As a public historian, I’ve collaborated with a variety of institutions and community partners to interpret, record, and share stories about the past that challenge us to rethink comfortable narratives and wrestle with the messiness of the human condition.
200 Nights of Freedom: March on Milwaukee 50th Anniversary
Oral History Committee Chair, 2017-2018
Serving as chair of the March on Milwaukee 50th Oral History Committee, I helped lead a collaborative effort to record unheard voices from the city’s 1967-1968 civil rights insurgency for open housing. Fifty years after the NAACP Youth Council led 200 straight nights of protest in support of a local fair housing ordinance, our team of archivists conducted more than twenty-five oral history interviews with a diverse range of community members at three distinct locations. We also asked people from the community to share physical artifacts or images from the March on Milwaukee demonstrations as part of four “History Harvests.” The committee was represented by five archival institutions: Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Black Historical Society, UW-Milwaukee Archives, Marquette Special Collections and University Archives, and Milwaukee County Historical Society.
In addition to recognizing Black Milwaukee freedom fighters of the past, our committee supported MOM50’s effort to reignite democratic engagement around issues of racial injustice in the city “from the grassroots.” The committee’s second “History Harvest,” for instance, saw us partner with the Wisconsin ACLU Youth Social Justice forum, where stories from contemporary activists were recorded alongside veterans of Milwaukee’s long Black freedom struggle. This collection of oral histories is currently being cataloged by Wisconsin Historical Society and will be made available for online access, research, and educational use.
Transforming Justice: Action Research from the Ground-Up
Project Assistant & Web Developer, 2014-2015
As a graduate assistant on the Transforming Justice action research project, I helped support workshop development, community outreach, and overall project conceptualization in a collaborative effort to create a grassroots history of mass criminalization and incarceration in the City of Milwaukee. Collectively, UW-Milwaukee scholars, filmmakers, and community members from grassroots organizations worked to re-frame conventional narratives around crime, health, safety, and justice in Milwaukee and the nation more broadly. Our Workshops for Liberation featured scholars and organizers who work at the cutting edge of prison and policing abolition and efforts to rethink community safety in the “Age of Mass Incarceration,” carceral-racial capitalism, and #BlackLivesMatter. They included Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mariame Kaba, and Rachel Herzing. TJ’s Youth Video Collective, part of our counter media initiative, documented young people’s experiences with over-policing, racism and mass incarceration through powerful, self-directed video narratives.
The Transforming Justice project not only documented and gave voice to the above issues, but helped people develop strategies for re-defining security and health from the perspectives of individuals and communities directly affected by predatory policing and surveillance forces on the ground. I had the pleasure of designing the website for Transforming Justice and leading social media engagement on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The project won UW-Milwaukee’s 2016 Fromkin Award.
Stitching History from the Holocaust
Project Lead & Web Developer, 2013-2014
This digital exhibit was a collaboration between UW-Milwaukee Libraries, UW-Milwaukee Digital Humanities Lab, and Jewish Museum Milwaukee. After Jewish Museum Milwaukee decided to tell the story of Hedy Strnad, a Jewish-Czech fashion designer who perished during the Holocaust, they turned to UWM information librarians and humanities scholars to help provide a broader context for understanding their exhibition’s artifacts. Stitching History from the Holocaust was the first community-partnered project to emerge from UWM’s recently founded Digital Humanities Lab. Since its 2014 launch, the site has provided a roadmap for future cross-institutional, community-based collaborations.
This Omeka exhibit created a new context for the Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s artifacts: one that both interpreted Hedy and Paul Strnad’s experiences and shared her remaining dress designs with the world. Rather than merely create a public-facing website, the Digital Humanities Lab team built this exhibit using a rich repository structure. Each item was tagged with its own descriptive information, or metadata. This enables further research and opportunities to construct new narratives around exhibit items. Many people worked on this project, in ways big and small, all captivated by the Strnad’s powerful story.
Interpreting Enslaved Lives at Arlington House
Furnishing Plan Co-Developer, 2010
Five years before activists, community groups, and select political leaders sparked a contemporary struggle to remove monuments to the “Lost Cause” and other state-sanctioned symbols of white supremacy, myself and two fellow American University public history students embarked on a challenging project to re-imagine the historical interpretation of enslaved life at the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. “Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial” — whose former plantation grounds are also home to Arlington National Cemetery — had never told the complete story of its enslaved population to its hundreds-of-thousands of annual visitors, or granted them agency as full human beings.
My collaborators and I relished the opportunity to develop a furnishing plan that, through careful research and the employment of contemporary public history methods, gave voice to previously silenced Black men and women. My section of the furnishing plan re-imagined Arlington House’s “Winter Kitchen” as a dynamic site of Black resiliency, place-making, and cultural production. It explored themes of intra-racial class struggle, white paternalism, and Black resistance in the face of enslavement through ceremonial acts of conjuring and marketplace agency. The project won a National Council on Public History graduate student award at the organization’s 2011 conference.
Note: This is a selection of my public history experience. Please visit my CV for a full project listing.