Two new grants, a Research Continuity Micro-Grant from the University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities and a Community Partnership Grant from the American Studies Association, will provide funds for a team of students to conduct new oral history interviews with elder community members from Lakeland, an African American community of College Park, Maryland. This work is part of a collaboration between the Lakeland Community Heritage Project (LCHP), the University of Maryland’s Department of American Studies, and MITH.
Eight students will work with us this summer—four from the Lakeland community and four from local schools and universities. The students are receiving 8 hours of training introducing them to the history of Lakeland and the LCHP and learning oral history methods they will use to conduct interviews. The project will follow a template that Project Director Dr. Mary Corbin Sies has previously used with classes as part of her long-term investment in working with the Lakeland community. In addition to Sies, Ms. Violetta Sharps Jones, a local historian and LCHP board member, MITH’s Stephanie Sapienza, Dr. Asim Ali, a Lecturer and ethnographer from the Department of American Studies, and Ashleigh Coren, Special Collections Librarian for Teaching and Learning, at the University of Maryland Libraries are all contributing their expertise.
At our first session, Ms. Sharps Jones shared stories about Lakeland’s early history with the students. She explained Lakeland’s central geographic location among a group of small, interconnected African American communities along U.S. Route One in Prince George’s County, MD. Because it was the location of the main African American high school in the county prior to 1950 and its easy access to train and trolley transportation, Lakeland became a natural gathering place for African American social and recreational activities.
The mission of the LCHP, a decade-old local historical society, is to preserve and share the history and heritage of Lakeland, which thrived until its self-contained cultural traditions and sense of place were undermined by social change and a devastating urban renewal program. Dr. Sies and the Department of American Studies have collaborated with LCHP since 2009, establishing an ongoing community-engaged project whose primary achievement is creation of The Lakeland Digital Archive. The partnership provides LCHP—an all-volunteer historical society—with student and faculty labor to help document and archive Lakeland’s history while training students in an ethical and equitable practice of collaborative heritage research in which students assist Lakelanders to produce historical knowledge in their own voices.
MITH joined the project in 2017 when we offered our experience with digital preservation and agreed to house and secure the Lakeland Digital Archive on MITH’s servers. Our role now is to help make available the results of years of research by community members and UMD students documenting an historic African American community before and after segregation. Over the course of the past several months, MITH faculty Sapienza, Ed Summers, and Trevor Muñoz have worked with Sies and LCHP President Ms. Maxine Gross to inventory, organize, and augment metadata for objects already in the digital collection. We have organized two events with Lakelanders to crowdsource identification of subjects among the many photos in the collection.
In collaboration with members of the Lakeland community, MITH is facilitating a multi-year effort to redesign the archive website to make available the history of Lakeland in forms accessible to the community. The new oral histories that student researchers collect this summer will join the thousands of other items in this important digital resource.