History Detectives Discover Local Pittsburgh History

By Nico Chiodi – 11th Grade, Homeschool

Three or four years ago, I became interested in local history relating to the 1750’s, specifically the role of Pennsylvania frontiersmen during the French and Indian War. I had always loved studying history, and as any good history buff would, I dutifully went through a Revolutionary War phase, an ancient Egyptian phase, a Medieval Europe phase, and so on. When I discovered our region’s storied past, I spent many months researching those early years of Pennsylvania history by reading tomes, taking classes, and watching videos.  I was completely enthralled by the little-known events which transpired here. You can imagine my interest when I learned that the Heinz History Center was hosting a program this summer for students ages 10-13 to learn about Pittsburgh history.

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Mr. Nate welcomes the students back to camp

Part of the Summer Dreamers Academy, Pittsburgh History Detectives lasts for a little over a month, from the end of June to the start of August, and teaches the campers about local history, as well as how to research and study history in general.

“They learned how you become a history detective. How you look at artifacts, how you look at photographs,” said Nathan Rodda, the coordinator of the History Detectives program.  These are useful skills to make history come alive.

When I joined them for an afternoon on Friday, July 31, I arrived a little early, just in time to see the students jump off the bus and run for the doors to the Heinz History Center. They were an energetic bunch, racing down the hall and crowding around various signs to read what was written. One or two students ran over to “Mr. Nate” and high-fived him joyfully, asking whether they would get a chance to check out the Discovery Room if they worked hard enough on their projects.

After a little crowd-control, the group walked up two flights of black metal stairs, through the Discovery Room, and into the large private room on the other side of the museum. Seated at  tables placed evenly throughout the room, the students were handed iPads and Bluetooth keyboards to resume their work on their digital stories.

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The finishing touches of a digital story are added

The digital stories are short presentations about a specific historical topic; a few students studied Josh Gibson, the semi-famous baseball slugger for the Homestead Grays, while others investigated World War II and H.J. Heinz. The presentations will include audio recording and photos taken from the museum’s collection, the library archives, or that the students have taken themselves.

“All the Summer Dreamers activities have to have an activity to wrap up with. The reason we went with digital stories is that it’s a fun way for them to create something of their own. Even though we’re the History Center,” Nate added with a smile, “we like to try to have new technologies.”

All of the students seemed happy to be there. Some enjoyed the activities in the Discovery Room, an interactive permanent exhibit; others just liked learning about history.

“[My goals are] that [the students] get familiarity with technology and learn Pittsburgh history,” Nate explained.

Energetic, confidence-building, educational: all of these words describe Pittsburgh History Detectives. The Heinz History Center has found a way to entwine history with technology, so that the next generation of Pittsburghers will grow to appreciate the rich history of our region.


Nico Chiodi 2Nico Chiodi is going into 11th grade.  He lives in Thornburg and is home schooled.  He has been in Pittsburgh Youth Media for 2 years and has published stories in Belt Mag’s Pittsburgh Anthology. Nico can be seen playing banjo with his father and brother all around the city.

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