Over the course of my academic career at the University of Nebraska, no other experience rivaled the experience I had with the History Harvest project. No other educational experience sparked my interest or helped me refine key skills quite like it. It was particularly gratifying to be a part of a team of individuals working toward a unified goal. My experience with the History Harvest project increased my understanding of the rich and diverse histories and cultures of Lincoln’s refugees and helped establish stronger links between our campus community and a largely invisible subset of the local population.
Without a doubt, my career aspirations following college have been affected as a result of my involvement with the History Harvest project. In addition to the tangible results of the refugee harvest that I participated in – the various interviews and objects we collected – each of us also gained practical skills that, I strongly believe, are much more effectively taught in this innovative educational setting than in a traditional lecture-based setting. Among the skills students cultivated over the course of the project were: community outreach and organizing; media relations; oral history practices; historical analysis; film and photography techniques; and, digital archiving. Each of these key skills has a practical application within, but also beyond historical work. For me, these skills will be important as I embark on my first post-college job as a member of Americorps in San Francisco.
So, as I begin the next chapter of my life beyond the university, having left my home state for new places, new people, and new experiences, I take with me the various lessons I received as a part of the History Harvest project. These experiences have set me apart from many of my peers who have not had the benefit of such a unique educational opportunity and I can see a number of ways they will continue to be meaningful to me, personally and professionally, as I continue along my path.
Miles McClain was an undergraduate student in the Lincoln Refugee History Harvest course held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Fall 2012 semester.
The History Harvest project stands out as the most rewarding class I participated in during college. Though challenging at times, it changed how I had been taught to learn about history. The History Harvest taught me that history can be hands-on and collaborative.
While the whole year was full of learning and growth, two memories really stand out in my mind and I think they exemplify what the History Harvest is and what it can grow to be.
The first occurred while our class was working with the archives of the Great Plains Black History Museum. We were reorganizing and preserving some photographs when I came across an old picture of an African-American couple in a park. Out of curiosity, I checked the back of the photograph and learned that it had been taken in my hometown of Alliance, Nebraska. This discovery made me think. I was hoping to challenge and help create a new narrative in North Omaha, but I had never really stopped to think about a possibility of a diverse history in my own town. I realized that I had been taking my own town’s history for granted and mistakenly believing it to be a homogeneous and primarily White history. The photograph gave me a new perspective on the misconceptions about North Omaha’s history, and the racial history of Nebraska, more generally.
Another favorite memory came from the day of the History Harvest. Towards the end of the day I was sitting with other students discussing how the event had gone. Everyone confessed that they were thinking about how awesome it would be for the History Harvest project to come to their hometown. It just goes to show that anyone who sees how this project works will understand how important it is and how rewarding it is to be involved. Hopefully this means that the History Harvest has many advocates that will help it grow and succeed in the future. I feel like it will always affect how I think about learning and teaching history. I think it has the potentially to change how a lot of people learn and teach history.
Jessi Hare was an undergraduate student in the North Omaha History Harvest course held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Fall 2011 semester.
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.
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.
I participated in the North Omaha History Harvest in the Fall of 2011. Prior to that experience, despite being a senior in college, I had almost no knowledge of the history of racism and discrimination, or the history of achievement and community-building, in the black community that was right there, so close to mine. Getting to interact with the many wonderful individuals we met in the community of North Omaha, hearing their stories and collecting their historical artifacts was both an eye-opening and inspiring experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It was precisely this interactive, community-oriented learning experience that was so transformative for me.
In addition to the actual “harvest” that we conducted, I really enjoyed helping to preserve the artifacts contained in the Great Plains Black History Museum, an important community institution which had been closed for more than 15 years. Working with those one-of-a-kind historical objects related to black experience in this region taught me the pride of a community that refused to be defined simply by the segregation and racism surrounding them.
I now am working towards becoming a high school teacher. Because of my experience with the North Omaha History Harvest, I am motivated to find ways to give my future students innovative, experiential learning opportunities like the one I had as a part of this project, and to ensure that I pass on to them a knowledge, an awareness, and most of all, a celebration, of the diverse, but often hidden, histories found right there in our own communities.
Matt Koziol was an undergraduate student in the North Omaha History Harvest course held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Fall 2011 semester.