A New Year and a (New) Shift Toward Digital History

Hello history aficionados,

Happy New Year! What a fast autumn it has been as I have to pinch myself that it’s actually 2014. (Each year goes faster and faster, it seems.) I sincerely hope that each of you have enjoyed the holiday season.

What an amazing semester it has been with the students! Every project has it’s trials and tribulations, but overall, the Youth Historians program has been a success in my eyes and the students'. We have 11 beautiful and bright students who are committed to their historical topics and have already produced some great work and ideas this semester. Above all, the students' well-being comes first, and working with them is truly a privilege.

This second semester, we will be focusing even more on students’ ability to produce oral history interviews and be a part of creating a digital archive. I want this project to be, in part, an example of how urban high school students can create authentic pieces of historical knowledge. It is imperative that educators shift their paradigm of what students can “do” as these students have the ability to create “real” information that can be of value to their community (and liberating to themselves). The common narrative is that students do not have this ability, but this program is here to put a giant black scribble through that way of thinking. Sometimes the goal of programs such as this is not always about what we can find out, but conversely, about creating ‘something’ that works – for example, a blueprint or curriculum that other teachers can follow. Moving forward, Youth Historians will make this a bit more explicit; the idea that so-called high school students from urban schools can partner with graduate students and professors to create digital history exhibits is “new,” in a sense. If there is one giant take away from spending hundreds of hours with these students so far, it is that they want the work they do to be read widely -- as we all do! They are immensely curious, and I am truly excited for the journey ahead.

The big change, in relation to this digital shift, is the adoption of computers. The Google Chromebooks I purchased for each student to utilize has made a big difference in what is possible when comparing it to the program last year where computer access was inconsistent at best. Having technology that is accessible has made the possibilities with the digital archive, and program as a whole, much more far-reaching.

A few quick hits from the past month: students wrote a Preliminary Research Proposal (PRP) that had them learn footnotes and discuss what they have learned and want to research moving forward. Also, students met with Professor Ernest Morrell, the Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education, and Professor at Columbia University, and really enjoyed hearing about the importance of a program like this.

Questions? Comments? Don’t hesitate to reply and drop me a note! Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart (and back of my brain!), for all your support.

To youth,

-Barry

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