Proposal by Angela J. Smith, Ph.D.

Public History Project
at Belmont University
To engage with local neighborhoods to teach, preserve, and share our community history

“Connections to our past are important to developing and maintaining our sense of place, a sense of personal and local identity, and often add to our individual sense of purpose and belonging.”
www.localarchiver.com

Rick Anderson

The Belmont area has a rich history.

Objectives

Educate BU students and the community about the land and place that have been common to both, as well as the unique histories that have followed. Reach out in an effort to create a historical record of our neighbors’ experiences, stories and artifacts. Partner with classes and student groups, churches, civic groups, and libraries to expand opportunities for outreach and service. Research the communities that surround Belmont in an effort to discover and record our history — “Belmont and Beyond” — in university classrooms as well as church and community forums. Document and catalog the work of the project in a publicly accessible venues such as the Project’s website and public lectures

Educate

Teach BU history courses that focus on local historical research such as the Junior Cornerstone, “Historical Documentary Filmmaking.” Model can extend across disciplines in both classroom and service learning. To begin, focus on the areas where Belmont, Edgehill and Music Row have intersected through their respective histories: ✦ land use change over time ✦ demographics ✦ cultural landscape studies ✦ histories of Belmont and neighborhood ✦ history of the music industry in Nashville

1903 Belmont College postcard

Educate and Reach Out

Offer opportunities for local residents to learn about preservation and digitization. In the process we capture the stories in oral and video histories; we digitize their photographs and identify them (and, of course, return them.) Ultimately, there will be a place that the neighborhood and the broader public can come to study and add to the collected records. Offer community classes and workshops for little or no cost to participants. Design some to be intergenerational — kids and their grandparents — and others to be student or adult learning.

Outreach

Partner with local schools to share our discoveries with the next generation. At Belmont, the initiative could work with sociology, journalism, history, political science, and music business professors to develop course projects anchored in the local community. Offer educational opportunities and exhibits within the community — Easley Project, school auditoriums, church fellowship halls, Edgehill Branch Library, high-rise apartments and clinic.

to Educate and Reach Out

Sample projects

Belmont art and photography students can create works using vintage and contemporary Edgehill photos. The proposed Community History Project can hang exhibits where people pass by and stop, look and talk about what they see. They share their stories: “I remember ...” ✦ Public Relations students can plan events for opening receptions and can use Community History Project materials to create brochures or keepsakes to pass out. Education students can work with teachers at Rose Park and Carter-Lawrence on lesson plans that incorporate material that Belmont’s Community History Project has gathered. Sports administration students and athletes can create an exhibit and find speakers for an event related to the Negro Leagues.

Outreach
We can’t change the facts (nor should we.) In the 19th century, Belmont was the "plantation." Adelecia Acklen built Belmont in 1849 with money her first husband, Isaac Franklin, earned from the slave trade. She owned slaves, and many of them worked on the property. Belmont, as an educational institution admitted only white people for much of its history. With President Fisher’s effort to lead the university to be more inclusive and diverse, the Belmont Community History Project can offer a way for Belmont to serve the community in ways that value everyone's history. Service is the key. Belmont and the community will collaborate. The result will be a publicly accessible history facilitated by Belmont, but shaped by the neighbors, their experiences and their memories.

Partner
There are many partnership opportunities for the Project. The Project can approach local libraries, schools, and churches with a goal of learning and preserving the community's history. The idea is to serve and through partnerships: Offer the community a chance to create their own historical narrative rather than have others create it for them.

Research
With a research objective, the Community History Project is charged with creating systematic research projects that build a collaborative community history. Many times historical research is conducted in a vacuum where individuals are unaware of what other are doing. The Project will be a facilitator to both Belmont classes, public schools, and the community to ensure that previous research is available and new research cataloged. A web presence will be created so the public can readily access the stories and data the Project is working on. A replicable academic model will be documented and ultimately shared.

Document
The Project will be the central repository and coordination Project for the research, and an interactive website will make the projects accessible to a wide audience. In the beginning, that does not require that the university create a dedicated space to house it.

Getting started

I have created this proposal with the idea of leading this initiative. It grew out of my education in history — a master’s in History and a Ph.D. in public history, both from MTSU; my history with Belmont — I received my undergraduate degree in 1984 and have worked as a part-time employee here since 2004. I also worked for 20 years in the graphic design and printing industry, which adds to my skill in combining history and media. Initial costs will be minimal; I have an office at Belmont, community contacts, and enough video and audio equipment to get started. Long range plans can be created once we launch the initiative.

“It matters how we build our communities and how we preserve them. Being thoughtful stewards of these places is hard work. But it is a job worth doing. We are not just hanging onto yesterday; we are building tomorrow. ”
Stephanie Meeks
President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

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