Why History? | Community History Home
The CHRDS program develops research projects around a community's particular needs. Some examples of work we have done includes:
- In partnership with Project Hope, a grass-roots social justice organization, a multi-disciplinary team of faculty and students spent three years training residents to investigate and ameliorate environmental hazards in three inner-city neighborhoods of St. Louis and East St. Louis. CHRDS directed the use of historical sources to detect long-term trends in environmental quality and to locate defunct industrial sites that might continue to pose environmental risks.
- CHRDS collaborated with the residents of Old North St. Louis to research, interpret, and exhibit local history. This project aims to stabilize and preserve the neighborhood's physical environment by strengthening local appreciation for the historic value of homes, shops, parks, and churches. A secondary goal is to boost tourism by advertising the neighborhood's rich history. The guiding philosophy behind the project is that effective historic preservation requires the broad engagement of citizens. Thus, research, exhibition, and public programming have emerged from a dialogue between faculty, students, and local inhabitants. Current activities include an oral history project, a historic bicycle trail, a series of archeological excavations, and a community museum.
- To encourage communities to explore their own history and to provide guidance in researching local history, CHRDS designed, produced and published Streets and Neighborhood History: A Handbook for Researchers in St. Louis. Complimentary copies of this publication are available upon request.
- CHRDS lent its support to the development of the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing historic site in North St. Louis. The site commemorates one of the few documented episodes in the history of the underground railroad. In 1855, Mary Meachum, a free woman of color, helped a group of slaves cross the Mississippi River to Illinois where they hoped to gain their freedom. Although the crossing was unsuccessful, Meachum's courage and dedication to the pursuit of freedom remains an inspiration to the ongoing struggle for social justice. The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing represents an unprecedented opportunity to revitalize the riverfront, highlight African American history in North St. Louis, and boost tourism.
- CHRDS worked with residents of Lewis Place to uncover the area's history. Lewis Place is the oldest private street in St. Louis. Through CHRDS, a research team consisting of faculty and students from UM-St. Louis worked with the Lewis Place residents to recover their stories. The team looked at census data, newspaper archives, legal documents, and property deeds in an effort to reconstruct this history. The project also examined the early history of Lewis Place and the racial transition of the area.