As an educator, I practice community-based public history. I am actively engaged with a variety of Baltimore-area cultural institutions, and I design courses that support their missions and programmatic goals. These courses allow students to engage in meaningful work on behalf of a variety of community organizations and individuals. My students and I have a long term working relationship with Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy organization. We have designed content about Baltimore’s Historic West Side, Druid Hill Park, and the UMBC campus for the organization’s curatescape site, Explore Baltimore Heritage. In addition, we collaborated with the Maryland State Archives to develop digital content from the Legacy of Slavery collections. In the fall of 2015, we will work with the Maryland Zoo to develop content for both wayside signs and for Explore Baltimore Heritage. We have also collaborated with Hampton National Historic Site, Fort McHenry, and the Neighborhood Design Center.
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In the classroom, I emphasize the importance of planning, relationship building, and careful project development. I also encourage students to be responsive to the immediate needs and interests of the community. During the spring of 2015, my students learned what I already knew –sometimes it is not possible to be BOTH cautious AND responsive. When Freddie Gray died as the result of injuries sustained in police custody, protests in the city’s Sandtown neighborhood dominated the news and impacted the mood on campus. My students wanted to do something. In particular, they wondered what role –if any– public historians should play during times of protest.
Inspired by their passion, I designed an Omeka site that allows individuals to upload photographs, video, oral histories and other material directly to a digital collection. The project’s mission is to ensure that the observations and experiences of protestors, local residents, and student activists will be included in the historical record of these events, alongside official reports and newspaper accounts. Once the site went live, I entered into a partnership with the Maryland Historical Society which has accepted responsibility for organizing and protecting the collection. More than 1000 items have been contributed so far. We have begun to identify faculty and community organizers from across the city who will help us build the collection and use it to develop digital exhibitions that will help contextualize and explore these events.