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Iowa's People & Places

Graphic of people and places in Iowa

Iowa's People & Places

Iowa history and culture reflect the experiences of many people – from the land's first inhabitants to present-day residents. The Iowa's People & Places curated collection from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affair's Days of Learning program provides dynamic digital selections, videos and more from staff experts and was created in partnership with other cultural and humanities organizationsThese educational resources help Iowans – regardless of age, zip code or learning style – to celebrate Iowa culture, to better understand Iowa's past and to preserve its stories for the future.

Navigate Iowa's People & Places Curated Collection
Click a link below to view the content for each section.
For Adult Learners For Children and Families For Educators

Featured Art, Film and History Programs


Try Your Hand at Kolrosing, a Scandinavian Tradition
Courtesy of Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum & Folk Art School, Recommended for Children and Families
Vesterheim, in Decorah, Iowa, has a long tradition of teaching folk art. Watch master woodcarver Harley Refsal demonstrate Kolrosing, a traditional Scandinavian art form that involves rubbing natural pigment into incised lines in wooden surfaces to create beautiful patterns, shading and sketches. Then use the Kolrosing instructions to learn more about the art form and try it out from home. 


Record Your Iowa Story
Courtesy of Iowa PBS, Recommended for Grades 9-12, Educators & Adult Learners
"How to Shoot Video of Yourself" is a tutorial by Iowa filmmaker Cameron McCoy. The video was shot in Des Moines and covers how to film yourself in a remote and virtual world. This is a great how-to for people with limited video experience.

Listen to Stories from "Iowa's People and Places" Exhibit
Recommended for Adult Learners
In this recorded Iowa History 101 program, State Curator Leo Landis talks about the people and objects included in the "Iowa's People and Places" exhibit, which opens on March 5 at the State Historical Museum of Iowa to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Iowa statehood.



For Adult Learners

Whether you're a poet, a filmmaker, an historian or just someone who likes to learn new things, the following resources are a starter kit to discover more about Iowa's people and places. 

Explore Online Exhibits

Discover Iowa's rich heritage through virtual exhibitions. Both of the featured exhibits were shared by the Iowa Women's Archives at The University of Iowa Libraries in Iowa City. 

  • Migration is Beautiful: Migration is Beautiful is a digital humanities project drawn from the holdings of the Mujeres Latinas collections preserved in the Iowa Women's Archives. The Migration is Beautiful website highlights the journeys Latinos and Latinas made to Iowa and situates the contributions of Latino communities within a broader understanding of Iowa's history of migration and civil rights activism. 
  • The Mysterious Mildred Benson: The Life and Works of a Ghost Writer from Iowa: For decades, readers of the popular Nancy Drew series never knew that the series' author, Carolyn Keene, was a pseudonym. This search for the author’s identity led to Iowa native Mildred Wirt Benson. In this online exhibit, learn more about Benson, the quest to uncover her identity and her role developing the popular series.

Research with Digital Archival, Manuscript and Library Collections

Examine the stories of Iowa's growth and development with selected digital collections from the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa Women's Archives and the Northwestern College Archives. Featured resources highlight diverse stories of leadership and social justice among Iowa's immigrant and non-white communities, early Dutch settlement records, the Reverend Jesse Jackson's 1988 Iowa campaign records and digitized editions of the Iowa State Bystander.

See Photographs from Iowa's Past


Browse Flickr albums that showcase Iowa's people and places. The two selected albums are from the State Historical Society of Iowa's special collections, which contain nearly half a million photographs representing a wide range of Iowa subject matter and communities and include photography in all of its historic forms – from daguerreotype to digital. 

Take a Virtual Art Exhibition Tour

View a 3D virtual tour showcasing the "For America: 200 Years of Painting from the National Academy of Design" exhibition at the Figge Art Museum through May 16, 2021. This tour features 100 paintings from the National Academy of Design that highlight the artist's portrait with his or her diploma work. The Academy was founded in 1825, and required that any elected National Academician must donate one of their artworks to its collection. Over the decades, these submissions have grown into a distinctive collection of art that includes nearly every major American artist. 


Enjoy a Few Staff Favorites

View curated lists of podcasts, books and academic articles about Iowa's people and places recommended by staff from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, including the Annals of Iowa editor. 

Watch Featured Videos

Iowa Stories
Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa during the Long Civil Rights Era (2016)

Lena M. Hill and Michael D. Hill discuss little-known stories of early African American students at the University of Iowa. Courtesy of State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City

Iowa Stories
Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative (2020)

Shelley Buffalo discusses the food sovereignty efforts of Meskwaki communities in Iowa and their efforts to cultivate crops that have been grown in Iowa for centuries. Courtesy of State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City

American Gothic House
Watch the Brazilian 2wins perform inside the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, where the dynamic music duo performed for the 2020 Celebrate Iowa Gala. 

