2023: It’s History
The turn of the calendar to 2024 reminds me that it will soon mark five (!) years since I began working on Made By Us, when it was a promising seed planted by visionary history museum leaders and staff into the rich ground of powerful institutions. Watered with strategic guidance from innovators and strategists, soil tilled by experimentation and new approaches, and thrust into harsh sunlight under the critical, passionate gaze of Gen Z, our little plot of land has since grown into a blooming garden.
When we began, we knew this was fertile land: matching the urgent information needs of 54 million young adults in the U.S., under-served by institutions and calling for “the history we didn’t get in school,” to the credible, multi-perspective expertise preserved in museums and historic sites. We knew, as historians, that understanding the past is necessary to navigate today’s challenges. This has been and remains our foundation.
But the bold “bet” we made early in this journey was on deep collaboration — inviting any and all to take part in creating this effort together. To extend the metaphor, this has truly been a community garden. Hundreds of cultural institutions, from small historic sites to our national museums and parks have joined in, testing approaches and engaging youth in more ways, frankly, than we can track (which makes a Year in Review quite daunting!) In 2023, we crossed a tipping point with more young people than ever before shaping this work in formal and informal roles, driving it forward alongside institutional leaders. More on that below.
As we approach the U.S. 250th anniversary in 2026, it has become crystal clear that we need the focused space, time and expertise that Made By Us provides to practice coordination across institutions, to share knowledge, to join together in public-facing campaigns, well before that “big show” — or any other momentous occasion that may arrive, wanted or unwanted. We can do more together than apart, and I’m grateful every day that the board and team began this work years ago instead of starting now. I am proud that Civic Season has become the nationwide, grassroots, youth-centered tradition our nation needs, catalyzing hundreds of communities and avenues for participation. I appreciate, and celebrate, the openness to new ideas, the staffers who go above and beyond their duties, and the museums and historic sites that come aboard amidst every other crisis because our collective future depends on making this shift toward younger generations.
The exponential impact and reach we are seeing is thanks to the dedication and participation of our extraordinary partners, collaborators and supporters like you. Here’s just a few of our highlights in 2023 — and some of the seeds we’re planting in 2024.
— Caroline Klibanoff, Executive Director
Our Year in Review at Made By Us
Theme #1: Youth Voice 🆙
Made By Us has two central driving forces: the power and expertise of credible history institutions, and the passion and curiosity of our nation’s future inheritors, Gen Z. 2023 saw a massive increase in the number of young adults ages 18–30 involved with Made By Us — as Fellows, advisors, consultants, interns, content creators, writers and community members.
We started the year with a new cohort of Civic Season Design Fellows, who brought their vision and skills to bear on the innovative tradition held between Juneteenth and July 4th: Civic Season. These Fellows developed the first-ever Civic Season Guidebook, coached institutions on their programming and brought Civic Season to life in their own backyards. A few highlights:
- Alex Edgar interviewing the Archivist of the United States
- Justice Brown sharing a poem inspired by history
- Laura Dale touring the Wyoming State Museum
- 60-Second History videos presented by Alex, Lex, Katy, Laura and Ponce
The 2023 cohort also helped firmly establish this program, as the fall applications for the 2024 Civic Season Design Fellowship received a record amount of applicants — three times as many as previous years, hailing from 34 states.
Fellow and Intern alums also continued to make waves in the world: 2022 Fellow Trizha Loren Aquino worked on a video series for the National Museum of American History, 2022 Intern Sam McGirt attended the Presidential Sites Summit on behalf of Made By Us, and 2022 Fellow Jasmine Lewis went on to win DoSomething’s GenerationFuture award for young changemakers. Jasmine Lewis and Alex Edgar also delivered the keynote workshop at the Smithsonian Affiliates Conference, and Lex Stewart, Maggie Gamson and Hope-Marie Delgado advised on new programming at the Smithsonian.
2023 saw the growth of our youth community to more than 150 members, participation in National Historic Marker Day with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, holiday chit-chats and book and movie recommendations, and an in-depth user research project to understand the needs of this community and design future offerings.
Dozens of young people joined to share their commentary on the first-ever Civic Season Podcast, hosted and co-created by the awesome folks at WABE, Atlanta’s home for NPR. “Democracy Vibe Check” explored all the ways that communities are shaping civic life.
What this means for 2024:
We are building ways to formalize and center youth voice in institutional decision-making specifically for the U.S. 250th, with the development of a nationwide Youth250 Bureau of young-adult advisors, a youth-authored toolkit for institutions, and inter-generational workshops.
Theme #2: Flood the Zone 🌊 with History
This year, the American Alliance of Museums reported that while 85% of U.S. adults think museums have a role to play in building civil society (yay) only 28% have visited a museum in the last year (okay!) If that’s the reality, then historic sites and museums can only be a vehicle for timely, relevant information if we’re also meeting people in places other than inside the museum.
