Tracing Hurston

The relationship between Zora Neale Hurston and Rollins College is an established scholarly fact. Yet, that fact is rarely examined with the level of scrutiny it could receive. As an African-American woman active in the deep South traveling to and from the campus of a white college is not a simple exercise.   I've been curious about this history since I learned about it while doing Project Mosaic: Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston's multidisciplinary life inspired the framework for the Project Mosaic and generated a model of curricular engagement that bridged the classroom and the community for several years.  The Mosaic projects are done, but Hurston continues to point the way toward further engagement. The Communities Conference co-sponsored by Rollins College and the Association to Preserve Eatonville Community is an example of the kind of engagement that animated Hurston's work on campus in 1932. Hurston was looking for the opportunity to explore new ideas free from the restrictive frameworks she experienced in New York. The success of those efforts set her career on a new pathway. As I consider the cluster of projects connected to Eatonville I have pursued this semester, the impact of understanding the lessons from the past are front and center in my mind. 


A Blended Space

I'm gearing up for the AHA in Denver. I'm talking about Winter Park's gilded age origins. My approach to local history has been defined by the intersection digital pedagogy and African-American History. Since 2007 I have worked with my students in projects such as the History Engine. Designed with the goal of "enhancing historical education and research for teachers, students, and scholars alike" the collaborative nature of the History Engine project fostered the development of community oriented projects.

Word cloud generated by HIstory Engine episodes from my courses.

Word cloud generated by HIstory Engine episodes from my courses.


Exploring the archival narrative through the History Engine sharpen my thinking about how the local context could inform broader historiographical debates.  I've developed a critical making practice informed by the work of scholars like Roger Whitson.   Critical Making is defined by Whitson and others as  "hands-on productive work" that can supplement and extend critical reflection on technology and society.  Heavily influenced by design thinking, contemporary art and engineering fields, these scholars blend and extend the way we see and understand technological development.  I pursued this same thinking with goal of making my course a vehicle to increase historical understand in my students and the community.  

This is a process in my mind. It is ongoing and inclusive and as such it aligns with Ed Ayers definition of the generative scholarship.  Ayers made his mark by creating the Valley of the Shadows project.  I remember the first time I saw the project and I recognized how transformative the project was for fostering public understanding about history.  Ayers' perspective on digital history and the need for historians to engage the public is guidepost for me.  There is not a guidebook in this space, but my plan is to keep going.  My instinct is the blended space around creation, curation, and traditional scholarly production offers a way to achieve the outcomes historians traditional achieve in exciting new ways. For me, the ideation linked course design offers the space to discover new knowledge even as it educates students (see what I did there). 

Stay tuned.