It takes a village to make a village, especially if the village is virtual.
Led by UGA historian Christopher Lawton, a team made up of computer programmers, social science educators, historians of all ages and stages and gizmo mavens has created the first piece of the Georgia Virtual History Project.
The website presents history in an interactive and 21st century way, displaying information in a dynamic, digital, visual form. With a goal of chronicling the history of all of Georgia, the Project focused first on Athens, using information compiled by UGA students taking Lawton’s classes at the university and by advanced history students from Athens Academy.
“You can delve as deeply as you want into every subject on the site,” says Lawton, who’s funded by the Willson Center for the Humanities and the UGA History Department. The information unfolds in a series of 200-word envelopes.
So you may see first Newton’s House Hotel, on the site of present-day One College Square. You can study Mr. Newton’s tax records before moving on to a visual display of T.R.R. Cobb’s house, going inside the house and examining various objects in the house. You can find an account of a slave owned by the Cobb family, Susan Castle, learn about her life and see the extant house on Hancock Avenue where her descendants lived.
But Lawton doesn’t want to be writing, or re-writing, the history of the state. He wants the Georgia Virtual History Project to be available to all Georgia communities. Local experts would be finding out and sharing the details of their community’s life, to “build their own virtual record of their local past,” he says.
Lawton or another professional historian at UGA would then vet the information to ensure the statewide project has continuity and meets content standards. Already, students and faculty at Georgia State University and other institutions are involved.
Lawton and his team have also developed a smartphone app. They’re working on the first piece that is being done with the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s tourism division. Location-specific pieces will eventually cover the entire state, he says.
The project is one of the Willson Center’s clusters, nterdisciplinary groups focusing on the humanities. Involved are, besides Lawton, UGA employees Stephen Berry, John Inscoe, Jennifer James, T.J. Kopcha; Mark Evans, co-founder of MoWerks Learning; historian Randy Reid from Athens Academy; and Greg Smith from Smith, Temple, Riley and Santos.