Putting Pedagogy into Digital Archives: A Report from OAH

2010 April 12
by Leah Nahmias

Last Friday, April 9, I presented our progress on ASHP’s forthcoming resource database at the annual conference of the Organization of American Historians in Washington, D.C.  I was part of a session called “Putting Pedagogy into Digital Archives: Making Online History Collections Useful for K-12 Teachers and Students.”  My presentation (embedded below) focused on the strategies we are using to build pedagogical supports into the resource database.  After describing the educational philosophy we model in ASHP’s many programs for teachers, I showed how our pedagogy figures into the types of documents and features we will include in the new database.

By the way, for the session we used the nickname “Herb” to describe our database, in honor of ASHP’s co-founder, the legendary labor historian Herbert Gutman.

Bill Tally, who organized and moderated the session, asked me to focus on how we here at American Social History Project bridge the gap between academic historians and classroom teachers, and how this is reflected in the design of our database.  Throughout the presentation, I used examples from “Slave Communities and Resistance,” a collection of primary and secondary sources, teaching activities, focus questions, podcasts of scholar talks, and other resources that will be part of the database.  This collection is a good example of how we bridge the gap.  As the introduction to the collection notes:

Slavery, a central topic in U.S. history, has undergone a thorough re-examination over the last three decades. As historian Herbert Gutman noted, previous generations of historians first asked “What did slavery do for the slave?” and later, acknowledging the system’s brutality, “What did slavery do to the slaves?” But when historians began to ask, “What did slaves do for themselves?”, our current understanding of slavery emerged. Based on the reinterpretation of old sources and the study of new sources like slave narratives, historians now suggest that within the harsh and brutal confines of slavery, African Americans were resistant and resourceful. In the slave quarters, through family, community and religion, slaves struggled for a measure of independence and dignity.

Accordingly, our database will feature sources and activities that focus on what slaves did for themselves. The database will also include strategies for helping students see in primary documents evidence of slave communities, resistance, and the consequences of resistance. Click through the presentation below to see how such questions influence the teaching of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the reading of an 1854 handbill advertising for a runaway slave named Osborne.

Thank you to the many people who attended the session! Thank you as well to my co-presenters Kathleen Barker of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Stacia Smith of Paxton Center (Massachusetts) Schools.

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