Lydia Hussain goes through phone records and newspapers from the 1900s at the Homestead City Hall Museum. She, along with other students from Miami Dade College, then inputs the data into an online database.
The 17-year-old journalism student at Homestead Campus volunteers at the museum at least two times a week as part of a project that seeks to expose student members of the Homestead community to local history. Her work helps preserve the local history and allows researchers interested in the city to look for data more easily.
“I’ve lived in Homestead and I’m learning stuff that I never knew before,” Hussain said. “I just assumed that [the city] was farmland but there’s actually a lot more to learn about it.”
The project started during the fall semester when professor Jairo Ledesma, who teaches history and sociology at Homestead Campus, coordinated with the Homestead City Hall Museum to allow MDC students to complete their volunteer hours there.
Ledesma, who is also a board member at the museum, sought for students to become involved with the humanities and learn about the historical events that have made their home city what it is today. He also highlights the value of students seeing the connection between what they’re learning in history classes and cataloging in the museum.
“[Volunteering at the museum] is important because students don’t understand that there is a way of making history,” Ledesma said. “History is about research and understanding how people thought in the past, about understanding their community. [Students] are learning how history is made and why it’s important.”
Although students enjoy learning history at the museum, they have faced challenges while completing their tasks.
Franchesca Carr, a student volunteer from Homestead Campus, says that they often deal with photocopies of documents when inputting data because of the delicate nature of historical materials. Many of the photocopies, however, aren’t done carefully which makes them hard to read. This opens the possibility for students to make mistakes when uploading the data to the online bases.
On the other hand, Ledesma explains that his biggest challenge is leading students to the value of history.
“Students don’t see what you can do with [history],” Ledesma said. “I’ve been teaching since 2016 and students often say ‘I love history but what can I do with that?’ [My] job is to identify these hidden historians and help them embrace their majors.”
Volunteers also worry about the possibility of the Homestead City Hall Museum being shut down due to lack of popularity and visitors.
“I just feel like not a lot of people know about the museum,” student volunteer from Homestead Campus Samarah Martin said. “The museum doesn’t get enough credit because Homestead gets shadowed by more recognized cities like Miami. People tend to overlook it.”
But despite the challenges, students find their experience at the museum to be rewarding. Carr recalls a time when a farmer came into the museum looking for data and information about the land he lives on. The data the student volunteers cataloged helped the farmer solve a problem.
“It is very important for the community to learn about its local history because if people don’t know about where they’re coming, they won’t know where they’re going,” Martin said.