Digital History Harvest in North Omaha Today!

Today in North Omaha we will run our third History Harvest, this time focused on the African American history of that community. We will be digitizing documents and materials from families, businesses, schools, churches, and clubs. We start at 10 a.m.

This year, though, the History Harvest is being planned and run by undergraduate students as part of a special class we organized in the University of Nebraska Department of History. Patrick Jones is teaching the class and its main focus in reading and discussion has been civil rights history and African American 20th century history. This class and The History Harvest have been such a success that we will be running the class each year on a different community. The Omaha World Herald covered our students as they helped organize the materials of the Great Plains Black History Museum: a remarkable collection of documents, material objects, posters, records, and letters and diaries, all of which had been locked in a shipping container/dumpster for nearly a decade.

Yesterday, I saw a demonstration of what those documents included, and the diversity and significance of these artifacts of history takes your breath away. Students will be working this semester and next semester to create the web site featuring each document or object brought into the History Harvest. Because this project is student-run and student-led, the excitement, energy, passion, and commitment to doing history has run high in this class. Fifteen graduate students in History will be helping as well today, taking oral histories, supporting the undergraduates, and working to help digitize the materials.

This year’s University of Nebraska History Harvest project is a collaboration with Love’s Jazz and Art Center, the Great Plains Black History Museum, the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation and NET Television and Radio for an innovative effort to uncover, perserve and share North Omaha’s rich, but often hidden, African American history. Students have been working with the Empowerment Network and spreading the word through churches and community organizations as well as through new media, including Facebook. Community members are invited to bring their letters, photos, documents, heirlooms or other artifacts that help tell the story of African-Americans in North Omaha and across the country. The objects will be digitized and included in a unique web-based public archive of African-American history in North Omaha, available for free to teachers, students and everyday people. Some may even be featured in an upcoming NET Television segment.

About William Thomas

William G. Thomas III is a professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities. He teaches digital humanities and digital history, 19th century U.S. history, the Civil War, and the history of slavery.
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