Being a History Harvest Scholar was the highlight of my undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an excellent and innovative learning opportunity for everyone involved. For me, the History Harvest project really culminated my History major well. It was an opportunity to work alongside other History students who shared my interest and passion in the subject, as well as a chance to work on a project that would produce long lasting effects. In working with the North Omaha community, many of us only knew the community from the stories we had heard or seen on the news, but the History Harvest made us dig deeper and see beyond the surface to discover a community with a rich, and often hidden, history. The History Harvest project became so much more than knowing names and dates. The project allowed us to actively engage in history and interact with participants in that history in an atmosphere that a classroom could never replicate. Our work in North Omaha highlighted the way a project like the History Harvest could support the local community and help people see that history matters, that it is relevant and that everyone has a story to share.
During the event, I particularly enjoyed chatting with the people as they shared their stories about the objects they brought in that day. We could tell the participants were excited, and several grateful, that we were doing the project. We also encountered shyness, or reticence, in several of the participants who thought that maybe their objects were not significant enough to be digitized and included in the project. We were able to let those people know that the objects that defined their lives were important and that their stories did matter and were worth being collected and shared.
With the History Harvest project, we also worked with the Great Plains Black History Museum, a museum attempting to reinvent itself after years of neglect. Seeing the damage and neglect that the building and artifacts had endured was upsetting and it became clear that the museum needed some help and that we could make a small contribution by lending a hand. In the process, we discovered many new artifacts and learned some basic archiving skills.
It was also during this project that I realized my love for public history. I am currently finishing my first year as a museum studies graduate student at the University of Kansas. In the future I hope to continue working on projects that help to preserve local histories. The History Harvest project made me aware of the importance of working with community members and their involvement in preserving their own history. People often wonder why we study history but making connections between people, places and objects is such a vital part of what makes us who were are.
Kelsey Jistel was an undergraduate student in the North Omaha History Harvest course held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Fall 2011 semester.