Digital Archives, Dark Histories, and Persuasive Video Games

Things have been pretty chaotic between my new job, planning for the Digital Sandbox, and making revisions to my thesis. I am also organizing some thoughts for a future post on the American Historical Association’s recent statement on embargoing doctoral dissertations for up to six years. In the meantime, here are some interesting articles I’ve come across lately.

Digital Archives

  • The National Endowment for the Humanities paid a $250,000+ grant to the University of Virginia library in 2010 to digitize a collection of news clips from WSLS-TV in Roanoke, Virginia. These clips have recently gone live and span twenty years worth of news (1951-1971). Apparently they are the only records from a TV station in the area that still exist today, and I have no doubt that these will be utilized by historians and other interested parties who want to learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Era and/or Virginia history.
  • Northeastern University has created a digital archive for the Boston Marathon bombings. This archive includes photos, oral histories, and an archived cache of tweets and Facebook status updates, demonstrating the fact that social media usage today is tomorrow’s documentary record for historians. The website runs on an Omeka platform and is a bit clunky at this point. I’d recommend that readers start by viewing the collections page, which has various records broken up into easily understandable categories. I was particularly moved by a story from Sydney Corcoran, an 18 year old whose mother lost both of her legs in the bombings.

Dark Histories

  • My friend Bob Pollock at Yesterday… and Today has an essay from Joan Stack, Curator of Art Collections at the Missouri State Historical Society in Columbia. She recently went with her family to see “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede,” in Branson, Missouri. She concluded that the show did a lot of “whitewashing” of history, avoiding tough subjects like slavery and American Indian displacement while presenting a narrative of reconciliation that portrays (white) United States and Confederate soldiers as brothers who were all “patriotic and noble.” The essay brought back memories of my own trips to Branson as a child, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Nevertheless, I was struck by Stack’s comment about the show being “interesting because it makes a sanitized, symbolic Civil War the focus of an exhibition about white Americans understanding of themselves.”
  • Giovanni Palatucci has been lauded in history as the “Italian Schindler” who saved the lives of 5,000 Jews from a Nazi death camp in Italy called Risiera di San Sabba. Well, it turns out that this story may be complete bunk, and the police officer may have actually done the opposite and ruthlessly enforced Benito Mussolini’s fascist policies. A fascinating and ongoing story that I will try to follow as new developments take place.
  • A state-run reform school in Florida was closed two years ago. Now Governor Rick Scott has called for archaeologists, anthropologists, and other researchers to exhume 90 unmarked graves of boys who died at the school throughout its 100 year history. Perhaps Governor Scott–who just a few months ago asked “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”–now sees the importance of having anthropologists around.

Persuasive Video Games

I’ve been mulling over this talk given by University of Georgia professor Ian Bogost on video games as tools for increasing awareness in society about pressing political and social issues:

How might historians utilize video games to increase awareness about the importance of history? Some games like Assassin’s Creed III have utilized elements of history in their games, but I think it’s a field that has room for growth. Learning can be both entertaining and serious at the same time.

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