During the first unit, we examined and critiqued strategies that public historians have developed to engage audiences in dialog about the history and significance of slavery. Students developed a deeper understanding of the ways in which people use the past as a well of experience and a source of inspiration for addressing contemporary problems. They gained insight into the goals and approaches public historians have brought to the interpretation of slavery. These insights enabled students to identify why audiences and professionals seem at odds over the history of slavery and to begin to frame the history of slavery in a way that takes seriously people’s desire to identify the usefulness of the past.
During the second unit, we conducted original historical research. First, students read, summarized, and annotated a selection of books and articles on slavery and freedom. These established a sense of context and gave students an understanding of how scholars approach this subject. Then, with guidance from our partners at the Maryland State Archives, students identified compelling stories that illustrate the instability of freedom for people of color living in our region during the decades leading up to the Civil War. They thought about how these stories resonate with contemporary issues, themes, and questions.
During the third unit, students learned and experiment with a variety of interpretive methods, storytelling strategies, and digital tools.
By the end of the course, each student had developed a StoryMap and a short digital film designed to engage audiences in a conversation about the contemporary relevance and meaning of slavery.
Their work will serve as the foundation for further development of a digital public history project that can help people connect the stories they have crafted about slavery and freedom to the material, political, cultural, and social landscapes of Southern Maryland, Baltimore, and Pennsylvania.