A review of African American History and Culture, a pedagogical website, directed by Terry Carter
African American History and Culture
Terry Carter, Kennesaw State University
Alanna Prince, Northeastern University
The curated African American History and Culture website is the result of efforts to create an online source of information for students in my African American literature courses and for public digital information consumers. The website in its current form grew from my interest in developing a Domain of One’s Own site in 2013, via Reclaim Hosting, which provides web hosting for faculty. Initially, I considered developing a website displaying my own name to showcase credible online resources and to showcase artifacts from accessible online archives. However, after further consideration, I decided to create a WordPress website that would complement my identity as an African American professor and teacher of African American literature in the Department of English at Kennesaw State University.
This project received IRB approval in 2016. Between 2016 and 2018, I spent much time trying to determine the best design for a curated website that would be informational and that would lend itself to being an instructional resource for students in my African American literature courses. I also envisioned the website as a resource for public audiences interested in consuming credible information about African American history and culture. This project was discussed with colleagues within and beyond my academic institution. I also shared ideas about the project concept with presentation audience members at the 2016 American Association of University Professors Conference and the 2017 and 2019 American Association of Blacks in Higher Education Conference. In those presentations I argued for scholarly acceptance of the envisioned web project as a creditable faculty digital publication activity. In 2020, I authored an AAUP Academe blog post titled “Possibilities and Perils of Digital Scholarship for Faculty Performance Requirements.” The post was inspired by this project and the aforementioned presentations.
Development of the project was also influenced by my work with Corey Lynn Daniels, who is a graduate of Saint Leo University’s instructional design program. He helped me to see the potential of the site to eventually become an interactive learner resource with measurable learning objectives. The current website is informative in nature, rather than being an interactive resource. However, it was designed so that in the future the website content might be linked to learner assessment tools.
Visitors to the website will find a description about its purpose along with four informational pages that (1) showcase cultural history facts from lesser-known published resources, (2) feature annotated images from archival sources, (3) provide web links showcasing timelines of African American historical contributions, and (4) provide web links for learning more about African American history, literature, and culture. The curated website information is checked periodically to ensure links are current and updated at least once every academic year with additional resources. The curated African American History and Culture website was deposited to the MLA Humanities Common digital repository in 2019 and is currently linked to my Humanities Common homepage.
Terry Carter’s project, African American History and Culture, is a small but promising digital humanities project that seeks to provide and create networks of African American history and culture. Mainly intended to be used as a pedagogical hub for the professor’s students and in other classrooms, the goal of this project is to become an interactive site for students and instructors to learn more about lesser-known parts of African American history and culture. This is a noble goal and a much-needed project. With proper labor, funding, and care, the project has the potential to do just that.
The project’s website spans about four pages as of July of 2023: “Highlighted Images of African American Culture,” “Places to Find Historical Time Periods Highlighting Important Contributions of African Americans,” “Highlighted African American Cultural and History Facts,” and “Recommended Web Sources to Learn More About African American History, Literature, and Culture.” Each page has some resources and places to further explore. The organization is sensible and straightforward but could benefit from a wider, but more carefully collected, variety of resources. The design of the project is without frills, but I am not certain that it needs them too much. Still, more images and a brighter background might augment user experience.
I recommend that the project add some breadth to the site by also including a “pedagogy corner” of sorts, where instructors could go for resources on how to integrate both the project and the history into their classrooms. For example, although many scholars have some reticence about handing over their syllabi — and with good reason, because they are hard work, after all — I do believe if Carter is able to find those willing, the project would benefit from having a page that lists a number of syllabi or even reading lists or bibliographies that professors and self-guided students could use as a resource to getting started. One of the trickiest parts of teaching African American history for the first time, or integrating it into other courses, is simply getting started. Providing a foundation of texts, lessons, and archival materials to help others get off the ground would be invaluable. I am certain that a page of pedagogical resources would be a critically helpful tool in pushing the project further. It even might look to the Colored Conventions Project to build a network of instructors that share the same goals.
Any digital humanities project is a large undertaking and some can take years to get off the ground, especially when labor is an issue. As it stands, the work seems to be done exclusively by Carter. I recommend that he consider collaborating with his students to build out the site. For example, he could consider building a course syllabus around class projects that can be placed on the site, such as annotated maps, timelines, or even writing short articles or essays. This would not only “beef up” the content, but it would also provide the students the opportunity to become published scholars. This would be a win-win for everyone involved, and help alleviate the burden of labor on Carter.
Carter has a strong record of teaching and publishing on pedagogy, and leaning into that will be his best bet in taking this project to the next level. As it stands, African American History and Culture is a work in progress, and the ideas and the need for it are there. Rethinking how the project is structured and who contributes will certainly enhance the project and move it towards its goal.