Lauren Turek: Omeka and the Undergraduate Public History Classroom

Hello all! My name is Lauren Turek and I am an assistant professor of history at Trinity University, where I teach courses in modern American history, U.S. foreign relations, and public history. My undergraduate public history class offers students an introduction to the field, including readings that highlight major debates about issues such as shared authority or how to share controversial histories with the public, as well as a practical overview of the wide range of work that public historians do in various settings and institutions. The final project for the course, which students work on throughout the semester, is a collaborative digital exhibit of materials from the Trinity University Coates Library Special Collections and Archives. Creating a digital exhibit allows students in the class to put what they have learned about creating usable, engaging histories into practice, while also gaining key skills in exhibit design, website building, and oral and visual communications. My WHA talk will address the most recent exhibit that my students designed.

During the Spring 2018 semester, my class of 15 students used Omeka to devise and develop an online exhibit of materials from the Claude and ZerNona Black Papers. Reverend Claude Black and his wife ZerNona were leaders in the civil rights movement in San Antonio as well as in the Baptist church and larger community. The Trinity University Coates Library acquired the collection, which documents decades of the Claude and ZerNona Black’s activism and family life, in 2011.

After the students received an introduction to the collection and class time to explore the materials they would be using for the project, we came up with a set of key themes that the exhibit would cover. Based on these themes, I divided the class into five teams of three and worked with them as they developed the key takeaways and texts for their sections of the exhibit. Each team selected relevant documents, photographs, and objects from the archive to include in their section. At the end of the semester, we held a public exhibit opening at the Trinity University Coates Library where the teams presented on their parts of the exhibit, explaining how they had applied the lessons of the course to their exhibit design process. Special Collections integrated the exhibit that the students built into the library website to provide visitors and researchers with information about the collection as well as a rich introduction to Claude and ZerNona Black. Visitors can access the exhibit via this link.

In my talk at the WHA, I will discuss the exhibit as well as how I structured this assignment and how the students responded to it. I will also reflect on lessons that I learned for the future in terms of refining this assignment and guiding students through the process of creating exhibits for the Special Collections library.

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