historian, author, film producer

Tag: history harvest (page 1 of 2)

Thanks to History Harvest and NITLE Seminar Participants

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’s Next Steps

The AHA Perspectives on History has published our piece describing The History Harvest project. We are currently formulating the next steps for this project and have been grateful for the outpouring of interest from all over higher education. Our immediate plans are to run a MOOC like course in Spring 2014 with participants from a variety of institutions. Possible partners have been contacting us. We encourage that so please let me know if you are interested. (updated January 22, 2013)

In late December Marc Parry ran a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus Blog on The History Harvest, a new project I have been developing. The piece has sparked a long series of tweets and responses — see Topsy’s record of the ongoing traffic about this concept. We will be updating our posts here and on The History Harvest site as we develop our next steps for the project.

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.

Railroad Site Collection Updated with Rare New Documents

The Railroads and the Making of Modern America site has updated its collection with a range of new and rare documents on railroad history. The Railroads database includes letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, court documents, photographs, illustrations, and other materials related to the expansion of railroad technology in American society. The latest update of new materials features a number of rare objects.

Some of these rare objects came to the project through the 2010 History Harvest held at NET Television in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dozens of participants brought their railroad history materials to the Harvest, and the project digitized hundreds of objects, including a rare 1880s map of Adams County produced by the Union Pacific Railroad, timetables from the 1880s and 1890s, and letters regarding the incorporation and operation of several historic Nebraska railroads.

In particular, we have included four stereoscopic photographs of the aftermath of the Strike of 1877 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The photograph images of the destruction of Pittsburgh were taken by S. V. Albee, and are almost entirely unavailable on the Web. Although the University of Pittsburgh has indexed the images, the size and quality of these reproductions are limited. We have released four of these important images on Railroads and the Making of Modern America, with the support of a generous private collector. We have placed these images in Zoomify, to give readers the opportunity to zoom in on specific high resolution views.

For example, here is the image of “28th St. and Upper Round House, citizens shot here.”

Other documents brought into the collection include letters and accounts of the Strike of 1888 on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad transcribed from the original archival materials in the Newberry Library. Few histories have examined the Strike of 1888 on the Burlington lines, but the strike spread quickly and prompted the Burlington to recruit laborers from the East. The “Great Burlington Strike,” as it was called, reveals in these documents the ways the Burlington’s “blacklist” system operated, and how it was used by management. The records of dismissal from the Burlington and from the Union Pacific Railroad have also been added in easily searchable maps and timelines.

First History Harvest Held–railroad materials gathered and digitized

On May 15, 2010 dozens of railroad history fans gathered at NET in Lincoln, Nebraska, to share their unique materials. Old maps, letters, photographs, and diaries were digitized at the event and will soon be up on Railroads and the Making of Modern America. For a radio broadcast of the event, go to NET Radio.

The History Harvest is

a joint project of



the University of Nebraska Department of History

The History Harvest seeks to create a popular and engaging movement to democratize and open the people’s and the nation’s history by allowing people to contribute their letters, photographs, objects, and stories for general educational use and study. This shared experience of giving will be at the heart of the History Harvest programming and movement: we seek nothing less than a public bestowal of our own history. In a time of increased privatization and commercialization of the sources necessary to do history, our project will raise visibility and public conversation about history and its meaning, as well as provide a new foundation of publicly available material for historical study.

In this way the History Harvest seeks to recover a public engagement with the past, much as did the New Deal did with the WPA history and writers programs. That public effort created the sources for a whole generation of scholars and teachers–from audio recordings of ex-slaves to photographs of migrant workers in the Dust Bowl. Our effort is public history with a similar spirit, making invisible archives and stories more visible, bringing them into the public realm for all to use, hear, and see.

The “harvest” of historical documents, sources, and materials will reveal large sets of important historical material that are currently buried in archives, attics, and basements. Both individuals and institutions can participate in this effort. A museum may wish to offer rarely seen items in its collection, or ones that often attract the most attention locally; a community history society may offer its materials; an individual or family may present their family letters or objects.

The History Harvest initially will take place in a series of communities across the Great Plains region and then the nation. Building interest and enthusiasm for the project through advertising and public awareness, we will run a major event in each community we select for the History Harvest program.

Because the History Harvest centers on the idea of asking the public to contribute to our understanding of the past, these community events would be celebratory and community building. Each would aim to explore our common heritage but recognize the real consequences of history for today. Some communities, especially native ones but also those of African Americans and immigrants, have had their histories expropriated and this program will seek to encourage dialog and preservation without appropriating the past or its material objects. The History Harvest will focus on the nature of the historical artifact and the stories that we tell from it. Much of what historians use in their scholarship comes from government or elite sources, but this program will seek to make other sources, especially family and local ones, more visible and accessible.

Individuals will be able to bring in their history, allow us to digitize it and make it available in digital form, and participate in a conversation about what these histories mean. The event will feature scanning and filming tables for print, art, and 3-dimensional objects, and the opportunity to follow up with on-site visits at other locations. We can imagine someone coming to the harvest with a homestead family letter collection, or a set of diaries from the first black principal of a school at the turn of the century, or a set of church records, or a Civil War uniform, or a railroad timetable.

Nearly every major digital history project underway at research universities has experienced the interest, generosity, and enthusiasm of the public. For the Valley of the Shadow project at the University of Virginia, one of the first such endeavors, local community supporters sent the project in 1997 a series of original Civil War soldier’s letters as a gift. In 2001 local African American researchers contributed to another University of Virginia project on Race and Place, a digital history of Charlottesville, Virginia in the era of segregation. Construction workers, who had read press releases about the project, subsequently found hundreds of letters in house they were about to demolish–letters and correspondence over twenty years from the first black principal in the county in 1895 and his family through World War I. At the University of Nebraska anonymous supporters have sent the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities hundreds of railroad timetables to be digitized and contributed to a digital history project on the subject–Railroads and the Making of Modern America. And letters about Willa Cather, Lewis and Clark, and Walt Whitman, come in infrequently but steadily to these projects. The public will to participate in history, to contribute and engage, remains strong, and the History Harvest will support, encourage, and channel that energy for future research and teaching.

Beginning in Nebraska, our program will take advantage of the remarkably diverse communities in the state, the reach and audience for NET, the excellent graduate history program at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the deep public interest in history across the state. Nebraska Studies, one of NET’s leading digital resources, offers a platform for expanding and developing the program. Numerous local history centers and libraries can be found across Nebraska. The state includes rich and diverse history of immigration, settlement, railroading, Native history, literature, and politics. From William Jennings Bryan to Gerald Ford, from Willa Cather to Aaron Douglas, from Standing Bear to Malcolm X, Nebraska’s stories and histories remain vastly important to the nation’s experience. But broader social histories of local communities and their people will only grow more important to preserve and understand.