Desegregation

BPS Desegregation Project: Q+A with Marilyn Morgan and Omeka.net

The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history. View all posts This Q and A was reprinted from  http://info.omeka.net/2016/03/site-highlight-stark-and-subtle-divisions/  with permission Dr Morgan seated at a desk holding a vintage swimsuit.Archivist, historian, educator, and baker of all things chocolate, Marilyn Morgan (@mare_morgan), investigates—and encourages students to explore—social trends, cultural stereotypes, and discrimination throughout American history. Her class site, Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston, showcases letters, photographs, legal documents, artifacts, and interviews that explore the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston public schools. Unearthing materials from various Boston-area archives, students selected a representative sampling and used Omeka.net to present them together in new collaborative context. The site runs on an Omeka.net Platinum plan

1. Briefly explain how you came to the project.

Last year, I became the Director of the Archives Program (History MA) at UMass Boston and created a new course “Transforming Archives and History in a Digital Age.” My goals for this course involved having students: conduct primary research in local collections, select and scan materials, create metadata for digitized items, build a collaborative digital archive, develop subject-area expertise, and design an online exhibit. Because I teach history and archives, I focused the class on a historical topic—the desegregation of Boston Public Schools (BPS). Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the federally-mandated integration of BPS; various separate archives in the area hold collections that document that complex history. As I was developing my course, Giordana Mecagni, Head of Archives and Special Collections at Northeastern University initiated a comprehensive cross-institutional scanning project to make archival materials related to the desegregation of BPS available in a large digital library. Boston Library Consortium funded the project that is supported by the technical infrastructure of the DPLA and Digital Commonwealth. This year, work my students are completing for their Omeka site—scanning and creating metadata for Boston City Archives—is feeding into the larger BLC initiative.

2. Why did you decide to build on Omeka.net, as opposed to a standalone Omeka site or some other platform?

Omeka provides a wonderful teaching tool for archivists and historians. It gives students hands-on experience implementing archival theory; it permits them to showcase historical research; and, ultimately, it enables them to create digital history for a public audience. Before I created my course, I searched for platforms that would meet my teaching goals. I wanted students to learn technical skills and acquire hands-on experience implementing practices used by digital archivists. But I also wanted students to immerse themselves in scholarly historical research and to create engaging and educational exhibits for a general audience. There aren’t many platforms that allow one to accomplish all of that. While other exhibit-building platforms exist, Omeka allows students to create a digital archive from start to finish. This entails selecting and scanning documents then creating metadata for digitized images. That back-end work teaches essential technical skills that aspiring archivists and digital historians need to hone. Equally important, when constructing Omeka exhibits, students must think critically about the items collectively and weave together narratives that form cohesive exhibits. To be honest, circumstances beyond my control affected my decision to use Omeka.net instead of creating a standalone site. My university did not have the technical infrastructure to support the standalone Omeka site. With Omeka.net there’s no need to have IT support or server space. I was pleased to discover that Omeka.net doesn’t limit one’s creativity in building a site.

3. What piece of advice would you offer to someone planning to use Omeka.net with a class of graduate students?

Build in plenty of time to learn and experiment, don’t be afraid to take risks, collaborate, and don’t get discouraged! When I decided to use Omeka.net in my course, I had absolutely zero experience using the platform. I confessed to my students in the first class that I had no idea if we’d be able to build the robust site we envisioned; but, even if we failed, we would have learned a great deal. I encouraged them not to obsess over individual grades and to approach this as a truly collaborative project—by the nature of the project, either we all succeeded or we all failed, to some degree. Collaboration proved key to building a successful site in many ways. I’d advise anyone beginning to teach with Omeka to identify local resources—both people and collections at local archives or libraries—that you can incorporate into your site’s construction. When beginning this project, I blindly reached out to Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach at Boston City Archives—I knew they housed ample material related to our topic. Over the past year and a half, Marta and I developed a mutually beneficial collaboration. I reached out to librarians, archivists, an audio engineer, and even a copyright attorney, at local institutions; the input of each helped me to create a robust site.

