PublicHistory Revisiting New York’s Experience of World War II through Digital Public History

AHA Session 286
Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Andrew T Urban, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
The Seamen's Church Institute’s American Merchant Marine Oral History Project: An Archival Intervention
Johnathan Thayer, City University of New York, Graduate Center and Seamen's Church Institute of New York and New Jersey

Session Abstract

The technology available to digitize historical materials -- oral histories, hand-written letters, maps, newspaper clips and sound recordings -- allows scholars and the public to approach familiar history in brand new ways. This interdisciplinary panel focuses on World War II from the perspective of New York City using digital and publicly accessible platforms. Drawing on library and archival science, cultural studies and historical practice, each of these projects seeks to make history engaging and accessible using innovative technology.

Exploring ways to extend the meaning of family history, Molly Rosner shows how intimate and personal letters can shed light on larger historical trends and tensions. Johnathan Thayer’s project presents a collection of interviews that give voice to the civilian merchant mariners who sailed during World War II and received minimal recognition and no compensation for their efforts. Natalie Milbrodt introduces us to the Queens Memory Project, which documents and shares community history while also enabling smaller institutions to contribute and participate in the creation of digital archives.

This panel unites three sites – a blog, a digital archive, and a new digital library platform – that have related content but different approaches. Each digital initiative reaches separate audiences and experiences unique challenges. These digital projects contribute to a more nuanced understanding of New York’s war history, while also bringing that history into the 21st century.

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