Tag Archives: local history

Reading Response – Local History

These readings speak directly to the work I am conducting for my project, Pilot’s Log. When a local historian begins a project, it has an initial goal to portray an aspect of local history. As Tammy Gordon lays out in “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue,”  when the “funding comes from the community, the scope of its mission is to educate people about “this place,” through telling a story from the local perspective. It is the history of that place, people, or an event as it is viewed from within that community, filtered through the eyes and experiences of the people who lived there during a specific time or event. And this presents the first challenge in doing local history; people have different experiences, opinions, and views – even from the local perspective. Thus the local historian may have an agenda with the project, however, it could easily be derailed by other local participants to alter focus or include elements originally not intended.

I ran into similar bumps as I began my flight school project. The true local historians who initially spurred me on to research and collect the history of the flight school in King City have  pushed to extend it to include people, stories, and places from town that I did not intend to do so. They were insistent on accompanying me to meetings with people who could point me in the right direction or give one more bit of information to complete the puzzle. While I appreciated the help, the guiding questions and the direction of the research began to move from what I had envisioned to what they were interested in seeing and hearing. This, of course keeping in mind my audience/personas, made me reconsider and adjust my steps. However, when we co-interviewed (I brought the questions and they asked to film it) one of the pilots, I had to step back and allow for them to be present and realizing their interest, invited them to bring their own questions too. We had different focuses: I was interested in knowing about the daily life of pilots and instructors and the life of the person I was interviewing to better understand the legacy of this place and how it factored into the lives of people who had experienced it. They, on the other hand focused on how it connected to their city, what legacy the city has because of the flight school, and what additional history might be discovered about King City because of this school.The flip-side of the coin is that even though I do not intend to include most of their questions on my site, they helped shape my perception from a local perspective of how important this project is to them, and how much deeper and farther does it reach in their local history than what I (a non-native of the city) could possibly perceive. So, who are we to say that local history is less important to academic historical views? I am not approaching this project with an academic eye, but with a fresh locally attached mind, yet the true residents of the place have many levels and layers of understanding, interest, passion, and inquiry over me.

Surveying the Low Country Digital History Initiative, I realized the many facets of approaches a local history project may present in order to paint a picture that is unique but connected and comprehensive in the same time. A visitor might initially perceive this site as one that focuses on telling stories of the African American experience. However, if they dig deeper, the stories not only turn the corner and begin from new angles with each exhibit, such as religion, slave trade, education, art, or labor and industry, but also include Jewish heritage and connect to similar local experiences. This makes me reflect on what I am leaving out from my own project. Is my perception so narrow that I will misinterpret this piece of local history? Thus, I feel the need to slow down and look around to extend connections of what I have discovered so far.

Besides the thematic, interpreting, and featuring challenges of one’s local history project, I certainly fear the technological aspects the most. Reading through Lauren  Gutterman’s  “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making,”  sharpened my lacking knowledge in this field. They “began to realize OutHistory.org’s mistakes only after it launched.” It made me realize that I have not thought about outlining the crowdsourcing  side of this project. According to them, “Even the simplest tasks—logging in to the site and creating new pages—were confusing and deterred participation. It became clear that users avoided the tools,” and “failed to take advantage of the “Help” pages. It is almost that I will need to set up a persona just to predict and determine the best interface, user-friendly access, and research or browsing interest of visitors. In addition, if and when users discover the site, Pilot’s Log and will have materials to share, I need to think about their wishes to protect the information they added. As  Gutterman noted,    “users have preferred to create their own exhibits, instead of editing existing ones, and the collaboratively written content we envisioned has not yet appeared.” Remaining flexible, asking for help, and working closely with potential users are a few important considerations that local history project builders need to adhere to and follow the trail of the excitement of uncovering and sharing history.