A review of Georgia Journeys, a digital exploration of experiences of World War II and the Holocaust, directed by Adina Langer
Georgia Journeys: Legacies of World War II
Adina Langer, Kennesaw State University
Janine Hubai, George Mason University
Georgia Journeys: Legacies of World War II is a free-choice digital exploration that traces stories of World War II veterans, home front workers, and Holocaust survivors across space and time. All the individuals featured on the site have a strong connection to the state of Georgia, home of the Museum of History and Holocaust Education (MHHE) at Kennesaw State University (KSU).
Georgia Journeys’ 2016 launch coincided with the opening of the MHHE’s permanent exhibition by the same name, bridging the museum’s broad focus on the history of World War II and the Holocaust with local perspectives that resonate with the museum’s visitors. The core of the exhibit consists of 12 biographical panels based on the testimony of veterans, home front workers, and Holocaust Survivors from MHHE’s Legacy Series oral history project. Appealing to a wide range of visitors, from 5th graders to older adults, the exhibition features timelines, maps, artifacts, audio recordings, tactile reproductions, and iPads seeded with the Georgia Journeys digital exhibit, encouraging overlapping of location, personal testimony, chronology, and theme. It now includes more than 30 “Journeys.”
The project is directed by MHHE curator Adina Langer, who works closely with a team of museum educators and student interns. Some Journeys support the Georgia Standards of Excellence (the state curriculum frameworks), while others augment exhibits elsewhere in the MHHE. While physical exhibits may travel or rotate, digital additions to Georgia Journeys are permanently accessible.
Georgia Journeys uses the Curatescape web and mobile app framework for publishing location-based content using Omeka content management software. Curatescape is open source and free when combined with the use of an on-site Linux server hosting Omeka. Curatescape uses OpenStreetMap as its base layer. Originally created as a real-time mobile tour app, Curatescape lends itself to the geo-historical storytelling at the heart of Georgia Journeys’ methodology with a few simple adjustments. In addition to its emphasis on personal perspectives linked to specific locations, Georgia Journeys uses the dynamic tagging, controlled vocabulary subjects, and digital exhibits features built into Omeka to encourage multiple ways to explore content on the site, key to the informal learning paradigm central to MHHE’s mission.
The primary audiences for Georgia Journeys include on-site museum visitors as well as pre- and post-visit explorers. The majority of MHHE’s annual visitors are students studying the Holocaust during 5th and 6th grade and Georgia history during 8th grade. KSU students, faculty, and staff comprise the second-largest visitor group, followed by older adults. Digital exhibits greatly expand that field. Georgia Journeys has been used to research specific individuals, sub-topics in World War II and Holocaust history, immigration, the Civil Rights Movement, and post-war Georgia politics. MHHE educator-created teachers’ guides offer explorations of the site, connecting familiar historical figures with individuals affected by their policies or actions.
The Georgia Journeys exhibition and the digital exploration have been recognized for excellence, receiving a Leadership in History award in 2017 from the American Association for State and Local History. The digital site received Silver awards in the applications and distance education categories of the Southeastern Museums Conference Technology competition in 2018.
Georgia Journeys: Legacies of World War II, a website curated by Adina Langer and created to complement the Museum of History and Holocaust Education (MHHE) at Kennesaw State University (KSU), exhibits the experiences of people connected to Georgia who were affected by World War II and the Holocaust. Using an interactive map to connect the stories to geographic locations, the website allows for an affective visualization of the local and global reach of World War II, challenging the Western European-centric narrative of the war and giving a broader voice to those narratives to include people from multiple races, ethnicities, religions, political affiliations, and gender. Primarily using oral histories from MHHE’s Legacy Series Oral History Project, Georgia Journeys builds on the collective push to record oral histories of World War II before they are lost and includes experiences about life after the Holocaust, which offers another dimension to survivorship. The use of high resolution images of personal photographs, objects, and documents adds a human element to the narratives.
The site showcases histories two ways: as longer “journeys” presented on chronologically numbered timelines or as shorter “stories,” vignettes of the longer journeys. The journeys, told in an interviewee’s words or in those of a loved one, are the heart of the website. Editor’s notes provide historical context where appropriate. In some cases, the historical context is limited, but others include essential information and links to more substantial historical context. For example, William Hall Wallace, Sr. describes his experience during Basic Training, including a reference to the use of chemical weapon testing on U.S. soldiers. The editor’s note then provides a link to an important background article on NPR detailing racial agendas and disparities in chemical weapons testing during World War II, allowing the user to take a deeper dive into historical evidence.
Georgia Journeys uses the Curatescape web and mobile app framework with OpenStreetMap overlay within Omeka. As a free-choice digital exploration, journeys and stories are searchable by using the navigation bar, interactive map, featured stories, or tags. The site offers basic search functions and thus limits the user’s choices; however, the simplicity does not detract from its usefulness. The site allows for stories to be explored by category, offering 188 individual tags and a search tool on the navigation bar. More explanation on the homepage would help the user understand that the map is interactive and what the featured stories below the map represent—short stories about larger journeys related to the broader themes of World War II. Page loading and transitions are seamless and create a professional feel. Consistent georeferenced points and linkages would add to this professionalism.
While many journeys are robust, others are sparse and look rushed. The site would benefit from more uniformity of the depth and breadth of the journeys to provide more well-rounded examples of different experiences. This would allow the website to mirror the mission of the museum, which strives to offer multiple, complex human stories and diverse experiences. Individual storytellers offer varying degrees of detail when interviewed, making the creation of equally detailed digital stories from oral histories complicated. Now more than ever, it is the responsibility of public history sites and museums to offer balanced representation and stories with comparable, if not equal, levels of detail. By fixing the inconsistencies in the website, Georgia Journeys has the potential to increase usership without changing the heart of their website. Increasing the visibility of these resources—such as moving links from the “About Us” section to a more prominent location on their homepage—would allow MHHE to highlight modules and reach a wider audience, thus allowing more users to experience the complex and diverse stories of World War II. Doing so will only add to the positive intentions and excellent storytelling already present on the website.
This award-winning site has been recognized for its excellence in educational modules for both primary, secondary, and college levels, which will be particularly useful for distance learning during the pandemic. Given the global pandemic and inability for many to visit the museum and archives, MHHE has the opportunity to encourage scholars to use their journeys and online archival footage for research. Georgia Journeys not only adds important archival sources, but serves as an equally important public history website.