4. How did using Omeka change your and/or your students’ thinking about the content?

Our project’s topic—de facto segregation and the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston Public Schools—provoked deep controversy in Boston. In the mid-1970s, the issue of desegregation provoked violent confrontations and pitted white neighborhood against black neighborhood. Over forty years later, the topic continues to ignite heated reactions locally. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was learning that the heated reactions to desegregation of Boston Public Schools reached far beyond Boston. Using Omeka’s map tool, students could demonstrate that individuals from around the nation and the globe watched the media report on this issue. In the sampling of letters students selected, they discussed letters sent from as far away as Mexico, Germany, and Australia. Using Omeka, I realized quickly that creating an interactive digital exhibit on this controversial topic posed unique challenges that writing a traditional paper did not. If we proceeded incorrectly, instead of educating, we could provoke anger or alienate. Many complex circumstances surrounded the intense reactions to desegregation including racism, class disparity, ethnic antagonism, political maneuverings, and contests for authority between local, state and federal agencies. As students dug into the archives and shaped exhibits in Omeka, we learned that race alone could not predict whether one supported or opposed desegregation of BPS. For instance, violent opposition to the decision to desegregate schools didn’t necessarily indicate opposition to school integration. Some citizens (black and white) championed school integration but vehemently protested the plan’s implementation—“forced busing” of their young children to schools far away from their neighborhoods. Omeka helps us to convey the complexity of this emotionally-charged issue by showcasing the documents individually and allowing us to group them collectively to tell a narrative. In this way, exhibits can capture the raw fears, violence, and racist behaviors alongside of the hopefulness, compassion, and peaceful approaches.

5. What is one of your favorite items from the site to share (when talking about it)?

Letters written by third and sixth grade students to Mayor Kevin H. White constitute my favorite group of items. Some of the young letter-writers expressed fears while others boldly proposed no nviolent solutions to school integration. While it’s difficult to pick one favorite, the letter below stands within my top three. Writing on colorful stationary, the eleven-year-old student poignantly pleads that the mayor bus the teachers, not the students, “then maybe there wouldn’t be anymore stabbings and fights.”starksubtle2         The letter below, written by a third-grade student, writes “this is what I want” above a crayon drawing of a white child and a black child shaking hands. starksubtle3 Omeka makes it possible to view the handwritten letters—complete with misspellings and mistakes—and freehand drawings that children used to convey sentiments more clearly than words. These personal details add immeasurably to the content of the letters. They also convey the extent to which concerns about desegregation of BPS permeated the physical and emotional well-being of many Boston’s residents—even children.

6. What is the benefit to using Omeka as a teaching tool?

Traditional research papers function as a dialogue between student and professor; creating a project in Omeka expands the discourse and fosters a collaborative working environment. The tasks of learning new technology, conducting historical research, applying archival theory, acquiring subject-area expertise, clearing permissions, and presenting findings in a public forum can be overwhelming when undertaken by one individual. As a result, when using Omeka, students quickly learn to actively collaborate with one another, sharing discoveries that might benefit a classmate’s exhibit or teaching technical tips. I’m so pleased that my decision to teach with Omeka allows graduate students to simultaneously learn new skills, apply theory to practice, and contribute to public education in a practical way.  

BPS Desegregation Project: Pedagogical Exhibits

The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history. View all posts BPS Desegregation Project would like to highlight two wonderful exhibits built by students from Desegregation related collections. [caption id="attachment_100951" align="alignleft" width="300"]Screen Shot of Stark and Subtle Divisions exhibit Screen Shot of Stark and Subtle Divisions exhibit[/caption] Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston http://bosdesca.omeka.net/ Created by graduate students in the History and American Studies departments at UMass Boston, this site showcases letters, photographs, legal documents, artifacts, and interviews that explore de facto segregation in Boston and the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston Public Schools. Students unearthed materials from various collections in separate Boston archives, selected a representative sampling, and presented them here, together, in new collaborative context.     [caption id="attachment_100952" align="alignleft" width="300"]Screen shot of Boston Before Bussing Exhibit Screen shot of Boston Before Bussing Exhibit[/caption] Boston Before Busing http://dsgsites.neu.edu/desegregation/ Activism for educational civil rights in Boston began well before 1974, when the “Garrity” decision mandated busing to fix de facto segregation in Boston schools. This exhibit introduces key people, groups, and events in Boston from 1964–1974, describing the community effort that led to the desegregation decision that still affect s Boston today. This not a complete portrait—many narratives, including Latino and Chinese voices, are lacking. All exhibit materials are from the Northeastern Archives and Special Collections, supplemented by research at the Suffolk, UMass Boston, and Harvard Schlesinger Library Archives. Common historical narrative has painted the busing crisis in Boston in the mid-1970s as an inevitable but spontaneous change in Northern race relations. After exploring this exhibit, think about whether that’s a true portrait of events. This exhibit was created for Martha Pearson’s public history fieldwork for HIST 4901/4902 at Northeastern University in collaboration with adviser William Fowler. -- Giordana Mecagni is Head of Special Collections and University Archivist at Northeastern University

BPS Desegregation Project: Using metadata to support collaborative collections

The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history. View all posts   Subject headings The simplest way to collocate our materials in a shared portal like Digital Commonwealth or DPLA is to consistently apply an agreed upon subject heading. There are numerous Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and Thesaurus of Graphic Materials (TGM) topical terms that could be applied to desegregation materials, including:
  • Busing for school integration [LCSH]
  • Busing (School integration) [TGM]
  • Segregation in education [LCSH]
  • School integration [LCSH and TGM]
  • Segregation [LCSH and TGM]
Working in a vacuum, one institution could decide to apply the term “Segregation in education” to all desegregation materials, while another could decide to apply “School integration,” making it more difficult to connect these materials in a shared system. As a collaborative, we chose to apply “Segregation in education -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History” as an umbrella heading that can be used to collocate items related to desegregation and busing across institutions. Recognizing that relying on a single subject heading may be too simplistic an approach for some collaborative collections, we’re also planning to explore the possibility of creating a DPLA App that would allow us to pull together a result set that combines multiple subject terms, which DPLA’s search functionality does not currently support. Locally controlled list of names Participating libraries agreed to apply name authorities from LCNAF whenever possible; however, many of the key local players in the desegregation movement do not have authority files with the Library of Congress. To ensure that we are expressing these names consistently, we created a shared document where we can list new non-LCNAF names used in our digital collections as they come up. In these cases, names are formed according to RDA rules. Geographic data Desegregation in the city of Boston is a particularly place-oriented topic; the issues, experiences, and reactions to busing differed greatly from one neighborhood to another. For this reason, we felt that adding geographic information, at least at the neighborhood-level, would be an especially valuable enhancement to our metadata records. We chose to express geographic data using TGN codes because it easily allowed us to apply values at the neighborhood level that would be automatically displayed in a linked, hierarchical form in Digital Commonwealth. For example, applying the TGN code for the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston (7015008) to this record results in the following linked, hierarchical display on the user end: Places:  Massachusetts > Suffolk (county) > Boston > West Roxbury This geographic data will also allow users to visually explore items plotted on a map. -- Written by Jessica Sedgwick, Metadata Project Manager at the Boston Library Consortium

BPS Desegregation Project: Commencement

Freedom School The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history. View all posts The 2014-2015 school year marked the 40th anniversary of Boston Public School (BPS)’s court-ordered school desegregation.  To commemorate this event, BPS is building a multi-grade curricular unit for students to study the city’s school desegregation and “busing” crisis.  Before this unit was created, students learned about integration efforts only through the case study of Little Rock, AK.  Neglecting to address, understand, and own Boston’s own civil rights struggles perpetuates the notion that the Civil Rights Movement targeted injustice and segregation only in the South, when in truth, Boston’s struggles were equally important and difficult. To assist this effort, Northeastern’s University Archives and Special Collections is coordinating a multi-archive scanning project whose goal is to make available archival material that relates to what how and why busing happened in Boston, as well as the after effects it had on the community.  The goal is to create a digital library of material that can be widely disseminated for both curricular and scholarly use. This effort has been made possible by a gift from the Boston Library Consortium (BLC), whose leadership has been essential to this project. This School Desegregation and ”Busing”  Digital Library is a lightweight, nimble project that attempts to lay the technical and descriptive groundwork for cross-institutional collaboration through the technical infrastructure of the DPLA and Digital Commonwealth.  It also serves as the kernel of what all hope becomes a long-standing collaboration between BPS and local archives.   In an ideal world, all 57,000 BPS students visit an archive during their K-12 years.  Realistically, digitizing this material allows teachers unfettered access to a deep pool of primary source material which can inspire students to learn more about the history of their own city and become emerging leaders. The BLC members initiating this effort are University Archives and Special Collections at UMass Boston, the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, The State Library of Massachusetts’ Special Collections, and Boston College’s John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections.  Additional archival partners include The Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University and the Boston City Archives. Partner institutions are scanning material that illuminate the complexity of state- and city-wide politics, community activism and advocacy, and all parties’ reactions to national and local legislation.  The time frame covered originates with the Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), works through the Civil Rights Act (1964), into and past the Morgan v. Hennigan case (1974), and the resulting citywide unrest.  The collection aims to illustrate the reaction of politicians, school staff and administrators, parents and community members to desegregation by busing. To watch the growing collection of items that is Northeastern's contribution to this effort, please visit the University's Digital Repository. -- Giordana Mecagni is Head of Special Collections and University Archivist at Northeastern University