Central Valley Regional History

I propose to develop a regional history website focused on the history of California’s Central Valley. Inspirations for the site include Larry Cebula’s “Northwest History” blog at Eastern Washington University [http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com/] and the University of Central Florida’s RICHES (Regional Initiative for Experiences, and Stories of Central Florida) [http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com/]. It will be developed in partnership with the CSU Bakersfield’s Walter Stiern Library and CSUB Public History Institute

Sopris, Colorado, currently underwater, recreated online.

So my project is to recreate the town of Sopris, Colorado, currently at the bottom of Trinidad Lake online. The concept is one pioneered buy History Colorado (formerly known as the Colorado Historical Society) which has reorganized the entire state history museum this way, and the material comes a place called the Bessemer Historical Society, which holds the archives of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, which owned Sopris, its accompanying coal mine and many other towns and mines in southern Colorado.

We have mine maps like this one (which doesn’t do justice to how cool this looks in person because it’s such a small scan):


We have access to pictures like this:

Access to physical artifacts from the community:


We will eventually have interviews with people who grew up in Sopris before the government flooded it 1973.

What I need to do over the next two weeks is to figure out the first steps to getting all of this up inside a conceptual framework that will make sense to the general public.  And, oh yeah, instructions for my students who will be doing this with me in a class that starts a week after I get back to Colorado.

Good times. Good times.

Source: Sopris, Colorado, currently underwater, recreated online.

Designing Collaborative Research Space

In the summer of 2013, my colleague Dan Kerr and I organized a working group for the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History called, “Toward a History of Civic Engagement and the Progressive Impulse in Public History.” You can read a bit about it here. Fourteen of us engaged in a pre-conference conversation and worked together to shape a series of topics and questions that can help us historicize and theorize what may be considered the “radical” wing of our field –a wing populated by scholars who are interested in clearly identifying the ways in which history has served social justice over time. We want to continue our collaborative inquiry with an eye toward producing a work of scholarship (whether digitally or traditionally published). I hastily threw up a blogger site to enable ongoing conversation, but it poorly designed and disconnected from a broader discussion. WordPress is clearly a better platform because it is designed for content management and seems better suited for sharing research and collaborating. I’m already thinking about creating a second domain for this work!

Source: Designing Collaborative Research Space

In the Valley

I came to the institute with two projects to suss out.  One is more immediate (it will be the focus of a 2015 public history course), and so will take more of my brain space during the two-week institute.  The focus of the project will be the Corra Harris homeplace and farm in Bartow County, Georgia.  The property, called “In the Valley,” belongs to Kennesaw State University and is under management of the Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books.

Harris was an active writer from the late nineteenth century until her death in 1935.  Her most famous work, A Circuit Rider’s Wife, was published in 1910, but she wrote twenty other book-length titles as well as numerous essays and newspaper columns.  Though her subject matter was fairly diverse over the course of her career,  she is remembered today for her reactionary conservatism–the kind that led her to defend lynching as a protection of southern white womanhood in an 1899 newspaper article (that, incidentally, launched her career).

A donor offered the property to the university in 2008.  KSU’s subsequent acceptance of the fifty-six acre site was met with anger by some faculty members and students, who called it an insensitive “bloody land acquisition” because of the brutality and racism that underlined Harris’ views.  This tension was never really resolved, despite (or because of) several “open forums” and dialogues hosted by administration to air grievances.  The property became the center of controversy again just this year when KSU’s Zuckerman Museum of Art, which opened in March, commissioned a work by sculptor Ruth Stanford that considered the property’s layered past and the legacy of Corra Harris.  Just before the museum’s opening night, the piece was censored by the KSU president–an act that was met with widespread condemnation, causing the president to reinstate Stanford’s piece several weeks after the opening.

All this is to say that the property is waiting (begging?) for the attention of public historians.  The original plan was to create an interpretive site on the physical property, but, as might be imagined, we’ve not had the support to see the plan through.  The alternative will be to create a web-based site that offers interpretation and some kind of spatial analysis of the property, which has a history of human interaction that predates Harris’ tenure by hundreds of years.  There’s a clear need to build a site that can raise questions and that can potentially be a repository for public reaction; a site that will consider both the history and the charged public memory of the property.

The second project (I hope) will be some kind of collaboration with organizations and community members in Clarkston, Georgia, a small town inside the perimeter of metro Atlanta that became a refugee resettlement site in the early 1980s.  The community is now home to settlers from over fifty countries and has resulted in a profound remapping of the area.  I see this as a more long-term project; though I’ve done work with Clarkston-based organizations during the past year, these relationships need more time to grow.  I could absolutely imagine a project that involves mapping, oral histories, and community-based interpretation of the changing fabric of the small town.  The next two weeks, I think, will give substance to these ideas!

