New Web Exhibit Covers Black Organizing in Pre-Civil War Illinois


Northwest faculty, staff and students launched the web exhibit “Black Organizing in Pre-Civil War Illinois: Building Community, Demanding Justice” on Tuesday and held a celebratory opening event at Kresge.

“When you think of the 1840s, 50s and 60s in Illinois, a lot of people probably envision Abraham Lincoln and his rise to the presidency,” said history professor Kate Masur, director of the project. “My sense is that few people know or teach about Illinois’ black laws, which attempted to discourage and even outright ban black migration into the state during the same time period.”

The team began working on the project about three years ago, seeking to showcase black stories as Illinois attempted to suppress, marginalize and exclude them, Masur said. the online exhibition covers topics ranging from black life in prewar Illinois to black protests and churches in the mid-1850s.

Masur worked with Josh Honn, the digital humanities librarian, and Matthew Taylor, the media and design studio director. Research for the project came from graduate and undergraduate students who profiled influential black figures and covered major events.

“With this exhibition, we are part of the larger projects to shine a light on (dark) stories, to make them accessible in an accessible way so that we can know them, learn from them, integrate them into our larger narratives of life. history of this state and nation,” Masur said.

The project embraced digital humanities, which integrates research and publishing with technology, as a major pillar for exposing these rare stories, Honn said. The exhibit’s creators played around with web design and interactive visualizations.

Honn said this type of digital humanities reflects black organizing, going beyond publishing to impart “pedagogy, knowledge, effort, skills, and stories” in an effort to create a better future. . He said they had worked with the Colored Conventions Project to establish in-depth knowledge levels of black history that they had researched.

“Students don’t just learn, for example, who owns the photograph, but how to deal with the memory in it,” Honn said. “The work of creating inclusive and engaging pedagogy that can be applied in classrooms across the country is a truly unique and important feat that I hope will continue to be honored and emulated in the field of digital humanities.

Some students like the fourth-year doctorate in history. student Mikala Stokes, shared their experiences working on the project. Working with a second-year doctorate in history. student Marquis Taylor, Stokes researched the Illinois Negro Convention of 1853, which sought to counter Illinois black laws.

Stokes said establishing a collaborative environment with Taylor has been beneficial to his learning. She said the collaborative nature of the project has also helped her, especially because the pandemic has made most research operations remote.

“The Chicago convention was intended to vindicate Americanness…the 1853 black law that prevented the future migration of African Americans to Illinois violated the principles of freedom of movement.” Stokes said. “These are deeply held American principles. And they violated those of African Americans.

Weinberg juniors Valeria Lira-Ruelas and Shira Nash worked together to compile profiles of delegates who attended the 1853 convention. Lira-Ruelas said these profiles were particularly difficult because there was insufficient or conflicting information.

Lira-Ruelas said the two worked together to iron out inconsistencies and create narratives centered around the black experience. Raised in a “predominantly black and brown” community in northern Illinois, she said the project changed her understanding of her community’s history.

“Black organizing was and continues to be incredibly powerful and inspiring,” Lira-Ruelas said. “He played a critical role in the Civil War and the abolition of slavery and I can’t help but be disappointed in my past upbringing for not emphasizing this critical aspect of history. American.

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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