My name is Stephanie Richmond and I’m an assistant professor of history at Norfolk State University. NSU is a historically black college in Norfolk, Virginia, and I teach US history, African American history and women’s history to our undergraduates. I am a historian of antislavery and early feminism in the United States and Great Britain, and I am also part of the 1619: The Making of America committee [http://www.1619.us], which is working on commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia and the founding of the House of Burgesses.
I applied to the first class of community reps because my university does not have access to a lot of the larger online archival collections that I was used to from my graduate work, and I thought that learning more about DPLA would be helpful both for my own research and for teaching. When I started reading about DPLA as I put my application together, I was struck by the enormously ambitious and poetic goal that DPLA “strives to contain the whole breadth of human expression” in its collection. As a historian, I see this as the real goal of academic history: to introduce the public and students to the diversity of human experience over time and space.
DPLA’s collection is well on its way to providing access into the myriad aspects of humanity, and the staff has found some interesting ways to let us in to the collection. The unique search tools DPLA has developed have prompted some interesting research and teaching ideas (the timeline feature is really fun to play with to get students thinking about trends over a long period of time and to demonstrate how search terms impact results). If you use the timeline feature to zoom in on the year 1619, for example, you quickly see that the majority of documents available are not in English, but in Spanish and French. If you ask an American history class of college freshmen why they think that is, it gets them thinking about the historical narrative they have been taught and how widening their focus outward will change the way they look at the past. College students today have the entire world at their fingertips through their smartphones, but figuring out how to understand, organize and sort through that information is a challenge they need help with.
After a couple of conversations with DPLA staff about teaching and DPLA’s collection, I was invited to help organize a group of community reps who are teachers and librarians who work with teachers to develop lesson plans and activities using DPLA tools and materials. The group is just getting started, and we’d love to have more teachers at all levels participating in creating something that is both useful and captures the goals of DPLA and to pass some of that spirit of discovery and wonder on to future generations. The group is also designed to share ideas and resources and to help each other build fun activities that center around DPLA’s collections that we can use in our classrooms.
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