Step 2: Develop Themes

Successfully conveying the larger picture about your place to others is a key step toward convincing them to care about it.

The thinking and research you've already done about who uses or cares about your place, and why they care, will give you a head start connecting your place to larger social and historical themes. You're looking to see how your place fits into broader accounts of the past or present. Identifying these connections will help you make the place compelling to others. Here are some examples of themes for sites listed in the Census of Places that Matter:

  • A former 19th century German-American beer garden
    Potential themes: 19th century immigration patterns; recreation and entertainment activities of the 19th century; the history of the German-American community.
  • An active 20th century African-American church
    Potential themes: churches and the Civil Rights Movement; the role of churches in 20th century African-American communities; African-American migration within the U.S.
  • A movie theatre built in the 1920s
    Potential themes: the development of the movie industry; sprawl and the changing American Main Street.

If you're stumped on coming up with themes for your place, talk with others, such as historians, curators, archivists, and librarians. These professionals can be great resources for ideas and can also point you towards good research materials.

All this said, sometimes places are important just within a local context. If you don't end up finding ties between your place and a larger historical movement or event, don't worry; your theme can be the uniqueness of your place, or its importance to your community.

After evaluating your themes, continue researching until you feel like you can present the relationship between the themes and your place persuasively, in a way that emphasizes the significance of the place. The theme will then become the framework for the compelling story of why your place matters. The next section of this Toolkit explores how to use that story to make the case for protecting it.