Alicia Kersten, a history teacher at Somerville High School, asked her students to research the history of the I-93 highway in Somerville. The highway was built after the passage of the 1956 Interstate Highway Act provided $100 billion for highway construction throughout the country. While commuters to Boston welcomed the highway, many Somerville residents protested its construction, arguing it would have detrimental health and environmental effects on their neighborhood.
Kersten’s students drilled deep into this story by interviewing community members, examining newspaper articles from the Somerville Journal, and researching municipal records. They then exhibited their findings at the Somerville Museum. Throughout this process, students learned both the history of their community and how to do the work of historians.
Designing the Exhibit in the Classroom
As students gathered information about the highway construction plan and community members’ response, Kersten helped students synthesize their findings. The next step was deciding how to present the information they gathered to a public audience. Students worked in small groups to develop exhibit design plans. Seeking to place their research in a national context, some students suggested including a timeline of national events to run alongside the local story of I-93 in Somerville. In discussing a title for the exhibit, Kersten challenged her students to come up with a phrase that would appeal to a wide audience but also remain true to the research they completed.
Installing the Exhibit at the Somerville Museum