Us history museum partners from Philadelphia to Miami to Rochester created distinct Airbnb Experiences for travelers, who could book through the dedicated web page. This travel had a reciprocal effect, as it supported cultural institutions in need after a year of closures, as the heartbeat and story-keepers of our cities.
In the back-to-school season, users on the ActiVote app — a daily civic habits and discovery app — were seeking out further resources to understand the U.S. Constitution during Constitution Week. Made By Us worked with the National Archives Foundation and New-York Historical Society, two of our founding partners, to generate bite-size content for the app’s users on some of the lesser-known constitutional amendments during this event.
As Election Day arrived once again, the NCAA and Vote By Design debuted the “All Vote No Play Day” initiative, giving student athletes the day off sports practices to instead participate in “civic drills.” Just as the Civic Season created bursts of activities you could do at home or with friends, these civic drills ranged from registering to vote, to community service, to learning history. The Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball Team visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta for an experience that connected past and present. We are excited to see this tradition grow.
As of this year, Millennials and Gen Z together make up just over half of the U.S. population, and they’re charting the course for America’s future. 83% of 18–29 year-olds say young people can change the country, and 65% consider themselves actively involved in politics.
As we approach the nation’s 250th, these generations are driving a “youthwave,” a dynamic, agenda-setting conversation that invokes history and democracy. Yet only 27% of Americans under 45 have a basic understanding of U.S. history. People are seeking out a more complete understanding of the past and calling for “the history we weren’t taught in school.”
Made By Us is answering the call. Historical sites, museums, and societies are a trusted authority for credible information from a plurality of perspectives that can help people take part in building the nation’s future, informed and inspired by the past.
2022 will be a year of considerable growth for Made By Us. We’re already on our way. We’ve laid a strong foundation with collaborative, agile workflows (like our Programs Lab Group meeting on Discord); a body of data and research and ongoing feedback from young advisors; a coalition of committed institutions learning together; and a collection of content and programs that we have just begun to seed in timely, innovative formats to reach and serve Millennials and Gen Z-ers nationwide.
As we advance knowledge, skills and capacity for museums and historic sites to serve this important group, we are investing in the long-term sustainability, relevance and even existence of museums. At the same time, as we help younger people find their role in history, see themselves as part of the story, and access trusted resources, we are strengthening democracy and society.
Our ultimate vision? That future generations will step into their role as actively engaged citizens, informed by history and deeply connected to the diverse breadth of resources and context that museums and historic sites can provide.
With the nation’s 250th birthday just 5 years away, we’re well on our way. But as a coalition of many hands, we can’t get there without you. We’re currently seeking supporters, partners and collaborators to join us on this journey. Give us a follow at @historymadebyus and reach out with any inquiries. We’ll see you next year — 2021 is history!