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History Day Topic Suggestions

The following are some broad topic ideas that could be researched at the Seattle Municipal Archives, along with related resources available in the archives. However, topics are limited only by your interests and imagination. Think about what is important to you in the City of Seattle and then frame your own topic!

Narrowing your topic to make it appropriate for a History Day Project is one of the most important steps in the research process. Before you begin, take a look at the resources available online about doing primary research.

Clean Water
What does clean water mean to you? Clean water from a tap in your house? Clean water to swim in? Clean water for wildlife?

We do not think very much about water supply unless there is a drought. We take it for granted that we can wash clothes, take a shower, water the lawn, or get a drink of water in our homes or apartments. However, for early Seattle residents, the right to a dependable and clean water supply was an important issue and not a right they could take for granted.

Water quality is a broad topic and you will need to narrow your research to the aspect that interests you most. Pollution issues in Elliott Bay or Lake Union can be studied, as can the use of Green Lake and Lake Washington for swimming. You could also focus on the early 1900s and the context for the decision the City made to use the Cedar River as its water supply.

Examples of questions you might ask:
What were some of the water related issues for citizens in the 1890s? Did requests for water come from a specific neighborhood or part of the City? Where did drinking water come from? How did water get from its source to peoples' homes and businesses? How did the City meet its responsibility to provide clean water in the 1890s and what were some of the issues it struggled with?

Sources at the Seattle Municipal Archives:
General Files
City Council Minutes
Water Department Annual Reports
City Charter
Maps of Seattle
Myra Phelps, Public Works in Seattle, 1875-1975

World Trade Organization Meeting in Seattle
In November and December 1999, demonstrators took to the streets, protesting the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle. The encounters between the Seattle Police Department and the demonstrators surprised many. Despite well-publicized planning to shut down the WTO meetings, police appeared by some to be ill-prepared for the large number of demonstrators, and clashes between police and demonstrators became violent.

Examples of questions you might ask:
Why were people demonstrating against the WTO meeting? How could the encounter between law enforcement personnel and demonstrators be characterized? What planning took place to prepare for the demonstrations? What role did the press play? How could the demonstrators be characterized? How many different levels of government were involved in law enforcement? How could the exchange between citizens and its City government be characterized after the WTO meetings were over?

Sources at the Seattle Municipal Archives:
WTO Accountability Review Committee Records and Timeline - 13,500 documents were cataloged by the Committee. The database is available online; the records themselves are located at the Seattle Municipal Archives.

Homelessness
There have been homeless people in Seattle since the city was incorporated in 1869. City government has viewed the homeless in different ways throughout its history. From vagrancy and public nuisance laws in the 19th century to burning the Hooverville during the Great Depression to opening City Hall as a place to sleep during winter, the city has taken many approaches to dealing with the issue.

Researching this long-standing problem would probably best be done by selecting a specific time period to study.

Examples of questions you might ask:
What has the City accepted as its responsibilities in caring for the homeless? Have proposed solutions changed over time? Have City actions made a difference? What other organizations have worked with the homeless? Where have the homeless slept and eaten?

Sources at the Seattle Municipal Archives:
City Ordinances (Laws of the City)
Clerk Files (Legislative History)
City Documents
City Council Records
Health Department Annual Reports

The Seattle Model City Program
In response to urban problems of poverty and race in the United States, Congress passed legislation in November 1966 to initiate a demonstration effort known as the Model Cities Program. The program was designed to encourage cities to develop a concerted attack on social and economic problems as well as physical decay. Seattle was the first city chosen to receive federal funds. The Seattle Model City Program (SMCP) ended in 1975.

SMCP explored solutions to a wide range of social and economic problems. The participants encountered a variety of different experiences.

Examples of questions you might ask:
What was a key feature of the SMCP? To what extent did SMCP involve city, state, and federal agencies? How was the Model City neighborhood defined? What solutions for social and economic problems were explored? Which programs were most successful? What were some of the frustrations for those in the SMCP? Pick one of the seven city-wide Task Forces and follow it through the SMCP program.

Sources at the Seattle Municipal Archives:
Seattle Model City Program Records:
     Walter Hundley Correspondence
     Department of Housing and Urban Development Correspondence
     Scrapbooks and Newspaper Clippings
     Reports, Studies and Evaluations
     Citizen Participation Division Files
     Advisory Council FilesTask Force Minutes
     Branch Office Files
     Project Monitoring Files
Records of the Office of the Mayor
Wesley Uhlman Mayoral Records

Other ideas
There are an almost unlimited number of topics that could be explored at the Seattle Municipal Archives. A few additional ideas include:

  • Fair employment
  • Noise (whether cowbells or construction)
  • Motion picture and theater censorship
  • Women's rights
  • Open housing
  • Public morality laws
  • The Bogue Plan for a new civic center
  • Women in the Fire Department
  • Prohibition
  • Public health services
  • Forward Thrust
  • Ethics and elections laws
  • Renters' rights
  • Urban renewal

Feel free to contact the archives for more ideas or to find out whether there are SMA collections on another topic you're interested in.

 

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