We achieved this in a variety of ways in 2023, including:
- Crossing 1.25 million views of 60-Second History, our popular Instagram and TikTok video series featuring more than 70 collaborations with museums and historic sites.
- Working across other sectors to bring history content there, like bringing representatives from 18ByVote, TikTok and Vote Early Day to Made By Us Coalition Calls
- Establishing and sustaining national partnerships, like with Teen Vogue, Mars Wrigley’s American Heritage Chocolate, Autio, Challah Back Girls, Civic Holidays, Pizza to the Polls, Youth Service America, KIND, and WABE Atlanta’s home for NPR, to highlight the history at museums and historic sites.
- Working with leaders from other sectors to make plans and strategize for the United States’ 250th anniversary in 2026. Caroline Klibanoff was named among the inaugural cohort of New America’s US@250 Fellowship, to lead Civic Season along the core themes of national pride, reckoning and aspiration.
- Made By Us was named a semifinalist in MIT SOLVE’s Global Challenge in Civic Learning.
- The Civic Season website took home second place at SF Design Week!
- Caroline Klibanoff was named a Northeastern University’s Women Who Empower Innovator.
As noted above, collaboration and coordination across the field itself is also essential, and Made By Us showed up in various circles to support our partners’ work and bring our learning and research:
- Claire Haley and Kate Doak-Keszler spoke with dozens of museums at AAM in Denver, CO at the Made By Us booth
- Nia Mosby and Caroline Klibanoff spread the word at National Council on Public History’s annual meeting in Atlanta, GA
- Speaking on youth and social media at the White House Historical Association’s Presidential Sites Summit
- Caroline Klibanoff joined a panel on civics in museums at AAM Trendswatch alongside Sarah Jencks of Every Museum a Civic Museum, Desiree Jones of the Aspen Institute, Erika Griffin of Chicago History Museum and Carrie Kotcho of National Museum of American History
- Nia Mosby led a Gen Z workshop at the Civics4All convening in Corning, NY
- Caroline Klibanoff visited Salisbury University’s Institute for Public Affairs & Civic Engagement to capture Gen Z input on the U.S. 250th
- Cameron Katz and Nia Mosby represented Civic Season at the Atlanta History Center’s Juneteenth event
- Caroline Klibanoff gave the keynote address on Gen Z at Texas Historical Commission’s Real Places conference
What this means for 2024:
We are vetting high-impact partnerships and sponsorships to bring history to the next level in pop culture, daily conversation and useful context for younger generations. Join us!
Theme #3: Fun = Good 😊
Civic Season has become our flagship program, entering its fourth summer in 2024 — a time to learn history and reflect on your values and actions as citizen, between Juneteenth and July 4th. It’s not hard to see why: it’s an annual tradition, it has a thematic underpinning that makes sense with its anchor dates, and it’s incredibly easy for organizations to join in whether they already offer relevant programming or want to begin.
But an overlooked ingredient for success is the fun of it. In 2023 we held Slice of History Pizza Parties with Pizza to the Polls in 25 locations that were all about social, local connection. The Civic Superpowers Quiz — a non-scientific personality quiz — was taken by 18,000 people wanting to know whether they best exemplify the traits of an Amplifier, Nurturer, Defender or Connector. And some of the most popular events were a National Treasure screening at the U.S. National Archives, a mural unveiling in Salt Lake City, and a historic baseball game in Little Rock.
In Cheyenne, Wyoming, the second Civic Season event saw 10x increased attendance from the previous year, started a committee to build up this tradition towards the U.S. 250th, and included a Gen Z Civic Season intern! In Muskogee, Oklahoma, the Three Rivers Museum invited all ninth graders in the city to design new postcards of historic landmarks or new places they felt should be a landmark —a groundbreaking move for an arena (the built environment) that rarely benefits from youth input. And in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Heinz History Museum — recently named among the top museums in America — held naturalization ceremonies and kept the momentum going with a Veteran’s Day Flag Folding.
Eight museums shared their best Civic Season events in template format for others to follow, lightening the load for others while increasing the odds of successful, engaging programming.
Of course, social media can be a place for fun, and amid all the historical content we found time for the latest trends like Spotify Wrapped, American Girl and daily affirmations. We brought back the ever-popular Spooky Stories series for Halloween season, went deep on Barbie, Oppenheimer, zombies, Bob Ross and the Met Gala, and shared a Holiday Gift Guide. There’s actually *TOO MUCH* content to recap — you should really just follow @historymadebyus.
What this means for 2024:
- Slice of History Pizza Parties return to kick off the 2024 Civic Season. Consider hosting one!
- We’re inviting more youth voices to take part in creating social content, writing, speaking or commenting on the news of the day, inspired by history.
Theme #4: Nuance also = Good 🧐
A common question we hear from organizations looking to engage younger generations is whether they should simply do more memes, trending audio or TikToks — ditch the heavy or complicated content for quick, shareable fun. There’s some value in that, as we just shared above, and short-form video content itself is on the rise as a news source.
BUT… over and over again we hear from younger people — and the data supports this — that they prefer the complex take, as long as the information is trustworthy and relevant. Gen Z is not afraid of a complicated story; they want to see institutions represent themselves with gravitas and credibility so they know the information is valid. In a world where young adults get 200+ mobile notifications every day (dcdx) and are assaulted by advertising and hot takes, it’s not bad to stand apart from the crush of information with a more thoughtful, nuanced presentation.
We addressed this with timely deep dives on:
- The history of Columbus Day (Instagram)
- What it means to be “on Native land” (Instagram)
- History of the I Voted Sticker (Instagram, with Susan B Anthony House)
- Taylor Swift, Historian (Teen Vogue, with Missouri Historical Society)
- Explainer on Islamophobia and Antisemitism (Instagram)
- Sharing the stories of Lizzie McDuffie, Dorothy Height and Anna Arnold Hedgemanand with the White House Historical Association and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, or how redlining led to urban heat islands with New American History, or how WWI had a major impact on the disability rights movement with the National WWI Museum and Memorial (Teen Vogue)
A key feature of tackling complex issues? Not going it alone. The content we produced was stronger because of the plurality of perspectives and expertise coming together, from museums and young people together. Just some of our wonderful content collaborators include the Museum of the American Indian, Youth Service America, Project Pulso, 18ByVote, the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, Ford’s Theatre, White House Historical Association, National Archives Foundation, the Family Dinner Project, Better Days, and the Museum of Us. New American History brought Civic Season to life in standards-aligned and age-appropriate ways for classrooms and educators, extending our collective impact.
This broad collaboration was exemplified in the first-ever Civic Season Guidebook, like a zine-meets-activity-book-meets-TV-guide for getting started with your journey as citizen.
What this means for 2024:
Leaning into the complexity of tough topics and bringing more voices and perspectives into the mix on planning and creating programming. Along those lines — preparing for the 2024 election and how historic sites and museums can best support voters.
Theme #5: Smart Growth
One of the biggest moments of our year was growing our board representation to include three new members from institutions long affiliated with the Made By Us mission and leading their communities toward greater youth engagement: Norman Burns, President and CEO, Conner Prairie; Natalia Crujeiras, CEO and Executive Director, HistoryMiami Museum; and Cliff Fleet, President and CEO, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. These leaders joined seven other esteemed museum directors to chart the course ahead for Made By Us.
We expanded our Advisory Board for Civic Season, to include Claire Haley, Atlanta History Center; Candace Bey, then at Chicago History Museum and now at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; Tasha Stanton, Thomas Jefferson Foundation; Liana Ascolese, National Archives Foundation; Felicia Abrams, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation; Nicole Moore, The National Center for Civil and Human Rights; Raina Melvin, then at First Americans Museum and now at Locust Grove Historic Site; and Emma Bryan, Filson Historical Society.
Our coalition continues to grow into the hundreds of participating museums, and as a small team, we rely on the participation of our partners’ staff to activate programs, provide key input, collect data and weave their part into the national fabric of the whole. This is smart growth, in line with our limited resources and ambitious vision.
Part of our focus in this area, begun in 2023, is to capture more rigorous data from our work across the country and to improve reporting and metrics. This summer, with the help of strategist Kaz Brecher, we researched and published a deep-dive on measuring young-adult civic participation, informed by 3 years of Made By Us’ work. This two-part piece laid out our reasoning and strategy for youth involvement at the United States’ 250th and what it means for our nation:
- A new equation to measure what matters, with democracy in the balance
- Will Gen Z Care About America’s 250th?
As we approach the 250th, Made By Us remains a key player in centralizing strategies for youth engagement, coordinating public campaigns across institutions and organizing civic-minded efforts that leave a lasting impact.
Additional reports compiled from our work served institutional needs and learning:
- 1 Year and 1M Views of 60-Second History, by Cameron Katz with Liana Ascolese with National Archives Foundation, Katie Buck with Missouri Historical Society and Molly Petrilli with Senator John Heinz History Center
- Museums that are bridging the partisan divide, in AAM
- Boot Camp on Audience-First Language
- Boot Camp on the formula for relevant content and programming
- U.S. 250th Planning Calendar
We also provided consulting services to key projects in development that brought our years of learning to bear, and in turn provided new case studies for our body of knowledge.
What this means for 2024:
Expect to see greater surveying, reporting and studies coming out of Made By Us to inform institutional practices and decision-making, especially as America’s 250th looms ever closer.
We are ever grateful for your participation in this initiative, and look forward to learning together in 2024. If you have highlights to add to our Year in Review, please write to Caroline@HistoryMadeByUs.org — we want to celebrate you.