Student Driven Research and Digital History

James O. Horton was my mentor, and I was his graduate research assistant when he began work on the book Slavery and Public History. That book identified some of the specific ways that the history of slavery remains a “problem” in public discourse, at historic sites, in preservation, and elsewhere. I assign the book regularly. The recent creation of Harriet Tubman National Historic Site presents an opportunity for us to re-think the public history of slavery, to create new modes of story telling, to identify new questions that will feel relevant to site visitors, and to use new methods for engaging audiences in the interpretation of a difficult past. This fall, I will be partnering with the Maryland State Archives Legacy of Slavery project on a public history practicum class. Students will identify the problem that slavery has posed in the realm of public history. They will conduct research to find compelling stories that demonstrate why it matters when different states have different laws governing freedom, different definitions of migration, and different attitudes toward “catching” and “kidnapping.” They will work with specialists from the UMBC New Media Studio to develop digital stories. In the meantime, during our two week workshop, I am also looking for ideas about how best to collect, map, present, and preserve this work so that the project can be ongoing.