Goin’ North Update

It’s October, and our students in HIS 601/HON 452 are continuing their progress on our Goin’ North project focused on the first Great Migration of African Americans to Philadelphia. Last week they submitted their OHMS Level 3 Indexes, adding chapter segments to each of their assigned oral history interviews. For each chapter segment, they created metadata including title, segment synopsis, keywords, and a partial transcript. And then they layered in media–images that appear in a lightbox, hyperlinks to resources for further reading, and GPS coordinates to the places the narrators describe. As William Steffens recalls sneaking past the white workers at the shipyard in Jacksonville, Florida, as he attempted to hop a ship north, we see a vintage postcard of the Jacksonville docks. When Ruth Hayre recounts how her grandfather helped start one of the first African American owned banks in Philadelphia, we see a 1929 article from The Philadelphia Tribune titled “Negro Banks Great Help to Business Man.” When Walter Gay remembers the first house his family moved to in Philadelphia, we can open a Google map showing the address.

Merchants and Miners Docks in Jacksonville, Florida. In his interview, William Steffens explains how it was from a dock adjacent to these that he escaped North by boat.

These indexes are still a work in progress. We knew we needed a controlled vocabulary for keywords since we have 21 students working individually, so we spent many hours honing our list of terms. And then we realized we hadn’t developed a standardized mode for crediting the images used in the lightbox. So we’ve determined some best practices for style. Some interviewees, like Ruth Hayre, have donated their family’s archives to local repositories and have an abundance of primary sources to which students can link. Others moved north to work as domestic servants, earning money to give their children opportunities, but leaving behind little paper trail. Students working with less documented interviewees have to be more creative, uncovering sources like newspaper articles with tips for housekeeping or GPS coordinates to their employer’s home.

Up next: we’re creating short exhibits on each interviewee in Omeka. The challenge is brevity. We’ve asked students to write a biography of their interviewee in 500 words or less. Writing in tight, accessible prose, they will find, can be harder than churning out a 15 page term paper at the end of the semester. But I suspect those 500 words will be much more satisfying for our students to write and for me (and you) to read.