What lies beneath us? Thousands of forgotten cemeteries–mostly African American–that were sold and destroyed for development exist beneath neighborhoods, stores, parks, etc all across the United States.
For my practicum project this semester I am working specifically with the Columbian Harmony Cemetery. This was a cemetery in Washington D.C. that opened in 1825 and closed in 1957 after the owners went bankrupt and had to sell it. The cemetery was the first all-black cemetery in the city and held great community value. Most of the bodies were carelessly put into a mass grave and some bodies were not moved at all after it was sold. Currently, there is a parking lot, metro station, and retail spaces on the former cemetery. The cemetery has been widely forgotten, though there are recent movements to memorialize it and the people who were interred there. Because of this project, I want to create a resource that helps people identify forgotten cemeteries.
The Columbian Harmony Cemetery is one of many cemeteries across the United States with this tragic ending. For my digital project, I am proposing a digital, interactive map of the forgotten cemeteries across the country. This map would exist on a website (it could eventually be developed into an app or even a third-party extension onto google maps). The website would feature an actual map of the United States with pins to designate where the cemeteries are located. Then a viewer could click a pin and it would zoom into the location and they would see photos of the current landscape. It would also display information about the former cemetery, such as name, the years it was opened, notable people buried there, and why the cemetery closed–if that information is available. The user would also be able to search for a cemetery by name on the website.
A comparable project is findagrave.com on this website users can search by cemetery or name to find people’s burial sites. It does not include a map and users can contribute to it so there is an ever-growing resource. My project would focus on only forgotten cemeteries and would not include a feature to search by individual person since the records for these cemeteries are usually incomplete. However, findagrave.com is a good model for my project because it has a user-friendly interface but is also a vast resource.
This project can engage a wide range of audiences. Tourists who are interested in exploring the history of the United States can use this map on their travels. Historians and archaeologists can use it for memorialization projects and as a reference for their work. Students can study the map to learn about the history of the country. Also because many of the cemeteries were majority African American the cemetery map can be used in conversations about racial injustice. Schools would be the initial target for publicizing this website. There are numerous ways to incorporate this tool into a classroom and it can be useful from elementary school through graduate school. This project will be evaluated by website usage and effectiveness. Since teachers will be the first people targeted to use the website, the developers will stay in contact with the teachers for feedback about its usage in the classroom and student feedback. As the site grows, it will be evaluated through internet traffic and historians often review sites such as the one I am proposing so those reviews will be used for feedback as well.
I am looking forward to hearing your feedback or if you know of any cemeteries that could be included in this project.
Historians have made Twitter a forum for education and engagement. They coined the term Twitterstorians to describe the growing community of historians on Twitter. Museums and other historical associations and businesses also have Twitter pages. This allows the general public to engage with sites such as the Smithsonian and see their events but the personal accounts of Twitterstorians allows for them to use the platform as a medium for conversation and debate. It is used to promote projects and books and to collaborate with or seek advice from peers. The digital world has many opportunities for historians and those interested in learning about history. Twitter offers a unique platform for anyone to participate in and learn from the discussion. Historians are taking advantage of it and I am interested in understanding how they use it and what they are learning from Twitter.
There are also subcommunities within the broad Twitterstorians, for example, the hashtag #BlckTwitterStorians is used to help African American historians to connect and engage with each other as well as discuss how their cultures and identities interact with their work. These historians are creating the space they need for themselves to show their research and share their experiences as historians of color. Should there be other hashtags for other identities, such as female historians and female historians of color? Twitter has the medium to establish these other threads that do not have to interfere with the others but can be connected, providing a space for intersectionality.
From my inital observations, Twitterstorians do an excellent job at using the platform to connect with each other and create connections. However, I noticed that both professional organizations, such as the Smithsonian, and Twitterstorians do not use Twitter to its full potential in connecting with the general public. There are many ways to engage in conversations and promote educational infromation and events. Without doing any in depth research or having conversations with Twitterstorians, I believe they could take more advantage of what Twitter offers to its users. As it is argued in, “Why Wasn’t I Consulted?” by Paul Ford, people want to share their thoughts and feel like they are contributing to the discourse about topics in history and Twitter is a useful tool to do so, it is free and widely accessible to the general public. I do believe there should be a space to connect as professionals, without directing it towards broader audiences but Twitter offers the opportunity to do both on one platform. Should Twitter be said platform? Is there something else more accessible and better designed for historians?
