Personal Digital History Prospectuses
For my digital history class, myself and each of my classmates are completing a personal digital history project. After reading through my classmates’ digital project prospectuses, I noticed how incredible this discipline truly is. Reading each of these, I was reminded about how vast the subject of history is and found it fascinating to what people connect to. Here is a list of the topics my classmates cover:
- North Carolina Eugenics
- Ex-slave Narratives
- Oral History Interviews
- The history of the Atlantic Coast Conference
- British Prisoners of War during the American Revolution
- Ghost Stories and Urban Legends of Tryon County
- Everyday Experiences of Women in Early Women’s colleges
- History of Beech Fork and accompanying communities
- Moral Imperialism and American Identity
- AIDs Epidemic in America
- History of the Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School
- Cultural History of the Microscope
- Film technology, Propaganda, and American Wars
- Life of a British soldier during the American War of Independence
- Early free African colonists in Virginia and their mixed-race descendants
- Confederate Movement During the Civil war
- Western Carolina Insane Asylum
- Black Mountain College
How cool is that?! Sometimes as graduate students we get so bogged down in our one tiny rabbit hole, tunneling ourselves deeper and deeper in research, archives, writing, and assignments, that sometimes we forget to take a minute to step outside and see the light. After reviewing each of my classmates digital history project plans, it gave me time to reflect on the intriguing “bits” of history and how important they really are.
For our digital history class, we are working to create digital projects that deal with one of the above mentioned subjects. The projects range from websites, oral history interviews, maps, timelines, blogs, and videos. One of the common themes/projects I noticed when reviewing is the idea of the map, and using maps as one of the key interactive elements for the project. I think that this is an awesome idea, since it helps people visualize where events are taking place. Coupled with a timeline, I think this is a great way to draw in potential visitors to a website.
One of the potential problems I foresee with few of the subjects/accompanying projects is the risk of trivializing sensitive subjects. Often we as historians have such an in-depth knowledge of our subject that it takes an outside perspective to understand how others interpret our work. Additionally, sometimes it is difficult to gain respect/trust of the community you are researching and writing about if you are an outsider. Another issue I saw across each board is that many of these projects appeal to a niche audience and I would be curious to see how people would promote their projects to a wider audience. I think that the public may be more inclined to learn about projects that include the wars (Revolutionary, Civil, World) since it is something they can connect to more easily than eugenics or insane asylums in Western North Carolina.
One of the ideas that I had not previously thought about including and something that I think is one of the best resources for all types of audiences is a timeline. Timelines help provide context for the user and can often be a point of direction for people who are exploring an area of interest outside their study. Timelines helps connect these unique bits of history to “the larger picture” (or the basic facts we memorize in American and World history in high school). This is not a resource I had considered for my own project, but after reading my classmates ideas, this is something I realized might be a helpful tool for myself and other classmates to consider using. for myself and others.
Group Digital History Grant Ideas
In addition, my classmates are also applying for digital history grants. We are working in teams of three, crafting an idea for a digital history project and applying for a grant that could fund the project. These are some of the ideas they came up with for grants:
- Jamestown Colony Exploration Video Game Experience
- Stories of the Korean War 65 Years Later -This project proposes the collection of oral histories from contemporaries of the Korean War currently living in the metro-Charlotte, North Carolina area
- A simulation of slave life as conveyed through the narratives of Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, and Lundsford Lane
- A digital exhibit on textile mill baseball leagues to be placed in the new Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District (FUSE) stadium
- An online database of photos that overlay photos of the past onto the present to give a sense of what has changed or not changed in the past one hundred years in Charlotte NC
One of the common themes in each of these grant proposals are that they are location specific (Charlotte, Uptown, Gastonia, Jamestown, Metro-Charlotte). I think one of the reasons for being location specific (which includes my own groups projects) are that they built around community needs, often in the location that the creator (classmates) reside. When you live in a community, it is easier to understand the needs and wishes of what that community is looking for. Location specific programs also provide direct/target audiences.
One issue I noticed is the idea of “putting yourself in someone’s shoes,” which, I think is a great way that we convey understanding and explaining history to others. Children’s and elementary activities often ask you to image you are in [insert subject here] shoes for them to begin to understand what life was like in the past. This idea, however, can become difficult/tricky when we begin to talk about marginalized and minority histories. For the grants who chose to create a game or simulation, I think you will need to have background vetting before releasing the simulations. If you are choosing to talk about African Americans or Native Americans, you would need to consult members of those communities before releasing the game. This could happen again with the slave narratives and making someone’s life choices trivialized. I think one idea you could use would be to include a disclaimer before the simulations/game began and explain how it is based on historical research and thoroughly vetted, but it would be difficult to make choices if you were in someone’s shoes. The disclaimer could include something along the lines of how the game is meant to explain and teach others about the difficult choices many people had to go through and how history has been unkind to many communities.
In addition, many of these grants (mine included) need more specific details (budgets, thought-out timelines, team roles). The purpose of this project was to get groups thinking about ideas and grants they could apply for, so I understand why some of the grants have more in one area and less in another.
In conclusion, I think both the personal projects and group grants are fascinating. One of the strongest resources we have as young historians is our cohort and within each of these projects and plans I see room for collaboration between classmates. I’m excited to see each of these digital projects come to fruition!