How It Works

At the center of the History Harvest are two driving ideas:  First, an acknowledgement that Nebraska is a diverse state with a rich and complex history that has often been overlooked, underappreciated, simplified and stereotyped.  Second, a recognition that most of this history has not been collected into traditional archives, libraries or museum holdings, but resides with everyday people, in the things they hold on to, the meanings they ascribe to those objects, and in the stories they have to tell.  The History Harvest program, then, seeks to partner with local people and institutions to help uncover, archive and share some of the “hidden” historical treasure located right in our own communities.  


Here is how it works:

Once a year, or so, we go to a different town or neighborhood and hold a History Harvest, inviting local people to bring us interesting historical artifacts they might have in their possession, perhaps on display in a prized place in their home, or maybe tucked away on a shelf in the basement, or forgotten altogether in a box in the attic.  Historical artifacts might include letters, diaries, photographs, pamphlets, records, legal documents, memorabilia from local or national events or campaigns (buttons, fliers, posters, programs, etc.), popular culture objects, artwork, graphic arts, textiles, signage, clothing, audio recordings, or other three-dimensional objects that a community member thinks has some sort of historical (and family) significance.         

Community members bring their artifact(s) to our site, where a team of professional historians, as well as graduate students and advanced undergraduate History majors, are on hand to listen to and collect the personal and family stories and meanings community members associate with their objects, and to talk to them, in return, about the ways historians might think about their artifacts and how they connect with the broader national story of American history. In short, we try to share and exchange about the historical value of their artifacts.

In addition, we make a digital copy of each historical artifact (usually that means photographing it if it is a three-dimensional object, or scanning it if it is a two-dimensional document) and collect any interesting stories that might go along with it. We do not keep any artifacts and observe a strict protocol when handling materials to ensure their safety and care. The digitized artifacts and stories we collect are then added to an ever-expanding free, web-based public archive of Nebraska history, open to teachers, students and the general public.

  • History Harvest is: community-based

At root, History Harvest is a collaborative endeavor with local people. It is built on the belief that the lived experiences of everyday people in the communities around us are historically significant. The History Harvest, then, is an invitation to local folks to share their historical artifacts, and their stories, for inclusion in a unique, evolving digital archive of what we like to think of as a “people’s history.”

To achieve the project goals, History Harvest partners with local individuals, organizations and specific communities to collect, preserve and share their rich histories. For instance, during our 2011 harvest, which focused on African American history in North Omaha, in addition to our open, community-based harvest, we partnered with the Great Plains Black History Museum to digitize and feature a small sub-set of artifacts from their collection and Love’s Jazz & Arts, a community space dedicated to the preservation of North Omaha’s jazz tradition, to host our event, as well as the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation and a number of neighborhood churches to help promote it. In 2013, during a harvest with Lincoln’s refugee communities, we partnered with the Center for People in Need, a major social service provider in town among immigrant and refugee populations, to help us make connections, promote our event and host the harvest at their facility.  We also attended community organization meetings and cultural celebrations at the invitation of those we were working with.  In 2018, we partnered with the Sons of Italy group in South Omaha during our harvest on Omaha’s Little Italy community.  In 2019, we partnered with the Zoo Bar in Lincoln to document some of the amazing music history that has passed through the venue since it opened in 1973, as well as the community of people that have orbited around the Zoo over the past 50 years. None of this work is possible without local connectivity and collaboration. As we do it, we are mindful of the long history of cultural appropriation and extraction, particularly by powerful people and institutions against marginalized communities, and strive to create project relationships that are mindful, respectful, historically-informed and equitable.  

  • History Harvest is: student-centered

As a formal, pedagogical approach, the History Harvest seeks to place the student, individually, and in collaboration with classmates and community members at the center of the learning experience.  Students, working as a team, are responsible for puzzling through, organizing and executing each phase of the harvest, from learning about the community, establishing community connections and cultivating partnerships, to planning the event itself, promotion and media relations, then post-harvest processing and curation, from digitization, archiving, community-based follow-up, etc.  With help from the professor, graduate students and community members, undergraduate students take the lead responsibility for the project and are thereby uniquely related to and invested in the class and its outcome. 

Consistently, students have reported that the History Harvest course was deeply impactful, even transformative.  Click and watch the following brief video segments, featuring students who participated in our very first History Harvest undergraduate course at UNL discussing their experience in their own words:   


  • History Harvest is: flexible and adaptive

One of the core strengths of the History Harvest concept is its flexibility.  The basic harvest concept can easily and creatively be adapted to the specific needs of teachers and learners, or community members, in particular places and contexts. 

The focus of individual harvests is adaptive.  For example, a harvest might focus on the family histories of the students themselves.  Or, a specific community, or neighborhood, like African Americans in North Omaha, or refugee communities in Lincoln, Czechs in Wilbur, etc.  Or, perhaps a thematic approach, like railroad history in Nebraska City, or Husker sports fandom.  Maybe a harvest focuses on a particular, significant event, like the 1987 Farm Aid III concert at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium, or the rodeo in Burwell, or the state fair.  Or, perhaps a harvest might focus on a time-period.  For instance, the Great Depression in small town Nebraska, or the Sixties in Lincoln, the 1980s farm crisis in Nebraska.  Or, it could be organized around a physical structure, like a historic building, or a business, like the Zoo Bar, or another specific site, like the Aksarben horseracing track in Omaha, or the South Side stockyards, which were, at one point, among the largest in the world.  The possibilities are robust in many directions!   

The History Harvest might also be useful to community-based groups in different ways.  For example, Dr. Rebecca Wingo brought the HH concept from Nebraska to Macalester College, where she and her students conducted a harvest focused on the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, the historical center of the city’s African American community.  During that harvest, the class partnered with Rondo Avenue, Inc., a grass-roots organization dedicated to preserving the history of black people in Rondo and healing long-standing wounds from highway construction that cut through and displaced the community.  This partnership resulted in a number of collaborative outcomes that supported RAI’s mission, as well as the goals of History Harvest.      

The core concept and foundational skills associated with the History Harvest are easily adaptable to an array of teaching and learning levels, styles, contexts, goals and strategies, from the undergraduate and graduate levels at the university, to upper elementary, middle and high school.  In the “HH Teaching Materials” section of this site, there are a range of resources aimed at helping people interested in participating in the History Harvest adapt its core concepts to their specific objectives and needs. 


  • History Harvest is: generative

Another important aspect of the History Harvest concept is that it is generative, meaning that from start to finish, the HH is aimed at creating something new and useful – a community-based, public, digital archive.  Instead of a teaching and learning model focused primarily on students consuming existing knowledge, the HH concept gives students the opportunity to participate in the creation and expansion of the historical record and in so doing leave a lasting contribution to community-based historical knowledge.  It is this creative, generative, and lasting dynamic that often most thrills and compels students.        


  • History Harvest is: skills-oriented

The History Harvest concept provides students with old and new historical skills – like identifying and interpreting artifacts; understanding and analyzing scholarly secondary sources; making and analyzing arguments; writing interpretive text; constructing meta-data; digital archiving and curation, etc. - as well as a host of other pragmatic skills – like media outreach and public relations; filming; photography; scanning; digital editing; event planning and project organization; community connectivity and collaboration; public speaking; teamwork, etc. – that are adaptable to many different contexts and potential professional pathways. 

How It Works