DC Communities: International Families and Their Creation of Identity – Oral History Project Extension

I would like to propose an extension of an oral history project that I began with Jack Cunningham last semester. Being from the Midwest, Jack and I took an interest in the incredibly diverse and ‘transplanted’ population here in the DMV area. I became aware of the massive international population thanks to my relatives whom I live with, and the families their children are friends with. The young girl I live with is friends with two little girls born in Finland whose parents are from Bolivia and Finland, and whose older siblings were born in Bolivia. This family is in the United States on an extended three-year work contract. We had the pleasure of interviewing this family as well as a family from Ukraine and England, whose children were born in England and live here permanently.

While coming up with the parameters for the project, Jack and I determined we would interview couples who are both not from the United States who now have school aged children. That way the couples inherently have something in common, even if it just having children in the American school system. We went into this oral history project to explore a variety of factors, beginning with the basic concept of how people create a sense of identity, and how that processes changes across borders. What sorts of experiences impacted an individual before they met their partner? How do the husband’s and wife’s answers vary from that of their partner?

Ultimately our objective was to gain an understanding of the international population that makes up DC, focusing on the themes of family, work, identity – national identity, worldview, and home country. Our concluding questions included: How do you compare your citizenship status to your national identity? Do you identify as an American? What sorts of things create a person’s identity?

While brainstorming final project ideas, we came up with either a podcast or an interactive exhibit-like website. We decided to create a podcast because it best fit our skills, but felt like given the time the website would have been the most effective way to communicate these family’s stories and draw deeper conclusions.

I propose following up on this project and producing a story-map like website that tracks the family’s stories across the globe. Imagine a map similar to Google Maps with elements of Prezi that move the audience from country to country, following the narrator’s life. ArchGIS/story mapper is probably the best format for this project. The website would feature four curated story lines, one for each of the narrators. “Stops” along the individual’s route would feature commonalities and differences in the couples’ history, contributing to the history of that place.

Just like this! But digital…

The website could include items such as the interview guide, the podcast produced last semester, and other selected clips from the interviews. Let me know if there is other material you would be interested in seeing!

History of Bilingual Education in DCPS + Omeka.net

For this project, I would like to create a digital collection of DCPS policy and curriculum documents relating to immigration, immigrant-origin students, and the language of instruction in the twentieth century. If I undertake this project, I would plan to digitize relevant documents from the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives using Omeka.net. I am interested in finding documents that pertain to language rights, bilingual education, and Americanization programs in DCPS. I went to the Charles Sumner Archives and have identified documents and leads that I think I should be able to digitize and upload. According to the archive’s policies, researchers can request approval to digitize and distribute items from the archives.

I am interested, in part, because I am curious about how schools across the country responded to students whose primary language was not English. I want to learn about how (and hopefully, eventually, why) these responses have changed over time. I have read about the experiences of Latinx people in schools in the Southwest where they were often encouraged — or forced — to speak English. My father, who is Mexican American, did not really learn Spanish while his older siblings did. It was definitely not encouraged at his schools.

I’m interested in how power and language are framed in US history and across localities.  Part of what interests me about this, too, is how popular bilingual education is now, especially in Washington, D.C. Earlier, it seems, when the population was different, it was viewed as a problem because of the deficit framing of students in marginalized groups. I am curious to learn more about how bilingual education policies have changed and for whose benefit.

Moving forward, I hope to better understand how these policies and practices shape education of immigrant-origin students today to help determine what culturally sustaining pedagogies  might look like.

Based on the searches I have conducted, there does not seem to be much work done on history of bilingual education and immigrant-origin youth in D.C. Public Schools. There is an interesting organization called Story of Our Schools that works with DCPS students to research their own schools and create exhibits about them.  There’s also a great project (that I need to explore more) called Mapping Segregation that includes a section on DCPS. The archivist I spoke with at the Sumner Archives mentioned that she wasn’t aware of any work previously done about the history of bilingual education in DCPS. I would hope that this resource would be useful for historians of education, education researchers, teachers, and members of the community. For outreach, I would try to share this with my in-person and digital teacher networks. I wonder if the Charles Sumner Schools Museum and Archives might also share the project once I have made some progress. I could reach out to specific educators I know who teach about immigration and DC. One measure of evaluation would be the number of visitors to the website. I could follow up with educators I know to see if they use this in their courses. I would hope that this spurs new research on language of instruction in schools in DC!

Project Proposal: DC’s Lost Cemeteries

Washington DC’s history is plagued with the cloud of gentrification. From the massive SW Urban renewal project to the more recent developments in Chinatown, the urban ;landscape has undergone massive changes that have altered entire neighborhoods and populations of people in the process. Gentrification is its own can of worms and a debate for another project. Although the impacts and urban renewal projects in the District have been well documented and researched, for the most part, one aspect has flown under the radar of researchers: cemeteries.

Cemeteries can tell us amazing things about the population that lived in the area: the predominant religion, ethnicity, race, and class of the individuals (that can be determined by the size and how elaborate the headstone is). They give us a view into the past without being overtly historical in the traditional sense. That is one of the more interesting parts of a cemetery!

For this project, I am proposing a digital mapping project using Historypin, Google Maps, or a similar tool to show where the cemeteries of DC used to be. Each pin would have the name, picture, and brief history of the cemetery. When was it founded? By whom? Who is buried there? Who owned the cemetery? When was it destroyed? What happened to the land/bodies once it was slated for removal? Those types of questions can guide researchers to other questions based on the findings. Where there any cemeteries removed for racial or religious reasons? Was there a trend of removing a particular type of cemetery? Etc. The answers to those questions combined with seeing where the cemeteries used to be based on the digital mapping will allow users to get a better understanding of a lesser thought of just how destructive gentrification can be.

