Teaching Special Collections with TeachArchives.org

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of welcoming one of Dr. Hilary Green’s class into the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection. While I have worked with Dr. Green in the past for a class on African American History, this one is titled “Civil War Still Lives!: Race, Memory, and Politics of Reunion.” The course focuses on Civil War memory and specifically asks students to examine the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction at The University of Alabama.

I was particularly excited to work with Dr. Green’s class for two reasons. The first is that the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection is rich in sources regarding the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. We have an extensive collection of regimental histories, biographies and memoirs, published speeches, and photographs from the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the turn of the twentieth century. These sources provide valuable insight into which aspects of the Civil War would be remembered and promoted and which would be silenced in the pursuit of national reunification. Given our collection’s concentration on the Civil War, I was happy to expose Dr. Green’s class to this material and explain its historical importance.

Secondly, the instruction session allowed me to implement some of the advice I had learned from attending the American Historical Association conference in January. I attended a panel where Julie Golia, the Director of Public History at the Brooklyn Historical Society, explained the project that gave rise to TeachArchives.org. The Brooklyn Historical Society received a three-year grant in 2011 that allowed them to bring in 1,110 students from Long Island University Brooklyn, New York City College of Technology, and Saint Francis College and teach them to analyze original documents. The BHS sought to improve understanding of special collections research and effectively demystify the process of conducting primary source research. TeachArchives.org is the culmination of this project and provides invaluable guidance for teaching methods and instruction.

After attending the session, I decided that I would bring some of the strategies discussed on TeachArchives.org into my own instruction and outreach. For Dr. Green’s class, I expanded my explanation of the rules and regulations of a special collections library, explained the challenges that different materials like newspapers and photographs present, and provided a thorough list of examples of what can be used within the Williams Collection and UA’s Division of Special Collections as a whole. Instead of simply lecturing, I sat with the students and let the conversation flow to questions and concerns that they had. Overall, the session was much more relaxed than in previous classes and it seemed as though the students felt more prepared for their research. In the future I’ll continue to pull from TeachArchives.org as we expand our outreach and encourage students to visit and conduct research within our collections.

Alabama Heritage Magazine

I am happy to announce that I had recently had a piece published in Alabama Heritage Magazine! The piece, “Cartes de Visite in the American South,” describes Likenesses Within the Reach of All and explores some of the Alabama photographers whose work appears in the project. It’s my first piece to appear in print (I’ve usually written pieces that appear online) so I’m very excited. If you or your institution has a copy, be sure to take a look at the Summer 2015 issue!

Director of Research and Academic Programs, A.S. Williams III Americana Collection

I’m excited to announce that beginning June 1, I will be come the Director of Research and Academic Programs in the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection at The University of Alabama. I’ve worked in the Williams Collection since I arrived at UA and the position is everything I could hope for. I’ll be promoting the Williams Collection on a campus, a regional, and a national level, guiding digitization strategies to broaden the reach of the Collection, and creating projects and exhibitions that will showcase what the Collection has to offer.

If you were to ask me a year ago if I would be starting a tenure-track job in a fantastic archive only ten months after handing in my dissertation, I would have told you no. The new position is an amazing opportunity in an ideal spot and I could not be happier.

Baltimore and the Tradition of American Rioting

That Devil History

The militarization of city police forces is a spark that's leghting up neighborhoods primed for explosition by decades of beneath-the-surface social unrest. The militarization of city police forces like those in Baltimore is a spark that’s lighting up neighborhoods primed for explosion by decades of beneath-the-surface social unrest.

Another day in America, another racially charged urban riot sparked by the suspicious death of a black person at the hands of the police.

This time, it’s happening in Baltimore, where there continues to be a glaring lack of information regarding the death of a Freddie Gray. Police arrested Gray on April 12 — for no reason other than the fact that Gray apparently ran — and by April 19, Gray died from “spinal injuries.” If that seems bizarre, that’s because it is. According to witness Kevin Moore, who recorded Gray’s arrest, the cops had Gray “folded up like he was a crab, or like a piece of origami.” Go ahead and view the video at the link, it’s not easy to watch, unless…

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Spring in Alabama


I’ve been busy! Since my last update, I’ve been hard at work in the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection at The University of Alabama. Right now, I am finishing up a project involving early twentieth-century Alabama postcards. The collection looks at how Alabama presented itself in the New South and how postcards captured the social, cultural, and economic development of the era. The project will eventually be part of a book which should be released later this year. In addition, I wrote a short piece on the cartes-de-visite in the Williams Collection that will appear in Alabama Heritage magazine this summer.

In mid-March, I presented on Likenesses Within the Reach of All at the Alabama Digital Humanities Center and explained how the process came about and the tools that I used to bring it all together. A few weeks later, I headed to South Bend, Indiana to present at the American Catholic Historical Association’s Spring Meeting. My talk explored the Ursuline convent burning of 1834, which, for those of you who know me, is a topic I’ve explored quite a bit in the past. It was well received and has encouraged me to finally brush up the article version for publication.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be giving talks at Digitorium, ADHC’s inaugural digital humanities conference. Today will be a workshop on Google Fusion Tables and OpenRefine, while tomorrow will be a more formal panel on The Battle of Atlanta project I worked on at Emory University. These talks will help get me in the groove for my final talk this month, which will be a library-wide presentation on Likenesses.

New Play the Past Article: Valiant Hearts, The Great War, and The Shaping of Historical Memory

I have a new piece up on Play the Past concerning Valiant Hearts, a narrative-driven puzzle game about World War I. I’ve been exploring the use of historical settings and events in video games over the last few years and this piece continues that trend. I look at how Valiant Hearts focuses on the human cost of war and the individual experience. You can find it here.