(Web) Sites of Memory
Summer project links a painful past to a promising future
by Michelle Simmons
August 26, 2013
This image is from the file of William M. Hodge, a member of the Klamath tribe in Requa, Calif. He was at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from 1908 to 1913, where he trained to be a mason.
Anyone who’s poked around Ancestry.com knows how difficult it can be to link the present to the past. For many Native Americans—and scholars researching Native American history—the task can be nearly insurmountable.
This summer, Archives & Special Collections teamed up with the Community Studies Center (CSC) to develop a digital archive of records and materials related to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIIS), a major—and controversial—historical site for Native Americans. Between 1879 and 1918, more than 10,000 Native American children were separated, many forcibly, from their families and sent to the school.
“The Indian school is one of those topics that always emerge for research,” says College Archivist Jim Gerencser ’93, citing the wealth of material scattered throughout several institutions, including Dickinson, the Cumberland County Historical Society, the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Yale University and the National Archives. “Over the years I began thinking that this was a perfect project for creating an online, virtual repository where everything could be brought together to make it easier for researchers and descendants who are interested in family history.”
“It’s especially timely,” adds Susan Rose ’77, professor of sociology and director of the CSC. “Often it’s the grandchild generation that comes back and wants more information about their grandparents.”
Last October, the CSC co-hosted Carlisle, PA: Site of Indigenous Histories, Memories and Reclamations Symposium, with attendance of more than 150 Native Americans from 36 tribal nations. The strong response to the symposium provided further impetus for new research.
And thanks to support from a recent Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Digital Humanities grant, archives and the CSC were able to launch a multi-year project, sending several student interns to the National Archives to scan, process and transcribe the school’s files, from enrollment records to medical histories.
For Frank Vitale ’16, a history major who was among the four student interns ensconced at the National Archives for two weeks, the trip offered insider access to the august institution.
“I have a passion for local history,” he says. “The CIIS project gave me the opportunity to learn more about the school and contribute to academic research while exploring career paths in archival science and digital humanities.”
The project is in its earliest stages. Special Collections Librarian Malinda Triller Doran, Gerencser and Rose anticipate designing a curriculum for K-12 educators, launching a Mosaic for Dickinson students and building interactive elements that allow users to contribute materials to the online collection.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School digital humanities project
"Site of Memory"
Community Studies Center
2013 Summer Student-Faculty Research