The History Harvest is an innovative new authentic learning initiative in the Department of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This collaborative, team-oriented, student-centered and community-based project seeks to create a popular movement to democratize and open American history by utilizing digital technologies to share the experiences and artifacts of everyday people and local historical institutions. At each “harvest,” community-members are invited to bring and share their letters, photographs, objects and stories, and participate in a conversation about the significance and meaning of their materials. Each artifact is digitally captured and then shared in this free web-based archive for general educational use and study. Overall, the History Harvest project aims to raise visibility and public conversation about history and its meaning, as well as provide a new foundation of publicly available material for historical study, K-12 instruction, and life-long learning.
It is the collaborative, community-based approach to history, and the shared experience of giving, that is at the heart of the History Harvest concept. The project makes invisible histories and materials more visible by working with and within local communities to collect, preserve and share previously unknown or under-appreciated artifacts and stories. Initial “harvests” are taking place in a series of communities across the Great Plains region, but ultimately we hope others nationwide will join this movement by hosting “harvests” in their areas and contributing the artifacts they collect to this expanding national web-archive.
The artifact-based approach to this project elevates family and local histories by making them more available and, in the process, challenges the supremacy of traditional elite sources by dramatically expanding the pool of historical artifacts easily accessible to students, scholars and everyday people seeking to learn more about our collective past. The harvesting of local artifacts will reveal important new historical materials that are currently buried in attics, basements and archives. Both individuals and institutions can participate in this effort. For instance, a museum may wish to offer rarely seen items from its collection, or ones that attract the most attention locally; a community historical society might share a sampling of its holdings for digitization; or, an individual or family may bring their letters, photos or other interesting historical objects.
The History Harvest also provides students a unique and often transformative hands-on experience with historical work. Students, with the guidance of a faculty member, work as a team to plan, organize and promote each harvest and then process and analyze the artifacts and oral history interviews they collect. As a digital initiative, the project takes advantage of innovative new technologies to engage students in building history, reflecting on historical change, collaborating to create interpretive accounts of the materials they collect and sharing what they find with others. The History Harvest project, then, is designed explicitly to develop the online space for history and to support a new pedagogical model of teaching and learning that allows undergraduates to create and participate in a “community of scholars.” With the opportunity for other institutions to participate and federate with us, we envision the project as experiential, collaborative, authentic, scalable, embedded with new knowledge creation, public-spirited, locally oriented, and flexible.
We are excited for what the History Harvest movement could mean for the way the American past is collected, preserved and shared. Join us!
William G. Thomas and Patrick D. Jones
Co-Directors, The History Harvest