I am looking forward to my upcoming talk on the Civil War in Alexandria, Virginia. I will be posting the materials from the talk soon, including the soldiers’ records, maps, and other records from the Hospital at Fort Williams in Alexandria. The talk is titled “Revisiting the Dead House at Fort Williams: A Story of Civil War History and Memory.”
Thank you to over 50 college faculty and technology professionals who joined for the final event of History Harvest Blitz Week–the NITLE Seminar on Teaching the History Harvest. We had a dynamic and rich discussion online with great questions from the participants. Thank you!
One of the questions that we did not get to address in the seminar asked us to reflect on the impact of this project in the community beyond the class semester. In North Omaha the effects were significant and have continued well beyond the semester. Our students worked with the Great Plains Black History Museum to revive and restore its remarkable archival collection. And their work has continued to play a role in the ongoing work at the GPBHM and plans for a larger historical sites city planning effort in Omaha. In short, History Harvest classes can galvanize interest and have lasting positive effects in the community. My colleague Patrick D. Jones briefly wrote about this here, as did Michelle Tiedje, and most importantly GPBHM director Jim Beatty.
For anyone who was not able to attend the NITLE Seminar, we have placed most of the teaching resources we used in our courses online (linked here) along with student produced videos and segments from The History Harvest Minute series.
The History Harvest Blitz Week is underway! To keep track of all student produced media and posts on The History Harvest, please visit our Media Resources page.
Last week I had an informal conversation with Digital Humanities interested folks at Northwestern University’s Kaplan Humanities Institute. The group included some department chairs, some faculty, and some digital humanities post docs. They were especially interested in undergraduate teaching and learning. And they asked me introduce the History Harvest.
One of the most interesting questions during this discussion focused on the authenticity of these materials: how do we know their value if we have no way of knowing if they are “real” and how can undergraduate students ever be in a position to know? Undergraduate students could be purveyors of vast myths and distortions derived from family legend filled with inaccuracies and passed to the project by contributors. These could potentially be accepted by our students thankfully but uncritically. An interesting discussion about The History Harvest class and the provenance of its items followed.
In the History Harvest courses we work with students on critical assessment of the provenance of these items, and we do not purport to say that these items are “real” or accurate necessarily. Moreover, we expect to involve undergraduate students in further research about these materials. In this regard we see the History Harvest as a “generative” or layered project, where the materials are collected, and then used and assessed and validated over time. I think the real danger we face for our cultural heritage is not our being passed a “fake” or a “myth” but the ephemerality of much of this family material and its oral history as we move into the digital age.
I believe that in due time the material collected in the History Harvest will be validated and checked against census data and other sources, but until then there is no reason to stop collecting it. Several participants in the Northwestern discussion also pointed out that “myths” and family legend about history are themselves important subjects of study in history, and that the story someone tells about an object, if distorted through memory or by intention, is important to document.
For more on teaching the History Harvest, hang out on Thursday at 4 p.m. EST in the History Harvest Google Hangout with Andrew Witmer, Scot French, Leslie Working, Ally Bousquet, Dan Cohen, Patrick Jones, and me as we discuss how to use the History Harvest concept in the undergraduate curriculum.
Join us for History Harvest Blitz Week April 8-12, 2013. Share feedback, suggestions, ideas, and strategies for building The History Harvest. We welcome faculty, teachers, students, librarians, technology professionals, and anyone interested in joining the project. You can contribute to any of these:
Twitter: @HistoryHarvest and #history_harvest
Monday April 8: The Student Experience
How do we create authentic learning experiences for undergraduate students?
Tuesday April 9: Archiving The People’s History
How do we digitize, curate, and manage community history?
Wednesday April 10: Building Community Partnerships
How do we work effectively with partners to share resources and materials?
Thursday April 11: Teaching the History Harvest
Join our Google Hangout 4 p.m. EDT youtube.com/historyharvest or historyharvest.unl.edu/hangout
Friday April 12: Reflection and Planning the National History Harvest
Join the NITLE Seminar with William G. Thomas and Patrick D. Jones 3 p.m. EDT
Sara Georgini at “The Junto” (a group blog of early American historians) has posted an interview with Patrick Jones and me on “Spring at The History Harvest.” The planning for The History Harvest is moving briskly and our interview focuses on where we are headed with the project in the coming months. Other questions include how we came up with the idea for the project, how it has changed our ideas about teaching, what our goals of “community-based” history are, and what technical and aesthetic challenges we face in developing The History Harvest digital project online. Great questions from The Junto! For our answers visit “The Junto” blog.