As a graduating senior my interest in the History Harvest class and project began with my desire for a hands-on experience doing history to cap off my career at UNL. I felt a bit of a deficit in the concrete skills I had developed as an undergrad and thought that the History Harvest might offer a more tangible opportunity to do historical work and develop some more skills than those I gained in the traditional classroom setting.
As an Omaha native, I really had never experienced North Omaha. The History Harvest then plopped us in the center of this community that I had largely ignored my whole life, challenged us to learn about it and make a contribution. To be honest, because I had no previous experience in collecting historical artifacts or oral histories, I felt slightly worried about what I could really do to help the community, as well as what our class could do. But then came our work with the Great Plains Black History Museum. The Museum site itself was crumbling—and so, too, sadly, were many of the artifacts inside. We spent a long Saturday and multiple classes sorting through and organizing the fragile and nearly forgotten artifacts of the Great Plains Black History Museum. Working with the artifacts completely changed my thought process toward living history—seeing that despite the fact that we were novices, our small group of students could make a historical impact and help save some of North Omaha’s vital and important past. It was energizing.
During the actual harvest, community members who brought in artifacts understood that their personal history contributed to the collective history of the community, and even the broader history, as a whole. At the same time, they were often surprised that we wanted to do this, that we wanted to know these things, collect their objects and share them with others. It was this personal connectivity, seeing the way community members appreciated our interest in their history and the way the project valued these long-ignored artifacts and made them visible, that had a big impact on me. I realized then that the History Harvest was a unique and deeply meaningful learning experience for both the students, as well as the community members who participated.
The History Harvest also helped prepare me for my graduate work in library science at the University of Illinois. After collecting the artifacts through digitization, we processed, uploaded and organized them into an Omeka-based web-archive. Because we were the first to build the archive, the lively discussions we had about archival standards and best practices really helped me in my first year of graduate school as we have explored different approaches to organizing and cataloging information. My participation in the History Harvest project definitely gave me a bit of familiarity with these topics that many other students in my graduate program did not have.
Ali Bousquet was an undergraduate student in the North Omaha History Harvest course held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Fall 2011 semester.