Source: In the Valley

Studying Savannah and Beyond

This site will feature a range of local history projects created with my students at Armstrong State University. At present, my plan is to pursue three initial projects. For the first, students will select public domain historic photographs of Savannah and display them in curated collections. In the second, working with University Archivist Caroline Hopkinson, they will scan copies of the university newspaper, The Inkwell, which began publication in 1935. Full scans will be displayed at Archive.org, while students will present online interpretive thematic pieces based on selected articles.

The most significant initial project intersects with my own research on urban development, historic preservation, and segregation by race and class. We will present online the infamous “redlining” maps of Georgia cities (Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Columbus, and Atlanta) created by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the 1930s, along with the “survey data” that was used to determine lending priorities. We will also provide contextual information to help site visitors understand the cities from a historical perspective. This will involve substantial work with additional government documents (such as the housing monographs produced by the FHA and federal census data), photographs, literature, as well as engagement with relevant existing scholarship. I hope that these initial forays into digital history will serve as a springboard to an ongoing project focused on showcasing the development of Georgia’s cities.

Source: Studying Savannah and Beyond

Churchscape: Clay County, MN

Skree Township churchesSkree Township churchesTentative thoughts:

Skree Township churchesIn this project I plan to develop a website examining the churchscape of Clay County, Minnesota.  The concept of churchscape includes considering not only the physical church structures/houses ofworship, but also the social, cultural, political and economic significance of the communities who worshipped there.I hope to begin by mapping locations of church buildings in the county over time from the early settlement years (1870s) to the present. I would also like to include the following components:

Map layers that showing change over time in the locations and number (density) of churches.
I would like viewers to be able to click locations and learn more about the buildings and congregations there (through text and/or primary source images, documents).
Ability for viewers to contribute their own images, recollections, and/or documents to the site, or to allow me to digitize materials for inclusion on the site.

It may be more realistic to begin with a particular denomination or time period that would be valuable on its own (Lutheran chSkree Township Plat Map excerpt, 1909urches, nineteenth century churches. . . . ), but would also provide a model when seeking funding to develop the project on a larger scope?

Source: Churchscape: Clay County, MN

The Rise and Fall of Lyndon Johnson’s America

“Past Politics” explores the intersection of my three ongoing projects: one on the 1964 presidential election, another that uses Texas to understand the shift from midcentury liberalism to late century conservatism, and a biography of former Speaker of the House and Vice President John Nance Garner. Lyndon Johnson is the unifying figure throughout this research, and his presidential election victory in 1964 is the subject of the book project I am most actively working on. The project that looks at the shift from liberalism to conservatism and the Garner biography are more demanding projects and are still in the formative stages. This page shares some of the digital components of my research, which mixes more traditional archival work with newer digital humanities techniques.

I am building a massive database that explores political, economic, and social trends in Texas and compares them across the rest of the country. Once I am finished my Texas data will track election returns to the county level and layer this information with data from the U.S. Census.
I will also use sources like the Congressional Directory to quantify the power Texans accumulated on Capitol Hill by studying the committee chairships held by Lone Star State lawmakers vis-a-vis chairships held by other state delegations.
I also use text mining strategies to understand the rhetorical shifts from midcentury liberalism to late century conservatism in ways that archival research alone will not permit.

Source: The Rise and Fall of Lyndon Johnson’s America

The Project

Ohio formed the western frontier of the antislavery movement in the mid-nineteenth century.  It was often called the second “burned over district” (with upstate New York being the first) for its commitment to evangelical reform movements. This project presents documents related to the antislavery movement in this region for scholarly use.

The papers of the Sutliff family of Trumbull County, Ohio form the first phase of the project. Most of the documents are linked to three brothers: Levi, Flavel, and Milton Sutliff and shed important light on the abolition movement and politics in Ohio,  the region, and the nation. Levi Sutliff was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and active in Liberty Party politics in Ohio. Flavel Sutliff was the law partner of abolitionist congressman Joshua Giddings, and  many letters in the collection detail Giddings’s first term in Congress. Milton Sutliff, also an abolitionist, was  a prominent lawyer and Ohio Supreme  Court justice.

Many of these documents will be presented here for the first time. To date, all documents in the collection have been digitally scanned. See the example here.

