What is the Heritage Project?
The Heritage Project teaches young people to care about the place they live, including both the natural and the cultural environment. The method is to take community seriously by making it the subject of serious study. Students are invited to think deeply and clearly about the world around them as they explore the place they live: its relationship to the natural environment, its connections to national and world events, and the many cultural beliefs and practices that shape its unique character.
Students have researched questions such as these: What effect did the coming of television have upon life in Chester? How has ranching culture in Harlowton changed over the past 100 years? How did changes in the national economy affect the coal mining industry in Roundup? How did people in Libby respond to the influx of people during the construction of Libby Dam? How did World War II affect women in Townsend?
Researching the world as it exists locally
Thinking as detectives, journalists, folklorists, scientists, and historians, students search for clues in brittle old newspapers, fading photographs, and changed landscapes. They locate information in government and business archives. They examine historic buildings, community celebrations, and old letters for insight into what what changes, what stays the same, and why.
Reflecting on what has been found—analyzing it, fitting it into existing knowledge, testing it, playing with it, and discussing it with others—students move from facts toward knowledge. What do the loggers of the 1920s have to teach Libby students about today's struggles? How did people in Harlowton respond when the Milwaukee Road closed down? How did the Salish in St. Ignatius deal with the influx of settlers when the Flathead Reservation was opened to homesteaders in 1910?
Giving gifts of scholarship
Every Heritage Project culminates in tangible scholarly products that are preserved in the Montana Historical Society archives as well as in local school and museum collections. Most projects feature a public event to invite the community to share what has been learned.
About the Heritage Project
The Montana Heritage Project is a teaching order—a group of classroom teachers from across the state who work together within a shared framework of principles that guide their work.
The Project was established in 1995 through the leadership of the Library of Congress and the financial commitment of the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation. When the grant money ran out, the classroom teachers decided the Project was too effective and too important to allow it to fade away, so they continued the work on their own. The Project has drawn praise from the U.S. Secretary of Education as well as support from the Montana Historical Society, the Montana Committee for the Humanities, the Montana Arts Council, the Office of Public Instruction and the Office of the Governor.
Make a donation
Today, the teachers depend upon contributions to continue the work. They are organized as a 501(c)3. If your circumstances permit, please consider providing some support.
Projects have been completed or are underway in 31 Montana communities: Bigfork, Brady, Broadus, Browning, Centerville, Chester, Columbus, Corvallis, Dillon, Eureka, Fairfield, Fairview, Fort Benton, Great Falls, Harlowton, Lewistown, Libby, Polson, Pryor, Red Lodge, Ronan, Roundup, St. Ignatius, St. Labre Catholic Indian School, Simms, Thompson Falls, Townsend, Whitefish, and White Sulphur Springs.