Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The "House Divided" Digital Project at Dickinson College

On Sunday I was with a group of students at the Dauphin County Historical Society and ran into Matthew Pinsker, the Brian Pohanka Chair of Civil War History at Dickinson College.  Matt was in Harrisburg to give a talk on Dickinson's House Divided digital project.  After helping my students finish their work, I decided to hang around for his lecture.  I'm glad I did.

Matt and his colleagues and students at Dickinson are bringing the Civil War to K-12 teachers (and others) through some amazing digital work.  Here is what the project is all about:

The House Divided Project at Dickinson College aims to create resources for teachers and students that will help bring alive and explain the turbulent Civil War era in American history.  Using Dickinson College as a both a window and a starting point, the House Divided Project hopes to find in the stories of thousands of individuals a way to help illustrate how the Civil War came, why it was fought so bitterly, and ultimately how the nation survived.  Dickinson College offers a powerful platform for this examination because the school was quite unique for the era with a student body about evenly divided between northerners and southerners and with a network of graduates who were particularly influential, including both a president and a chief justice in the years just before the war came.   Relying on an interdisciplinary team of professors, staff and students, we hope to bring together cutting-edge technology with the best customs of traditional historical scholarship.

House Divided is a model digital project for a small liberal arts college.  Pinsker is working together with the college IT staff, archivists, instructional media experts, and dozens of Dickinson students to make this project happen.  Outside of Dickinson, the project has partnered with the Motorola Foundation, The Journal of American History, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Civil War Museum, Cumberland County Visitors Bureau, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, among others. The site includes over 12,000 images, 10,000 primary documents, videos, and a blog.

Pinsker's enthusiastic presentation to ten or twelve folks on a Sunday afternoon at a county historical society tells me that he is a tireless advocate for this project.  This kind of advocacy seems vital to the success of this kind of digital project.  I was impressed.

Check out this inspiring video of a Dickinson student conducting research on Henry Spradley, a black Union soldier: