April 23-May 27, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 8
Back Issues
‘We want to see results!’
Board of Visitors calls for progress on diversity issues
Adams sees program review as an engine of progress
Senate to students: Reject lying and cheating in your midst
Headlines @ U.Va.
Faculty Actions
U.Va. digital history center reaches out to Virginia schools
It’s Personal: An aspiring group of teachers makes learning meaningful
Casteen: Budget stalemate won’t close University
Wise leadership
WHTJ marks Brown anniversary
Feast for the soul: Sufi devotional music of Pakistan
Talk to cover Health System’s master plan
Bowen urges ‘class-based affirmative action’
U.Va. digital history center reaches out to Virginia schools

By Brandon Marshall Miller

It was a beautiful day for a parade. Smiling African-American women, sporting wide-brimmed hats and ankle-length dresses, strolled beside handsome black men in their Sunday best. Many in the group waved American flags as they followed a winding dirt road from a cluster of wooden buildings to a sun-dappled meadow. It was 1914, and the patrons and children of the “Colored School” in Campbell County, Va., along with local farmers and a brass band, were on their way to the school fair.

This scene, captured in a black-and-white photograph, is just one of hundreds of historic images depicting African-American education in the South in the early 20th century contained in the Jackson Davis Collection in the University of Virginia Library’s Special Collections. A decade ago, this picture and many other primary materials would have remained stored away in the dusty recesses of the library, inaccessible except to University students, faculty and the occasional library visitor.

But thanks to the efforts of the Virginia Center for Digital History, and the World Wide Web, this and many other historic artifacts in the University’s collections now can be seen around the world.

Founded in 1998 by historians Edward L. Ayers, now dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and William G. Thomas III, now director of the Virginia Center for Digital History, the center has as its mission to “develop high-quality, well-researched and reliable history resources in digital format and deliver them to schools, colleges, libraries, historical societies and the general public via the Internet.”

Students working for the center gather documents — letters, maps, historical records, archives, newspaper articles, etc. — often found in obscure, little-used collections; digitize them; and post them online as special projects.

Some of the center’s current online projects include “The Valley of the Shadow,” a compilation of documents from Augusta County, Va., and Franklin County, Pa., that demonstrates the experience of two communities, one Southern and one Northern, during the Civil War; “The Roots of Lewis & Clark,” a documentation of the surveyors, explorers and speculators who preceded Lewis and Clark on their cross-country journey; and “Race and Place: An African-American Community in the Jim Crow South,” an archive of photos, letters and other items related to U.S. racial segregation laws from the late 1880s until the mid-20th century.

The center is not only concerned with making these documents accessible to scholars and college students but also to interested members of the public. Andy Mink, the center’s director of outreach for primary- and secondary-school teachers, spends much of his time traveling around Virginia, conducting workshops and seminars for high school social studies teachers on how best to use the collection’s materials in the classroom.

Mink works primarily with 16 rural counties in Southwest Virginia that have traditionally had less access to technology than elsewhere in the state. Tapping the center’s resources, he offers new ways for them to teach history.

“Many public schools in these areas still don’t have computers available for their students,” Mink said.

This poses significant instructional challenges and limits what he can do for them.

But for those schools that do have computers available, through professional-development training, the computer can become more than just an expensive textbook — it can significantly change the way history is taught,” he said.

Mink’s K-12 outreach program has many facets. Twice a year he schedules workshops in Southwest Virginia, making a 400-mile trek as far as Bristol County on the Tennessee border. Other times, teachers travel to Charlottesville for seminars and workshops at U.Va. Throughout the year, Mink also visits individual schools.

It’s not always easy for teachers to find time to meet with him.

“Because of the ever-increasing burdens that public educators face, it can be difficult to connect with teachers,” he said.

But Mink can relate. He worked as a middle school teacher in Central Virginia for 10 years before joining the VCDH team. His classroom experience not only adds to his credibility with teachers, but it also provides an understanding of how they can use the information he provides. In particular, he looks for ways that teachers can use the center’s primary resources in hands-on and interactive lessons.

“We want to teach history in a way that’s as hands-on as science,” said Mink, who was named National K-12 Educator of the Year by the National Society for Experiential Education in 2003. “Online digital archives allow teachers to access these documents, integrate them into daily classroom instruction, and give their students the opportunity to learn material by exploring, uncovering and drawing conclusions from primary sources.”

Books are important to the study of history. But enabling students to become immersed in primary sources, such as the photographs put online by the Virginia Center for Digital History, creates a new and exciting experience that textbooks alone cannot capture.


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