The Virginia Standards of Learning for Civics and Economics (CE.2 and CE.9) and, particularly, Virginia and United States Government. GOVT.8 specify that students “understand the organization and powers of the state and local governments described in the Constitution of Virginia” by, among other aspects, examining how individuals and groups exert influence on state and local governments and using historical or contemporary events to evaluate the effectiveness of citizen efforts to influence decisions by state and local governments. Virginia’s state constitutions track pivotal moments in the history of the Commonwealth and our nation as they enlarge and retract rights and privileges of Virginians.

Research shows that students who engage with interactive civics education are more likely to vote and be engaged in their communities. Civics education prepares students to participate more fully in a democratic society as informed citizens who understand the importance of voting and the promise and limitation of government. This is particularly important for Virginia’s increasingly diverse student population. A recent study by the Fordham Institute recommended that increased instructional time in social studies, which includes civics, increases reading comprehension and benefits most students from non-English-speaking homes.

The 1971 Constitution Project

Over the summer of 2021, student interns conducted a self-directed research project using the Library of Virginia collections and other resources to explore the effects of the 1971 Constitution fifty years after its ratification. Interns developed or strengthened their archival research skills, furthered their critical thinking within a digital humanities framework, and polished their presentation skills as part of the 1971 Constitution Project. They also developed collaborative skills as part of a professional team, with several key Library staff members supporting and mentoring their development. With the help of LVA staff, interns complete a digital project – website, data visualization, digital mapping, or other online resource – that is widely accessible to many different audiences. The 1971 Constitution Project interns decided to collaborate on a single website with different sections.

The Constitution Project team, including interns and staff, also explored diverse careers within cultural heritage institutions and different methods of working with history through guest speakers, which informed their final digital project.

The Constitution Project internships are funded through a generous donation to the Library of Virginia Foundation

In The Classroom

Information in this section is from the Virginia Constitution 1971: Curriculum for Undergraduate Courses by Dr. Derrick Lanois (Norfolk State University) and Dr. Emily Westkaemper (James Madison University).

View/download Curriculum for Undergraduate Courses

Studying the current Virginia constitution at its fiftieth anniversary provides opportunities to understand long-term continuities and changes in the history of Virginia and the U.S. Students could also apply their study of the context behind the Constitution of 1971 as part of an analysis of the complexities in current history and politics. Many of the topics addressed in the 1971 constitutional revisions, including civil rights, the role of government in dealing with equality and discrimination, public education, and conservation, feature prominently in current discourse.

The Curriculum for Undergraduate Courses includes background information, resource lists by topic, and assignment prompts. The assignment prompts are designed to work separately, combined, or adapted for the framework of an undergraduate course. An initial series of prompts focuses on historical context, the next series of prompts assesses continuity and change over time, and a series of questions asks students to consider the roles of multiple perspectives and vantage points in the development of the constitution. The “case study” guides provide background information, questions, primary source selections, and resources for further research. By developing a case study, students could apply analysis about context, continuity and change, and vantage points in focused exploration of a variety of topics.

Examples of the prompts for students are below. The section of the Curriculum it is drawn from is noted in bold.

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