What was it like to live in Great Grand Dad’s day? That’s a question any family historian trying to bring his ancestors to life in the pages of a book ought to ask.
Getting beyond the rather cold facts of a relative’s genealogical record requires drawing upon family stories when they are available. But it also means trying to recreate the time and place in which that person lived, their historical context. That’s the realm of the social historian.
The City University of New York has placed the work of its American Social History Project a mouse click away. The website is maintained by the University’s Center for Media and Learning. “Informed by the latest scholarship,” promises the Project, “we make the past, and the lives of the working people and ‘ordinary’ Americans who shaped it, vivid and meaningful.” The website “presents history from the perspective of working men and women, pairing a lively narrative with extensive visual and written documentary evidence.”
It’s a wonderful resource for a family historian.
There are a variety of windows into the past. Three I found of particular interest were:
- Who Built America? From the Great War of 1914 to the Dawn of the Atomic Age in 1946 is a multimedia exploration of three of the most tumultuous decades in U.S. history. Spanning two world wars and the Great Depression, this CD-ROM presents a comprehensive and engaging overview of the history of the period along with an extraordinarily rich body of primary sources: dozens of oral interviews, period songs, speeches, radio programs and film clips, hundreds of illustrations, and thousands of pages of primary text documents.
- The Lost Museum: Exploring Antebellum American Life and Culture “a three-dimensional re-creation of P. T. Barnum’s American Museum, the most visited cultural attraction in the nineteenth-century United States.”
- The September 11Digital Archive “contains more than 150,000 digital items, including more than 40,000 emails and other electronic communications, more than 40,000 first-hand stories, and more than 15,000 digital images.” (I know, Great Grand Dad wasn’t around then, I just liked the archive.)
The American Social History Project offers several other multimedia resources and much more including podcasts, blogs, and documentary films. Check it out! Not only will it help you add colorful context to your family history book, it’s just fun to surf.
Let us know what you think! Leave a comment.