As emerging professionals, we have all been encouraged to create Twitter pages to participate in these conversations. For my project, I am proposing interviews with Twitterstorians and analysis of their use of the platform. I want to ask them about why they use Twitter and if they believe it is effective for their work. Do they think Twitter engages the audience they are trying to connect? What do they feel are the downsides to Twitter? Twitterstorians can also offer advice as to whether emerging professionals should be participating in the conversations and what it can do for their careers. I would interview a few Twitterstorians but also create a survey that I could share to reach a broader audience of historians. My questions would include book recommendations, advice for emerging professionals, and reasons why they use Twitter and its effectiveness. Twitterstorians are proof of the growth of the digital world in the field of history and ways professionals are capitalizing on the new mediums available.
The first reading, “The myth of Amateur Crowds: A critical discourse analysis of crowdsourcing coverage” is a study of the effectiveness of crowdsourcing and who participates in it. The author is arguing that people tend to be dismissive of crowdsourcing because they assume the participants are under-qualified. People tend to assume only amateurs contribute to crowdsourcing, which makes the information or contribution unreliable. However, the author of this article is challenging that notion and arguing crowdsourcing is an effective measure to create a community and it is often professionals who contribute. The research shows that people engage with crowdsourcing and those people are often well educated, professionals in their fields. In terms of digital history, this is an interesting thought for museums. How can museums crowdsource to create communities and have a shared authority? Can crowd sourcing be used within the digital history communities?
The second reading, “Building a Volunteer Community; Results and Findings from the Transcribe Bentham” is a case study on how the online transcription service used crowdsourcing to find participants and create a community. While most participants did not become permanent volunteers, it was still an important study to learn how to engage a community and evidence of how professionals participate. But it also pointed out something interesting in that the volunteers did not engage with each other. What does this mean for digital history? How can a more lasting community be established through crowdsourcing?
“Dark Matter” is an article about how technology and websites are the future of museums because it is a new form to engage with people and share information. It also points to how people contribute to the internet. How they utilize platforms to engage with each other. Because of this it is important to know how museums and histories contribute to this information sharing. In that same vein, how can people engage with museums and contribute their thoughts? Shared authority is important in digital history, so how can online formats crowdsource and interact with viewers?
Finally, “Why I wasn’t Consulted” demonstrates how people want a say in what they participate in. They want to be involved and their opinion to be recognized. It is essential for creating a shared authority within digital history because visitors want to share their knowledge to engage. How can you consult visitors in digital history? Digital history (and public history) is dependent on viewers, and therefore it is essential they are consulted. Can you think of a digital history that you as a viewer were consulted and how you connected to it?
The essential theme to these writings is how can we engage our viewers? How do we share authority and help viewers create meaning? Digital history can reach so many people and they need to feel participatory in the conversations. So, how do we do that?
Hi everyone! My name is Amanda Gallagher, I am a first year student in the Public History Master’s Program at AU. I am passionate about history and education and in the future would like to work in a museum doing education or the National Parks Service. My historical interests are mostly gender and sexuality and race history. I did my senior thesis in college on France during WWII, so French history will always hold a special place in my heart. Fun fact I also speak French!
In our course this semester, I am really looking forward to learning about online exhibits and how visitors interact with them. There are many different techniques to presenting information and engaging viewers, so I am interested in learning more. In a broader sense of the graduate program, I am hoping to make meaningful connections and discover the possibilities of public history. This is a broad field with many opportunities and different paths. I am looking forward to finding out what I am best suited for and the different ways I can grow and challenge myself in this field.
A few things non-historical things about me, I have two cats (Cornelius and Octavia) and I promise you they will both show up on screen at some point this semester. And I am completely obsessed with them. I also have to dogs at home in Baltimore (Nova and Maverick) so most of my time that is not grad school related in spent with the cats or the dogs. I also have three siblings, but they are infinitely less important than the animals. I’m currently living just outside DC. If you’re in the area I would love to meet up but also super happy to just chat 🙂