One of eight State Historic Sites, the house became famous as the backdrop of Grant Wood’s 1930 painting "American Gothic."


For Children and Families

The interactive activities and videos below were designed to connect children and families to Iowa's rich heritage of arts, history and film. 

Inspire Young Historians with Goldie's Kids Club Activities


Goldie's Kids Club, an Iowa history program for children aged 12 and under, offers exclusive online activities to bring history alive. Activities from Goldie at Home, At-Home Expeditions and Innovative Iowans were selected for this curated collection to introduce young historians to Iowa's notable people and places. These activities include easy-to-follow instructions and require few materials. Selected activities include: exploring the American Gothic House and Carrie Lane Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and Museum, analyzing historic photos from Montauk Historic Site, navigating neighborhood maps and learning how to capture an oral history interview. 

Read Books about Iowans

At-home storytime is an effective way to promote language and literacy skills and help encourage children to love reading and learning. This booklist for children features Iowans and other historical figures who spent time in Iowa. Read about the heroic deeds of Boone County's Kate Shelley after a tragic railroad accident in 1881 or uncover the incredible life of world-reknown scientist George Washington Carver, who devoted his entire career to improving agricultural processes and spent time at Simpson College in Indianola and Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in Ames. For more book recommendations or to discover new storytime activities, see Goldie's Kids Club: Storytime

Capture Iowa's People & Places with "Basic Filmmaking"

"Basic Shots of Smartphone Filmmaking" is a Fire-Wired Life tutorial created by Iowa filmmaker Patrick Boberg. This "basic shots" video provides easy-to-follow instructions on basic film shots, including close-ups, cut-aways and medium shots. This video provides a foundation for future video storytelling projects and shows how stories highlighting Iowa's people and places can be done simply, without any equipment but a smartphone.



For Educators

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs promotes access to educational resources in arts, history, humanities and film to meet the needs of Iowa educators and students.

Discover Digital History Resources

The State Historical Society of Iowa has created a variety of history resources for educators. Through free and accessible digital resources, students will have an increased awareness of Iowa's countless historic objects, images and records. 

Primary Source Sets
Recommended for Grades K-12
The Primary Source Sets are free and downloadable digital collections that address state, national and international history. The sets were created for K-12 educators, align with the Iowa Core Social Studies Standards and include more than 1,400 primary sources. Below are four selected digital collections that showcase Iowa's unique people and places.


Read Iowa History
Recommended for Grades K-5
Use the Children's Lives: Comparing Long Ago to Today module to explore how play has changed over time for Iowa's children. The materials for educators include: primary sources, lessons, worksheets, historical introduction to the topic, assessments and vocabulary lists/cards. Read Iowa History resources offer free, downloadable and easy-to-follow lessons to help educators integrate primary sources and the Iowa Core Standards for Social Studies and Literacy. 

Goldie's History Kits
Recommended for Grades K-5
Use Goldie's History Kit: Meskwaki Culture to help students investigate who the Meskwaki are and what aspects of Meskwaki culture are similar to or different from their own. Goldie’s History Kits provide educators access to the State Historical Museum of Iowa's collections, and these digital kits – which align with Iowa Core Standards for Social Studies and Literacy – encourage students to develop deeper connections to Iowa's history. 

The Goldfinch
Recommended for Grades 3-8 
Read a selected collection of The Goldfinch magazines that focus on Iowa's people and places. The Goldfinch was an Iowa history magazine for children published quarterly by the State Historical Society of Iowa from 1975-2000. Each issue focuses on a theme and includes articles, games, photos and fiction. 

Write with Poetry Modules

Recommended for Grades K-12
Want to write a poem? Find some inspiration from several online poetry writing exercises designed by Iowa Poet Laureate Debra Marquart. The exercises use prompts to focus on the components of vivid writing and sensory details. Then, watch Marquart read aloud three poems for the Iowa Arts Council. Marquart recites two of her own poems, "Chokecherry" and "Landline," and a poem by W.S. Merwin entitled, "Thanks."

Watch Featured Videos

Recommended for Grades 5-12
National History Day in Iowa offers year-long academic programs that engage middle- and high-school students in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. The video featured below was created by a student for the National History Day in Iowa program. It is a brief documentary that focuses on an Iowa topic.

A Ray of Hope
Mia Kawamitsu
11th Grade, Abraham Lincoln High School, Council Bluffs

This 2017 National History Day video focuses on former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray and his humanitarian actions to save and relocate Vietnamese refugees who were caught in the crossfire of the Vietnam War.


Thank you to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs' Days of Learning Sponsors MidAmerican Energy and Musco Lighting