One of the strengths of The History Harvest is our practice of making a digital replica of an item or oral history, so contributors do not have to sacrifice possession of their artifacts. This practice is also advantageous in terms of accessibility, as digital items can be duplicated and viewed and used simultaneously by individuals across the world. Open access is also an essential component to the History Harvest’s goals, which include representing the historical experiences of the people of the nation. In this spirit, we cannot lock up these items in elite institutions, but rather strive for access to individuals outside of academe and of all socioeconomic backgrounds. This is especially important in regards to our two most recent events, where we worked with people whose histories are often hidden or invisible, or whose cultural artifacts have been stolen, decontextualized, or manipulated in the past.
It can be very difficult to strike a balance between free and open use and the protection of one’s very personal family and cultural history can be a difficult. Contributors provide all ownership of digital copies to The History Harvest, so it is our duty to try to find a balance that best serves our purposes and those of our generous contributors. With this in mind, we have given a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA, meaning that the materials are free to share and remix, on the condition that attribution is given, the items are not used for commercial purposes, and derivative works are distributed with the same open license. Although we can give items more restrictive licenses when needed, the Creative Commons license ensures that the materials can be freely utilized for further scholarly inquiry and collections. At the same time, the Noncommercial and Share Alike conditions prevent others from taking advantage of these materials and placing important histories behind paywalls or otherwise profiting from them.
The members of the communities we have worked with have provided a great service to our archive and our students, and we must make a concerted effort to give back to these individuals and organizations. It is important that members of the community have access to these histories, and are aware of the archive’s existence. The archive is open and free online, built upon the open source Omeka platform, and is deliberately designed to be simple and easy to use. However, open licenses and simple UI can only take the access so far; we must take steps to bridge the digital divide in these communities with socioeconomic and language barriers. Next week, History Harvest students will be going back to the Lincoln, NE refugee community for a brief presentation and discussion with some of the participants. We have also had some great local press, and hope for continued media coverage in the future. I hope to develop a relationship with local public libraries and community centers to try to close the digital divide as best we can, and ensure that people in these communities have access to their histories.
Brandon Locke is a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is Project Manager of The History Harvest, and has assisted with the North Omaha and Lincoln Refugee History Harvests.