How we went North…

When Charlie Hardy suggested I collaborate with him on a class using old oral history interviews he recorded with African Americans who had migrated to Philadelphia during the Great Migration, I was game, because it sounded like cool content, but I kept trying to keep Charlie from getting his hopes set on greatness. I’d taught enough digital history courses that I knew not to set expectations too high, and to anticipate lots of tech fails.

When Charlie told me that Doug Boyd of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History was going to throw these interviews into something called OHMS for our students to use, I had no idea what he meant, and started asking a bunch of questions Charlie couldn’t yet answer. When the three of us had our first Google Hangout to talk about how OHMS—which by then I knew stood for Oral History Metadata Synchronizer—could work for our class, I evidently had a very skeptical look on my face, the real danger of being on a video call with colleagues when you’re terrible at hiding your emotions. When Doug emailed to follow up with some instructions about using our OHMS log-ins, he wrote, “Let’s do something great and inspirational. No pressure.” I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes. 

But here we are two and a half years later. And maybe we have done something great and inspirational. Charlie, and Doug, and I decided to write it all down in hopes that if someone is indeed inspired to develop a course using oral histories and open source digital source technologies including OHMS and Omeka, they don’t have to start from scratch like we did. I’m pleased to announce the article, “Connecting the Classroom and the Archive: Oral History, Pedagogy, & Goin’ North,” published today on Oral History in the Digital Age.  In addition to describing our process, workflow, and outcomes, we’ve shared the syllabi and assignments, and recorded a tour of the Goin’ North website.

Collaborating with developer Eric Weig, we’ve also been hard at work creating a set of Omeka plug-ins and optimized themes that will recreate—and improve upon—what we did for Goin’ North using OHMS and Omeka in a more seamless fashion. We are still testing them now, and they should be ready for beta testing in the next month. When I think of all the time I spent teaching myself how to customize Omeka to work well with the OHMS viewer, I get pretty exited about how easy this will be instead. This stuff is pretty cool.