American Studies-based Digital Innovation Lab began working with the Khayrallah Program for Lebanese-American Studies (http://lac.chass.ncsu.edu) two years ago to map the migration and settlement of hundreds of families in North Carolina cities a century ago from what is now Lebanon, but was then a part of the Ottoman Empire. The idea grew out of a casual conversation between Robert Allen, Professor of American Studies and Director of the DIL, and John Blythe, a staff member of the North Carolina Collection, whose mother’s family was a part of that immigration story.
By the time the digital map was unveiled as a part of the North Carolina Museum of History’s “Cedars in the Pines – The Lebanese in North Carolina: 130 Years of History” exhibit on February 21, 2014, Mapping Early NC Lebanese Households had involved more than a dozen students in two DIL-linked graduate seminars, hundreds of hours of labor by undergraduate and graduate research assistants, a technology collaboration with UNC’s Renaissance Computing Institute, and significant enhancements of the DIL’s digital humanities software platform, DH Press (the DIL recently received a national award for developing DH Press).
At the beginning of spring term 2014, the sixteen students in Robert Allen’s DIL-linked American Studies first year seminar on family history were introduced to the potential of digital history and to the wealth of primary source material available to UNC students through Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com by researching four Lebanese immigrant households and writing narratives around the census enumerations, immigration records, naturalization petitions, and city directory listings in which household members appear. They were able to take advantage of millions of pages of nineteenth- and early-20th century North Carolina newspapers recently digitized and made accessible to UNC students, faculty, and staff through a collaboration between the UNC Library and Ancestry.com subsidiary Newspapers.com. The students presented their first drafts at a family history workshop for K-12 educators on January 21, 2014. They are working with Mapping Early NC Lebanese Households project manager Stephanie Barnwell to revise their narratives with the goal of incorporating their research into “Household Spotlight” features that will be added to the project in the coming weeks.
American Studies major Anna Faison has worked as an undergraduate research assistant on the project, and contributed this spotlight narrative on the Baddour family of Goldsboro: http://digital.nclebanese.org/spotlights/baddour/ , which will serve as a model for the first-year students’ narratives.
With support from the First Year Seminar Office, the class will visit the exhibit in early April, meet and enjoy a Lebanese meal with Professor Akram Khater, Director of the Khayrallah Center.
Lessons learned from the project and its data structure are currently being applied to new DIL community history projects, including the “reconstruction” of one of the largest cotton mill villages in North Carolina in the early 1920s, using census enumerations accessed through Ancestry.com, and historic maps provided by the North Carolina Collection.