This project has its origins in a class offered at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “Researching Midwestern History,” led by Dr. Andrew Offenburger, was taught in the spring of 2021 and 2022 and aimed to understand change over time in a rural community. In this research seminar, undergraduate and graduate students focused on two aspects of Storm Lake’s recent past: how residents experienced its social change, and how this was represented in the town’s newspapers.
In the 2021 offering of the class, students at Miami compiled more than 1,000 research notes from news articles since 1981. They also worked with Buena Vista University students in Dr. Andrea Frantz’s “Digital Journalism” class to interview and produce profiles of more than 20 Storm Lake residents.
When Superintendent Stacey Cole learned of these interviews and profiles, she noted that the project would dovetail perfectly with a goal she had long had: to document the lives of Storm Lake residents in a series akin to the “Humans of New York” Facebook page. “Small Town, Big World,” then, grew from these contributing roots.
While the 2021 “Researching Midwestern History” course has concluded, the profiles researched and written by students are now being finalized and published. At the same time, the 2022 class is busy speaking with residents and writing their own profiles, to extend this previous work. By the end of 2022, more than 40 profiles of various Storm Lakers will be available online. If you’d like to follow along with the class, and to receive notifications when new profiles are posted, please visit the class website and sign up for blog updates.
Thank You: Dr. Andrea Frantz
In the spring of 2021, Dr. Andrea Frantz opened her “Digital Journalism” class to work with students at Miami University. We had a live conversation between the two classes to discuss the difference between journalism and oral history, and how one can turn a conversation into a story. This Iowa-Ohio connection resulted in the audio and written profiles on this website. Without Dr. Frantz’s quick and full support of the project, and without her contacts and friends in Storm Lake, many of these profiles–written from afar–and their media components would have been impossible to include.
Thank You: Co-Editors Haley Knuth and Sam Purkiss
Critical to the success of this “Small Town, Big World” website are Haley Knuth and Sam Purkiss, both second-year MA students in history at Miami.
As a student with expertise in public history, Haley focused her thesis work on an exhibit, “Who Controls the Narrative: Newspapers and Cincinnati’s Anti-Black Riots of 1829, 1836, and 1841,” which recently opened at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati. Her research interests, apart from race relations in the urban Midwest in the antebellum period, include German settlers in American history, the history of abolitionism, and Women’s and Gender History.
Purkiss’ research interests revolve around twentieth-century American history, specifically the intersections between gender history and media studies such as film and theater. When not studying, they enjoy watching and discussing movies with friends, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and long walks on the beach. After graduating, they intend to move to Pittsburgh and pursue a career in academic administration.
Thank You: The People of Storm Lake
Despite the challenges of working through Zoom, FaceTime, by phone, or occasionally in person, many residents of Storm Lake (past and present) patiently and generously shared their memories and time for this project. Their candor and good will inspired all of us, and motivated us to handle their histories with equal parts care and rigor.
Raul Arevalo Ramirez
Mayra Alejandra Lopez
Thank You: Students
Students in two offerings of “Researching Midwestern History” at Miami University and one class on “Digital Journalism” at Buena Vista University contributed research notes, interview transcripts, and profile pieces to produce this website. To read more about the undergraduate and graduate students, past and present, conducting this important research, please visit our class “About Us” page.
Clayton Van Horn
Thank You: Many Others
In addition to all of the interview subjects and students involved in this research, “Small Town, Big World” would like to especially thank the following people that have been instrumental to this project’s success:
Buena Vista County Historical Society
The Cullens of The Storm Lake Times
Dana Larsen of The Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune
The Miami Center for Career Exploration and Success
The Miami College of Arts & Sciences
The Miami History Department
Patti Gallagher Newberry
Michael “Doc” Whitlatch
Salud! of Storm Lake