Blog, Clio 1

Presentation of Project Ideas

We spent the class period on November 21st presenting our ideas for the final project, a proposal for a digital humanities project. My project idea is an online teaching resource, specifically related to indigenous histories of Chicago (although I am not pursuing this project in real life). This post is not the final proposal, just an attempt to collect my thoughts so far.

Chicago’s skyline

The idea is inspired by Coll Thrush’s Native Seattle. According to Thrush, most urban Indian histories are only partial because they don’t connect “the histories of indigenous peoples on whose lands cities were built and the histories of present-day urban Indian communities” (12). This is definitely the case for the fragmented state of histories of Native Chicago. There is attention to the indigenous peoples on whose land Chicago sits, the Native American activists who operated in Chicago in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the pan-Indian communities that developed in the mid-twentieth century, but these remain disparate threads.

For Thrush, connecting all of these different threads is important for combating the idea that Indians and urban history are opposites and inherently at odds, that one represents the past and the other the future. Linking all of the strands of urban Indian history is especially important for Chicago as the whole Chicagoland area has one of the country’s largest urban Native American population in the U.S. And like the city of Seattle’s name comes from Chief Seattle, Chicago’s name is itself a French derivative of a Miami-Illinois word. It is important that students in Chicago’s education system learn about the indigenous past and present that surrounds them.

Improving and supporting teachers’ abilities to teach about American Indians is already one of the missions of a local Chicago organization called the American Indian Center (AIC). Ideally, the project would be done as a collaboration with this organization, because they have a professional development program in place for working with teachers in ways that conform to the teaching requirements of Illinois’ state standards. Also, AIC is committed to the idea of land-based education, which not only seeks to increase students’ interactions with the environment in which they live but also seeks to root education in place and in the histories of the Native people who live in that place. This is a major reason why the project is focused on local Chicago Native American history and not on a national story.

Other partners in the project would include Chicago area teachers, probably ones that have participated in AIC’s professional development training because they bring to the table an understanding of how to educate students in Chicago’s Native American history as well as knowledge of curriculum standards and what teachers need most.

For inspiration, I am looking to some of the sites from the Center for History and New Media’s World History Matters portal, especially Making the History of 1989. I am looking to this site mainly for the types of content provided. I like the idea of having an introductory essay, primary sources, interviews, and teaching modules. The teaching modules are essentially lesson plans using the website and its sources. By avoiding a fully interactive learning tool (for example), it would give teachers more flexibility for less money. With lots of lesson plans the site can be used for different age groups and by teachers who don’t have access to computers for the whole class. The teachers partnered with the project would be primarily responsible for creating the lesson plans, and future lesson plans could be created over time as part of the AIC’s professional development training. Finally, I like the lesson plans because it makes it possible to incorporate more land-based education that takes students outside.

Another aspect of the project is something not present in the World History Matters sites: an interactive map. I am taking New Orleans Historical as my example because the aesthetics are pleasing and the functionality meets my needs. A map is necessary for this project because I think it’s the best way to get through to young students that Native people have claims not just to the pre-urban land that Chicago sits on but to the urban landscape itself.

Each marker on the map would be for a place that has meaning to Chicago’s Native history, from small things like a meeting, a speech, or an organization’s headquarters to big things like the 1893 World’s Fair and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Clicking on a marker would take you to an explanation of the event/place with any corresponding images and sources. Ideally, some of them would include brief audio interviews with scholars or, for more recent history, with some of Chicago’s Native residents. AIC has programs for seniors, including weekly meals, so connections could be made there.

The text would be targeted toward upper-level middle school and high school students because I would also want the site to have secondary usefulness to the public. New Orleans Historical has different tours that you can do, which would be great for the public. It would also be a cool way for interested students to get their parents involved in their education.

I still have a lot to think through to be able to write my proposal. I will need estimations for the costs and resources involved, so I plan to look for other digital humanities grant documentation to get a sense of this. I also need to think about the institutions where the research would take place and where the sources would come from, raising the issue of permissions. I also need to think more about the information architecture of the site, especially how to make sure teachers can find what they need without distracting students and members of the public with teacher resources that might confuse them. Finally, I need to come up with a method of evaluation. Looking into grant documentation should be of use for that, as well.

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