Themes

We often use the idea of home to negotiate shared American cultural values. From Dorothy’s iconic chant, “There is no place like home” in the Wizard of Oz, to the resonant marketing of The Home Depot, to the myriad of internet memes and country music lyrics referencing “home sweet home,” the ways we claim “home” are at the heart of America’s cultural fabric. Whether trying to sustain an individual family’s or community’s domestic space or considering how to protect the homeland during turbulent times, historically “home” has been contested as often as it has been idealized.

Studying US homeplaces and navigating social divides requires addressing complex family triumphs as well as traumas, hopeful moving as well as forced displacements, and approaches for fostering connections among diverse groups involved in a homeplace’s history.

To explore this topic and the social issues associated with it, Writing Home’s Community Conversations use four themes:

Remembering Home: Writing Our Way Home through Memories
Leaving Home: Migration, Displacement, Diaspora, and Return
Home-Making: Laboring to Create and Sustain Homeplaces
Writing Communities:  Storytelling to Share Visions of Home

Remembering Home: Writing Our Way Home through Memories

Our first theme, Remembering Home, is about cultural memory, especially remembrances of childhood. Writing about memories of home—our own as well as those bound up in a local site—can help us address how and why we need to remember our homeplaces, and how childhood-related memories are a unique and important way to understand a local site’s history.

Remembering Home stresses how messages from our culture can complicate homeplace memories—including stories told in a space such as a house museum. Taking note of differences between individual memories of home, particularly among people of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, can both highlight shared values and proactively address preservation issues.

Our Community Conversations on memories of home invite participants’ reflections on their own childhood-tied home experiences, while asking how a local homeplace can productively tell stories around this theme. Expanding out from specific sites’ histories, we will also address how studying childhood home memories may help ensure all America’s children a safe, supportive home environment.

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Leaving Home: Migration, Displacement, Diaspora, and Return

Leaving Home, our second theme, is based in an issue inherent to every American homeplace: who belongs there. At each site, Community Conversations examine ideas embedded in the place’s histories of leaving home, including who migrated, who stayed, and who sought to return. We do this through reading a variety of texts about this home/away/home interplay and home-related social movements.

This theme affirms historian Philip Deloria’s point that any cultural analysis of “home” should draw “some part of its meaning from its opposed relation to places that are ‘not-home.’” As Denise Lajimodiere (Turtle Mountain Band, Pembina Chippewa; member of our Advisory Board) has observed, for Native peoples living within the US today, to study home also demands work on such histories as the enforced enrollment of youth in boarding schools like the one our project will study at Fort Totten State Historic site. Community Conversations in North Dakota and elsewhere engage with models for productive issue-based dialogues about these challenging and important issues.

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Home-Making: Laboring to Create and Sustain Homeplaces

Our third theme, Home-making, addresses issues related to Americans often defining our identities through the work we do at home and the work we do beyond home to support our homelife. This theme invites conversation participants to consider their homeplace-related labor relationally, honoring diverse home-making experiences while also recognizing scholarship that points to the blurred lines between domestic work and community-based labor. Each local site’s conversation audiences consider who did the work of home-making and how, and how that history connects to the audiences’ own.

Home-making considers how every part of who someone is should be considered when we study daily life. This commitment has already taken hold in projects at historic house museums that discuss differences and similarities in individuals’ home-related labor. We seek to be inclusive and expand our focus beyond the obvious inhabitants of a homeplace to consider all individuals who lived there. In doing so, we can better connect that place’s past with our own experiences—such as seeking the elusive “work/life” balance goal. Community Conversations using this theme will prompt their participants to ask: How can my labor best serve my own home? My community? The nation as my homeland?

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Writing Communities: Storytelling to Share Visions of Home

Writing Communities, our fourth theme, affirms scholarship that documents how collaborative literacy practices create a sense of community. Events for this theme are based on programs that connect shared writing and dialogue with civic action. We bring together project team humanists from a range of fields—all committed to collaborative cultural work that values community members’ knowledge-making along with “experts.”

Chief among this cultural work is:

  • writing by individual participants at our conversation events
  • oral dialogues sharing writing among those participants
  • study of writings associated with our homeplaces’ histories
  • writing disseminated across our various homeplace sites
  • writing directed outward from our project’s network to larger publics, such as those who access the Writing Home website

Each NWP local site affiliated with Writing Home has expertise among its educator-leaders with enabling public dialogues. Our Community Conversations will benefit from guided opportunities for participants to write and to share writing—e.g., a personal memory piece, a conversation-starter text, a reflection on a site tour or a response to a particular object or exhibit, a synthesis at the close of an activity—toward dialogue grounded in local homeplace history and aimed at building bridges across differences.

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