As of now, it appears to me that there has been little to no research done on this topic specifically. I would need to create my own database in essence to accomplish this project and do it justice. That would involve hitting the archives and the DC city records to get an idea of older maps and layouts of the city prior to urban renewal.

Now, I have not landed on a time frame as of yet. I will have to see what the records say. I could expand it to include cemeteries that were destroyed not due to urban renewal. Again, I have not made up my mind on that yet.

I think this project provides a great opportunity to see the history of the city through a unique lens and perspective that incorporates both archival research, digital history, and to an extent, community history as well. All things that Public Historians need to keep in mind when working on and framing a project.

Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Access to Abortion in D.C.

Even 40-plus years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, abortion remains inaccessible to many women across the country. State-imposed restrictions have led to fewer clinics, and a lack of resources has disproportionally affected poor women and women of color’s access to abortion.

Source: Guttmacher Institute, 2019

Reproductive justice scholars, working in tandem with activists, have long engaged in conversation on this issue. They critique mostly white feminists, who they argue wrongly champion the issue of abortion, and contend that the discussion should be less about choice and more about access. In focusing solely on the pro-life/pro-choice debate, popular narratives exclude marginalized women who, despite the legality of abortion, may not even have the right to choose. Reasons include oppressive conditions and/or a lack of options that limit their access to essential services. In shifting our conversations from choice to access, it becomes evident that access more comprehensively defines women’s lived experience and how they seek reproductive justice, including obtaining an abortion.

For my digital project proposal, I seek to work within this framework to examine access to abortion in Washington, D.C. from before the passage of Roe v. Wade to the present day. Starting in the 1960s, I will do research to find out where women could receive an abortion in D.C., whether it was at a hospital (such as Georgetown Hospital), a clinic (such as Preterm), or an individual’s discretion (such as Dr. Milan Viutch). D.C. provides a unique case study because its 1901 abortion law differed from other states; it permitted abortions necessary to preserve a pregnant woman’s life or health. Most other jurisdictions at the time had prohibitions with life-saving exceptions, but did not mention the health of the woman. The inclusion of “health” often acted as a loophole that provided justification for some cases of legal abortions in D.C.

Counselors answer phones at Preterm, D.C.’s first abortion clinic, in 1971. Source: Washington Area Spark, Flickr.

If possible, I will track down the locations of places that provided abortions in D.C. over the years and use Google Maps to visually display them. Users will be able to toggle back and forth between different years to see just how (in)accessible abortions were in D.C. over an extended period of time. Did access to abortion actually increase after Roe v. Wade? What options existed for women before Roe, when abortion itself was illegal but women could obtain “therapeutic abortions”? An additional aspect of this study is the contribution it will make to understanding social justice in the context of Washington, D.C. It will be important to note the location of institutions and other resources which provided abortions. Did some neighborhoods lack access to these resources? How do demographics, including race and socioeconomic status, inform this study?

Following the model of projects like PhilaPlace, I will embed my map in a WordPress website to provide context for my project. This will include background information on the reproductive justice movement and the history of abortion in D.C. I imagine that I will experience some difficulties in finding places where women could historically obtain abortions, and it will likely be impossible to identify all of the locations. It could thus be worthwhile to have a crowdsourcing aspect to the website, where women who have had abortions in D.C. could add sites on the map, with the option to do so anonymously. I would also like to create space for these women to share their stories on their own terms and have conversations about their experiences, along the lines of Shout Your Abortion. This collaborative aspect would demonstrate my commitment to doing this project for and with the women who have experienced abortion in D.C.

Source: ACLU

Unveiling Slave Ownership in the National Gallery of Art

Though America is only starting to come to terms with explicit examples of slavery’s impact on the country—the interpretation of plantations, for example—I believe that it is crucial to unpack the minute way that slavery shaped the culture of our country, often in less visible ways. Inspired by the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project at University College London, I would like to create a digital exhibit which reveals the way that slave money in America has molded our country’s cultural heritage. Specifically, I would like to document the numerous art works and artifacts in our country’s museums which were purchased/commissioned with or influenced by money from slave trading or plantation income. In addition, I plan to illuminate portraiture and other forms of art that display Americans who kept others in bondage, hung in museum galleries without mention of the business that allowed them to accumulate their wealth.

Originally, I had hoped to do a broad study of multiple museums across America, either documenting specific art works or creating a map with pins representing sites which house these types of artifacts or art works. Now, I think that this might be too ambitious. Instead, I propose an Omeka-based online exhibit which specifically compiles and documents the impact of slavery in the artworks held within Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art.

I consider the NGA to be the premier site to assess these legacies in America, as a government-run entity meant to represent the country, as well as home to some of the most iconic art in the country.

Image result for national gallery of art washington dc
Source: Washington Post

To give one example: within the galleries, there are numerous works by Charles Willson Peale, famous portraitist of Revolutionary heroes like George Washington. However, the fact that he enslaved a man named Moses Williams goes unmentioned in any didactic text about the artist. In fact, Moses worked for Peale and later became an artist in his own right.

Image result for charles willson peale
You may also know Peale as the creator of America’s first museum.
Source: PA Academy of Fine Arts

Using Omeka, I will compile works (available online through the NGA’s own database) and tell these hidden histories. I hope that this project can illuminate the insidious effect of slave ownership on the culture consumed by Americans through the present day, and the way that museums have (unintentionally or intentionally) hidden less-desirable provenance or backstory to acclaimed works within their collections. By starting with the National Gallery of Art, I hope that this can expand to other museums across America and unearth previously untold stories of the enslaved and their oft-ignored experiences.