Sutliff Papers Sample

Source: The Project

Project Ideas for Doing Digital History

As part of my application for the Doing Digital History seminar, I suggested two possible projects:

An introductory, undergraduate course in digital history
A digital experience exploring the rich and contrasting perspectives related to the annexation of Hawai’i in 1898.

In thinking about how to teach digital things to undergraduates, I have been guided by Jeff McClurken’s distinction between “digitally inflected” versus “digitally centered” courses. In the past, I have experimented with various inflections, allowing students to complete a digital assignment, but I had never tried creating a course that placed digital historical learning at the center of what we were doing. Last year, almost on a lark, I suggested to members of my department that we should really take digital history more seriously. Somehow,  this conversation ended with me agreeing to propose a true digital history course.

Yet, teaching digital history to freshmen and sophomores was not my first choice. I had originally thought to offer the course as an upper-level major elective. I assumed that students would need an exposure to thinking historically through more traditional non-digital assignments to understand how to apply this thinking to the digital world.  I have come to wonder, though, if this thinking is flawed.  First, I have been influenced by T. Mills Kelly’s contention that students, living in what he terms a “remix culture”, might be perfectly primed to engage simultaneously with historical thinking and the digital world.
Second, I have also begun to wonder if students encounter the digital world more directly and explicitly early in their career then there might be less need to convince students of the myriad ways that they could “use” their historical education in future career pursuits – simply because they would already have taken part in an exercise that demonstrates this to them.

The second project I have been thinking about is an exploration of the extraordinarily contested annexation of Hawai’i in 1898. For three years, I have been teaching a History of Hawai’i course, the creation of which was supported by the Tocqueville Summer Institute hosted by the University of Richmond. Undoubtedly, the most popular week of the course has been the debate on Hawaiian annexation, during which students read, engaged with, and role-played arguments put forth by different opposing historical parties. The complicated history of the islands that immediately preceded the annexation, including a forced constitution, an armed coup, and a tense public debate, is a history that illuminates questions of imperial power, colonization, indigenous resistance, and the gendered construction of American identity, to name just a few. Moreover, given the current, but often unheard, demands of the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement, there remain contemporary ramifications of this debate for Americans who all too often think of Hawai’i simply as our own national Eden.

My initial thought for the site was to use James Blount, the historical commissioner sent to Hawai’i following the 1892 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy to determine the legality and viability of annexation. Blount spent a considerable amount of time interviewing numerous participants in the events of the day, and in the end returned to the U.S. and filed a massive report suggesting numerous improprieties with the overthrow. Blount, I have wondered, might serve as a useful narrational tool that could give the site some structure, focusing the various primary materials around the types of questions Blount might have pursued. However, while I think Blount could work well as a lens for an American audience engaged with the question of annexation, I am worried about the way the choice could potentially silence, or at least deaden, many of the voices and assumptions made by those who opposed annexation. My choice of Blount too easily privileges the right of the US to choose annexation or non-annexation, as opposed to questioning the right of the very choice to begin with.  Consequently, I am particularly interested in exploring ways that multiple perspectives can be fairly explored in a digital environment, without necessarily losing the narrative and interpretive focus we all felt were crucial threshold concepts to historical thinking.

Source: Project Ideas for Doing Digital History

Doing Digital History, Initial Thoughts

Last year students in several of my classes contributed research to an ongoing digital history project called “Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina,” directed by Fitz Brundage at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The goal of CommLands is to document North Carolina history through a “spatially based presentation of commemorative monuments, shrines, and public art.” My students researched individual sites of memory in the state’s western mountains, creating material for CommLands’ growing database of North Carolina monuments.  This material will start appearing on the site later this year.

Confederate Monument, Salisbury, NCConfederate Monument, Salisbury, NC

One of my goals in using the CommLands projects in my teaching was for students to gain an appreciation of the complex histories behind these ostensibly simple memorials. The presentation of data on CommLands, however, is rather linear and straightforward, only hinting at that complexity. I would like to use this institute, then, to consider more elaborate ways of recounting the biographies of particular sites of memory – through, for instance, a layering of images, documents, contextual material, and contemporary reflection by residents of southern Appalachia.

I should add that my current research also deals with questions of public memory. I’m finishing up a book on the public memory of Cherokee removal in the modern South (basically, I’m trying to shove a Native American studies topic into the literature on “southern memory”). The sites and monuments I am most interested in exploring, then, relate to Cherokee history in the southern highlands.

John Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NCJohn Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC

Source: Doing Digital History, Initial Thoughts