Digital Project Reflection: Homegrown History

Please, please pardon my awful pun but this project has actually really grown on me recently. I initially started out with the intention of producing a proof-of-concept for a resource that would provide a public audience with a place to learn more about how to actually produce a family history project. This intent has shifted over time, though it is not entirely divorced from that initial idea. Part of this stems from the fact that, simply put, I’m not an expert in the diverse fields and tools that I think family history projects stand to benefit from. Its difficult to write with an authoritative voice when you’re obviously not an authority.

So, the shape of Homegrown History has shifted to accommodate that acknowledgement. It is, at this time, less a definitive resource for aspiring family historians (though it does still endeavor to be of some utility) and more a living family history project that I would actually like to continue moving forward. The intent is not, at this stage, to pontificate from an ivory tower about the way family history should be done. Rather my thinking has shifted more to using it as an example for how one family history project is being done.

There is still much work to be done, but I have a plan moving forward. I’ve made arrangements to sit down and do my first oral history interview with a family member in early June, which I think will give me a good deal of content to produce. I am still struggling to figure out how to incorporate images/visual interest into my posts without dropping in stock images. I do plan on adding more personal photos in future posts, but for the time being I do not have ready access to many of those short of asking my grandparents to attempt to wrestle with their scanner which I think has a very low chance of success.

In terms of changes made since the initial draft post, I have switched themes to a less noisome one, added two substantially more significant posts, made the necessary arrangements to schedule interview time back in PA so that I can produce the oral history posts I’ve had planned, added language to reflect my intent to have this site serve as a space that is welcoming to discussion, and added a commenting/discussion guidelines page.

Moving forward I am considering bumping myself up from the current free plan to get access to more control over how the site looks and so I can edit the current word salad that is my domain name. I also need to create a logo that doesn’t play into the “its a site about family so its gotta have trees” visual trope.

While I wouldn’t be silly enough to compare this project to a professional digital humanities blog/digital journal like the Journal of Digital Humanities, I was significantly influenced by the mindset behind that project, our discussion on the place of blogging in history, and notions brought up in our Public History Seminar course last semester. Shared authority is the most significant of these, and it has been something that I’ve been considering with increasing frequency while working on this project. So often the question asked by historians seems to be less about how we get people engaged with history and more about how do we get them to engage with it on our terms, by reading more. I don’t mean to suggest that academic history is irrelevant by any means or that it doesn’t have its place in society outside the academy, but I do certainly buy into the idea that there are still many other ways beyond it for people to engage with history. To paraphrase Rosenzweig and Thelen, its not that people don’t care about history, its that they don’t see themselves in history as its typically presented to them. My hope is that in some small way, by trying to show people that family history projects are feasible, that they are within their reach, that Homegrown History can make a step towards getting people more engaged with their history. People already view history through the lens of their family experiences, so my aim is to show a way in which you can take that family experience and set it within a larger context, and to make the argument that doing this sort of history work is valid.

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