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 partnered with the Maryland Historical Society which has accepted responsibility for organizing and protecting the collection.
During the academic year 2018-2019, with support from the Whiting Foundation, I trained Baltimore City High School students to collect oral histories for the collection and to use them for their own interpretive work. The project encouraged young people in Baltimore to recognize their own experiences and ideas, and those of the people around them, as historically significant and to embrace the work of public history as both a form of activism and a form of community service.