SIUE Student-Researchers Transform Historical Experience with Digital Archive
A team of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville undergraduate and graduate student-researchers are playing an integral role in preserving the 20th century history of Madison County, Ill.
Through their work with the collaborative project, Madison Historical, The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Ill., the students are using 21st century technology to publically feature and archive oral histories, historical items such as photographs, documents and letters, and articles on significant people, places, and events.
The innovative project is led by Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Robert Daiber, EdD, who noted the absence of a formally recorded history of the county since 1912. Daiber called on the expertise of SIUE scholars and students from the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Historical Studies to bring his idea to fruition.
Madison Historical is being developed and managed by associate professors Jeffrey Manuel, PhD, and Jason Stacy, PhD, along with Stephen Hansen, PhD, faculty emeritus and former interim chancellor, and four student-researchers. SIUE alumnus Ben Ostermeier is contributing his expertise in historical studies and computer science as the technical developer for the project.
Graduate students involved are Nichol Allen, a native of Truckee, Calif., and Jessica Mills, of Webb, Iowa, both pursuing a master’s in historical studies, along with doctoral candidate Lesley Thomson-Sasso, of Asbury Park, N.J. Junior Angela Little, of Belleville, is contributing to the project through the University’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program.
“Many people think that history teaching and scholarship has not changed in many years, but this project shows how historians are embracing the web and its potential for democratizing history and preserving local history in new ways,” said Manuel. “It presents great opportunities for our students, because they get firsthand experience with the type of work done in museums and archives today. Historians have to be skilled in a wide variety of digital and multimedia techniques.”
A special event will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 14 in the SIUE Morris University Center Conference Center to introduce the public to Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Ill.
“So far, the most rewarding aspect of this project has been the interaction with local organizations who are excited about this project,” said Mills. “There seems to be an overall excitement about the possibilities of a project like this. Meeting the men and women, who help protect Madison County’s history and educate others on its past, has been particularly enjoyable.”
The students’ contributions, include:
- Sharing information about the innovative project with local organizations and partner institutions
- Researching appropriate materials to include within the project’s emphases on government, industry, education, law and culture
- Writing articles and learning to effectively analyze and digitize primary sources
- Identifying subjects and conducting oral histories
“This project was of great interest to me due to my hobby of genealogy and my pursuit of a bachelor’s in historical studies,” said Little. “Madison Historical is affording the valuable opportunity to work closely with graduate students and faculty to learn where to best research certain topics and build a network within the community.”
“I excitedly accepted the offer to participate in this amazing project,” added Allen. “It offers the communities within Madison County the opportunity to preserve their history by erasing city lines and uniting together to create a shared story rooted in the past that brings us to the present.”
Madison Historical serves a number of innovative purposes, and according to Stacy, the SIUE graduate students are at the core of the project, acting as a conduit to partner institutions for the creation of this hub of historical references. The public is invited to not only consume the digital archive’s historical references, but also assist in producing them.
“We hope to play a dual role in the community, first as a repository for county history and second as a place for community members to contribute their memories of Madison County,” Stacy said. “The students involved are gaining the opportunity to put the skills we teach them in class, into practice in a way that gives back to the Madison County community.”
“I find it incredibly rewarding to control the presentation of the website’s content and consider how users will navigate Madison Historical,” Ostermeier said. “It is critical for citizens to be engaged in their local community, and a crucial component of that engagement is knowledge of that community’s history. This project gives the people of Madison County an authoritative resource on their community’s history and allows them to become both teachers and students of history. It’s a great feeling to have a hand in seeing this project come to fruition.”
“This project provides the residents of Madison County the opportunity to explore its rich history by integrating the usage of digital humanities,” Thomson-Sasso added. “One unique aspect of Madison Historical is that it is promoting a community-based historical involvement that allows for the exploration of diverse research. It promotes a larger sense of community, and fosters civic pride in the county’s rich contribution to Illinois history.”
For a complete list of partner institutions and the network of sponsors who have supported Madison Historical, including the Madison County Regional Office of Education, Madison County Government, Phillips 66 and attorney John Simmons, visit Madison-Historical.siue.edu/.
Photo: Madison Historical team members include (L-R) Jessica Mills, Dr. Stephen Hansen, Dr. Jason Stacy, Nichol Allen, Dr. Jeffrey Manuel, Angela Little, Lesley Thompson-Sasso and Ben Ostermeier.