Living Through History

6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson, the learners tell stories of two events in history: a current event from their own point of view and an earlier significant event shared by an older friend or relative. They compare and evaluate how philanthropy responded to each event as well as how they each disrupted education, created fear, brought the community together, and made lasting changes. They also learn about primary and secondary sources and reflect on the lenses through which history is preserved. 

PrintOne 45-Minute Session, plus time for a project and reflection

The learner will know and be able to:

  • See oneself as a participant in history, which is a series of ongoing stories told by different people with different experiences. 
  • Examine one’s own first-hand experiences during a recent event (e.g., the Covid-19 pandemic) and compare to the experiences of an older individual who lived through a different historic event (e.g., the Great Depression or the Cold War). 
  • Describe historic events from a primary source perspective and create a historical record - such as a photo essay, podcast, documentary, presentation, or essay - to showcase the findings.
  • Video "Stories Become History" from the pandemic:
  • Video comparing two first-hand experiences 80 years apart: 
  • Handout below with guidelines for the project
  • Sample project completed in Detroit, Michigan, in 2023. 
  • Access to research materials about the chosen historic events (books, articles, videos, personal photos).
  • Recording devices (if creating a podcast or documentary).
  • Computers for research and digital content creation.
  • Art supplies (if creating a photo essay or presentation).
Teacher Preparation 

Talk in advance about some significant events from the recent past that grandparents, neighbors, and family friends might have lived through. This could include the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, or student protests of the Vietnam War. Young people may need help finding a person to interview about one of these events. It may be someone from a local organization if a friend or relative isn't available. 

This project can be an opportunity to reflect and process living through recent traumatic events. Talk to a social worker in advance to help you prepare for what might come up for young people.

It may be helpful to preview this PowerPoint slideshow of a sample project completed through this assignment. 


Reflect before, during, and after this project on themes such as personal perspective, lessons learned, benefits that come out of difficult things (i.e., flu shots, vaccines, trauma resources).

Use conversation, journals, art, poetry, and music to capture reflections. 


  1. Watch this video comparing two perspectives from different historical events with common threads.

    Project: Tell stories of how people came together in two different events. Name and describe the historical events that will be studied: one from a primary source perspective – an event that the youth have lived through (e.g., storms, fires, COVID-19 pandemic) - and one from a secondary source about an event an older person in your acquaintance lived through (e.g., Great Depression, Cold War). See the Project Details handout below for more details. 

  2. Record a first-hand experience of the pandemic or other significant current event. Note: many cultures today and in the past tell their stories orally. We learn from the stories of our past. 

    • Personal Reflection: Reflect in writing on personal experiences during the recent historic event (e.g., pandemic). Think about how daily life, routines, and perspectives may have changed during and after the event. How did people help each other through this experience? How did the government or philanthropic organizations respond? Write personal journal entries, create drawings, or take photographs that capture different experiences. This video captured early in the Covid-19 pandemic has helpful insight into capturing an event from a primary perspective. 
    • Expertise Mapping: Identify areas in which you developed expertise or gained new skills during the historic event. For instance, you might have learned about remote learning, mask-wearing, social distancing, or digital communication tools during the pandemic.
    • Document your reflections and expertise using your chosen medium (writing, drawings, photos, or interviews). This could include a series of journal entries, photographs of significant moments, or creative representations of your experiences.
  3. Interview an older person about their first-hand experience of an event from their childhood.

    • Interview Preparation: Research the historic event (using books, articles, and videos) so you have a basic understanding of the event and its impact. Prepare a set of interview questions. Here are some tips.
    • Interview an older person (e.g., a family member, neighbor, or community member) who lived through the older historic event. Conduct the interview in person, over the phone, or through video calls. Ask open-ended questions to elicit detailed responses about the person's experiences, emotions, and challenges during the historic event. Ask, How did people help each other during this time? How did the government or philanthropic organizations respond?
    • Record and Summarize: Take notes during the interview and record the conversation if possible. Summarize the interviewee's experiences and insights.
  4. Create a historical record comparing the two events.

    Background: Discuss the meaning of history and primary and secondary sources.

    • Comparative Analysis: In your chosen medium (photo essay, podcast, documentary, presentation, or essay), compare the two experiences. Highlight similarities, differences, and lessons learned. How did people help each other get through both of these experiences? How did the government respond? What could the government or other organizations have done differently?
    • Content Creation: Using the documentation from Part 1, insights from the interview in Part 2, and additional research, create a historical record. Include personal reflections, interview excerpts, images, quotes, and historical context.
    • Presentation and Sharing: Presenting and sharing your work is a form of philanthropy. You are an expert on your lived experiences, and this is valuable information that should be carefully documented and preserved. The work that you did (as a secondary source) to record and analyze the experiences of someone in an older generation is an important form of storytelling that will help their experiences and lessons learned live on.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Describe how different needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society, and family.
      2. Benchmark HS.1 Explain why needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society and family.
      3. Benchmark MS.6 Identify significant contributions to society that come from the civil society sector.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.10 Give historic and contemporary examples of a voluntary action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
      2. Benchmark HS.14 Give examples of how citizens have used organizations in the civil society sector to hold people in power accountable for their actions on behalf of the public.
      3. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
      4. Benchmark HS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
    4. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Describe how the common good was served in an historical event as a result of action by a civil society sector organization.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
      3. Benchmark MS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
    5. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify and research public or social issues in the community, nation or the world related to the common good. Form an opinion, and develop and present a persuasive argument using communication tools.
      2. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.