So many times school seems like an endless road of reading assignments, papers, and test which add up to a degree but leave a student feeling unengaged in the learning process. Will the paper written today or last semester amount to a hill of beans once the ink has dried on the diploma? In most cases no. This is where the History Harvest as a class and experience breaks out of that tired mold and gives the student a chance to engage history in a personal and profound way. The discoveries we made during the History Harvest left a lasting legacy of new historical artifacts that will be useful to everyone in the community, instead of just the lone student working toward their individual educational goals.
At its core, History Harvest is historical inquiry combined with community service. It allows history students the rare opportunity to use their growing skills and passion for the discipline to engage with a local community and help them tell their own story through objects and memories. This process empowers community members, but also the students involved, by giving them a chance to create a space where history is a dynamic and relevant process and not just a fading keepsake, or distant memory.
The History Harvest project, then, enables students to use their historical knowledge in a new way and to give back to the community. In my personal experience, it was the moment where I was able to actually hear history through my engagement with these objects, as well as directly from those who lived it, and that is what mattered most to me. It was humbling to have a participant entrust their story, or their objects, to us. That, in turn, made the work of curating and interpreting those materials far more interesting and important than merely writing a paper that only my professor would read. In the History Harvest, then, history came alive for me in a new way and gave us the chance to leave a lasting legacy from our work through the web-archive we helped build. BEWARE, though, the nature of this type of scholarship is extremely addicting and might just change your life in a way that few classes ever do.
Jennifer Kroft was an undergraduate student in the North Omaha History Harvest course held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Fall 2011 semester.