First in the Nation: Shaping Presidential Politics Since 1972

State Historical Museum of Iowa
Des Moines, IA

The exhibit First in the Nation: Shaping Presidential Politics since 1972 at the State Historical Museum of Iowa explains the history of the Iowa caucuses and how Iowa gained its first in the nation status in 1972. The exhibit uses a variety of artifacts and photographs to explore the meaningful role Iowans play in selecting presidential candidates. The exhibit also explores the continuity and change in the interactions between Iowans and candidates. The primary goals of the project included educating museum guests on the history of the Iowa caucuses and to inspire Iowans to support candidates and participate in the caucus process.

In addition to the exhibit, the project includes an educator curriculum guide and on-site programming, speaker panels, candidate and issue forums, and a traveling display. Diverse audiences include students, Iowans of voting age and local, national, and international media seeking accessible background on the caucuses. The programming served educators across Iowa and positioned the museum as a convener of civil political discourse.

To meet the goal of assisting educators, museum staff created a curriculum guide for middle school students and hosted a Kids’ Caucus at the historical building.  Educators from across the state requested the curriculum materials for classroom use. The attendees to the Kids’ Caucus came from across the state and reflected diverse backgrounds from rural, suburban, and urban schools. Learners attended workshops provided by faculty from Iowa State University and museum staff who addressed the history of the Iowa caucus, women in politics and marketing candidates, as well as Iowa presidential candidates.

First in the Nation connects artifacts at the State Historical Museum of Iowa to contemporary political and social events in a way that was engaging and relevant for students and adult visitors. By explaining the meaning and importance of the Iowa caucuses, the museum combines an educational experience with a civic call to action for all Iowans to participate in the democratic process.