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Lansing’s Jeff White earns NEH Summer Institute grant

Learnings from Lowell, Massachusetts, can impact Lansing, Illinois

information provided by the Tsongas Industrial History Center
and other sources

Jeff White
LOWELL, Mass. (September 25, 2018) – “It was a great experience,” remembers Jeff White about the week-long workshop he and 36 other teachers participated in this summer. He was selected by University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Tsongas Industrial History Center—from an applicant group of 328 teachers from around the United States—to participate in a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Teachers.

NEH Summer Institutes use historic sites to address central themes and issues in American history, government, literature, art, music, and related subjects in the humanities. Through scholarly presentations and on-site investigations in Lowell, Massachusetts, this summer’s workshop participants explored changes in work, society, culture, and the environment between 1820 and 1860, as well as subsequent reform activity related to labor, women’s rights, and slavery. Lowell is America’s first large-scale planned industrial city.

The application process is rigorous and educators have to make a compelling case about how they and their students will benefit from the experience. “Probably a third of the lessons I use are a result of NEH,” says White, who teaches Social Studies at Illiana Christian High School in Dyer, Indiana. In his unit next week, he will introduce students to Katherine Paterson’s novel Lyddie, about a farm girl who comes to work in the Lowell textile mills in the early 1800s. And next semester, when he assigns The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s classic novel about Chicago industrialization, he will circle back to Lyddie to make comparisons. The workshop in Massachusetts gave White hands-on experience in a textile mill, as well as working an assembly line, weaving on a manual loom, printing tea towels, spinning wool, cooking on a hearth. So when he teaches industrialization, he’ll have firsthand knowledge.

White contrasts the slower, more organic industrialization of Lowell with the frenzied pace of industrialization in Chicago. “In Chicago, industrialization doesn’t hit until the 1850s, 1860s,” he says. “Chicago is built—and then it just explodes. By that time, New England had been settled for a couple of centuries. Chicago saw the same growth in about 10 years.”

Residents of Lansing and surrounding communities who have signed up for White’s various tours of Lansing, Chicago, and Washington DC know how much research and knowledge he brings to those experiences. White says the things he learned in Lowell will inform future trips—and he’s hoping to put together a Massachusetts trip that will include Lowell in the summer of 2019.

Lowell, Massachusetts, is a town with a lot of history and a bright future. Their new community performance pavilion hosts performances every week. (Photo: Jeff White)

And he sees a lot of parallels between Lowell, Massachusetts, and Lansing, Illinois. “Lowell is a wonderful example of gentrification,” he says. “The city has undergone a momentous transformation. They have a relatively new community performance pavilion that is used every week during the summer months. I know we have some of the same hopes for Fox Pointe.”

Downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, is home to 15–16 murals like this one. (Photo: Jeff White)

White stated, “It was exciting to learn about the Industrial Period of the early 19th century in Lowell and how it relates to the Chicagoland area. It was exciting to see some things that Lansing can learn from an old community that reinvents itself.”


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


  1. Congratulations, Jeff! I love how you keep on learning, with your civil rights trip last year and now this one. Our family visited Lowell National Historic Site when our kids were middle schoolers. It was a great experience!

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