A new digital public history project at the College of Charleston — part of an emerging field that is revolutionizing the accessibility of history scholarship — helps tell the complex multicultural history of South Carolina.
The Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI) launches on February 18, 2014. This initiative is hosted by the Lowcountry Digital Library at the College of Charleston and is funded through grants from the Humanities Council of South Carolina and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.
The project signals the College’s first large-scale offering in digital public history, a growing area of history education that combines the scholarly research of academic works with the visual imagery, archival materials, and accessible historical context associated with museum exhibits in an online platform.
Mary Battle, LDHI Project Director
Mary Battle, public historian at the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and LDHI project director, said the focus of the initiative is to highlight underrepresented race, class, gender, and labor histories within and connected to the Lowcountry region.
Many of the first online exhibits for LDHI deal with the history of slavery and African Americans’ long struggle for civil rights in the Lowcountry, including: African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations; After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Emancipation Carolinas; The Orange Massacre; the Charleston Hospital Workers Movement, 1968-1969; A History of Burke High School in Charleston, South Carolina since 1894; African Laborers for a New Empire: Iberia, Slavery, and the Atlantic World; and Forgotten Fields: Inland Rice Plantations in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
These early exhibits draw on research by faculty from the College of Charleston as well as other universities and colleges, and many feature archival materials from Lowcountry Digital Library partners, including the Avery Research Center and the South Carolina Historical Society, as well as archives from universities, museums, and libraries around the world.
New exhibitions will be added to the site over time, Battle said. “Through this inclusive approach to history, public audiences can more effectively engage the diverse international history and struggles of the Lowcountry as an Atlantic World society.”
Heather Gilbert, digital scholarship librarian; and Tyler Mobley, digital services librarian, use a large-format scanner to digitize archival material at Addlestone Library. Gilbert and Mobley are part of the team working on the LDHI project.
Project staff collaborate with scholars, archivists, digital librarians, and museum professionals to organize materials and layout exhibits using Omeka — a free, open source content management system for online digital collections and exhibitions.
Each exhibit is richly illustrated with photos and historical documents, and site users can learn more about the research presented by exploring the “Sources” section of each project, as well as following embedded hyperlinks. For example, the exhibit the Charleston Hospital Workers Movement, 1968-1969 by project author Kerry Taylor features handwritten notes, letters, and flyers that help bring to life this pivotal event in Charleston’s civil rights movement.
Another exhibit by project author Jon Hale chronicles the history of Charleston’s Burke High School, which will be of interest to a variety of local and national audiences. Tracing the school’s beginnings in 1894 as the Charleston Industrial Institute, the exhibit recounts Burke’s evolving academic mission and its central role in the education of generations of Charlestonians.
LDHI is managed by Battle at the Avery Research Center and by staff from Addlestone Library, including John White, Dean of College of Charleston Libraries; Heather Gilbert, digital scholarship librarian; and Tyler Mobley, digital services librarian and key web designer for LDHI.
Graduate research assistants from the College’s graduate history program, which is run jointly with The Citadel, are instrumental in helping develop and lay out the digital projects. The graduate assistants, Bradley Blankemeyer, Andrew Cuadrado, and Beth Gniewek, also gain invaluable research and professional experience working on the project.
Bradley Blankemeyer and Andrew Cuadrado (L to R), graduate research assistants from the College’s graduate history program, discuss LDHI exhibit photos with Aaron Spelbring, manager of archival services at Avery Research Center.
Each exhibition is vetted for permissions and usage rights, and the text is reviewed by scholars who serve as editorial contributors. Another important advantage of digital exhibits, in contrast to physical exhibitions, is that they can be easily updated as additional information becomes available or new findings are brought to light.
“The LDHI project expands on the success of the Lowcountry Digital Library and makes archival collections more accessible,” said White. “These expertly curated exhibits provide historical context for many unique resources from LCDL and beyond.”
For more information about the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, contact project director and public historian Mary Battle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843.953.7612.