After nearly two semesters of labor, the harvest is over.
In the coming days, University of Nebraska-Lincoln‘s History Harvest Blitz Week will reflect upon and publicize the stories of refugees living in Nebraska, told in the form of 311 items and interviews collected this year.
History Harvest, a course started by faculty members Patrick Jones and Will Thomas, teaches students to make digital archives of local history. The project focuses on a special topic each year and holds a harvest day, which invites community members to share stories and artifacts.
The blitz week’s events include Twitter discussions of daily topics, a Google Hangout and a seminar led by Thomas, a history professor and chairman, and Jones, an associate professor of history and ethnic studies.
The digital archive, found at historyharvest.unl.edu, includes hundreds of items and interviews. Items range from original song lyrics and bank statements to baptismal cards and Homestead Act documents. Also included in the digital archive is an intricate, decorative mahogany piece made in Culbertson in 1901 that was acquired by Rose Garey’s grandfather in exchange for a three-piece suit.
History Harvest students reached out to community members, radio stations, newspapers and other media to invite people to bring items and stories to harvests. Students also worked with local organizations to set up the History Harvest. This year, History Harvest focused on refugees, and Jones said the Center for People in Need was a main collaborator.
Technology is used to digitally create artifacts by taking video or pictures so owners can keep their items.
“We thought holding this History Harvest Blitz Week through digital means makes the most sense to reach the most people and have digital conversation about it,” Jones said.
Thomas said via email he likes how the project gives the community an “opportunity to participate in history” and technology makes it possible.
“I like the way the project uses digital not to displace but instead to enhance face-to-face exchange,” Thomas said. “We would not do this with the tools we had, even a few years ago.”
Jones has taught the History Harvest course for the past two years it’s been offered.
“It’s really technology that enables us to do this in the most effective way possible,” he said.
He said the “innovative approach to teaching history” leaves behind a great public resource, values the experience of everyday people and shows they are an important piece of history.
“What’s gratifying is seeing the student work here being shared with a broader national community,” Jones said.
Bryan Lasley, a senior history major, said he’s been able to hear many inspiring stories and understand the importance of certain artifacts by being involved in this project.
“It is amazing to sit down and talk to someone who comes from the opposite side of the world as you, who has had so many diverse experiences, and still be able to connect with them and find common bonds all people have,” Lasley said via email.
Brittny Ofstedal, a junior history, Spanish and medieval renaissance studies major, said History Harvest is a rewarding experience and differs from most history courses, which is what drew her in.
“This past year in particular, since we were working with Lincoln’s refugee community, it was awe-inspiring to have people come out and share their stories,” Ofstedal said via email. “The History Harvest class is much more interactive; you’re actively planning an event, interacting with the community and producing tangible results.”
Lasley said he’s excited for blitz week and feels it’s a good opportunity for people to look at history from a different perspective.
“I believe the History Harvest project is an innovative way to teach a class and is a great way to connect with communities that may not always interact,” Lasley said. “And I believe this project shows that we all have a lot to learn from each other.”
Taylor Meyer, a senior history major, said he wanted to be involved with the History Harvest to “get away from traditional classes” and use his photography skills. He said History Harvest also gave him an opportunity to make a difference in the world.
“The History Harvest Blitz Week is a great way to advocate the project and to display a model for a new, hands-on type of field work and experience for history classes,” Meyer said via email.
Meyer and Ofstedal said the purpose of blitz week is to discuss how history is taught and to encourage universities to start undergraduate history harvest classes of their own.
“History Harvest is a great project, but it could be even greater if there were more people participating all over the country, and I think that’s what the blitz week is all about,” Ofstedal said.
Jones said the blitz week is a sign that the History Harvest “is maturing to a new level.”
He said the overall vision is for History Harvests to be held all around the country and to create one large archive.
For more information and to view the blitz week’s schedule, visit historyharvest.unl.edu/news.