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
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
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.
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
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
The center is not only concerned with making these documents
accessible to scholars and college students but also
to interested members of
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
Tapping the center’s
resources, he offers new ways for them to teach history.
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
It’s not always easy for teachers to find time to meet with him.
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
only adds to his credibility with teachers, but it
also provides an understanding of how they can use
for ways that teachers can use the center’s primary resources in hands-on and
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.”
are important to the study of history. But enabling students
to become immersed in primary
as the photographs
Virginia Center for Digital History,
creates a new and exciting experience that textbooks
alone cannot capture.