I recently read a review of the digital history project “A Shaky Truce: Starkville Civil Rights Struggles 1960-1980” in The Public Historian. This review, by Erin Krutko Devlin, was overwhelmingly positive (with only a couple of critiques on some inconsistencies in-site and some information overlap).
To give a little context on this digital project, ‘‘A Shaky Truce’’: Starkville Civil Rights Struggles, 1960–1980 showcases the history of the civil rights movement in Starkville, Mississippi. The site features digitized archival documents, oral histories presented through community interviews, rich and interactive data visualizations, and narrative online exhibits. Additionally, “A Shaky Truce” serves not only as an archival site but as a springboard for educators and researchers, with links to lesson plans, research guides, and bibliographies associated with the project. There’s also a portion to share “Your Story”, with a communication form to be filled out by community members who wish to contribute. Overall, the site states that it’s purpose is to tell the story of a local yet impactful Civil Rights movement that took place in Starkville. “Local individuals organized and protested against inequality and fought for integration, equal employment, and their right to vote. Their voices deserve to be heard, and their contributions to the larger civil rights narrative demands recognition.”
In Devlin’s review, the impact of this site lies in it’s distribution of historical materials and methods to the public. According to Devlin, “‘A Shaky Truce’ provides local residents and students with the platform to narrate their own history and to make meaning out of the events that unfolded in their own community. Its greatest contribution is the work that it does not only to share the history of Starkville’s civil rights story but to provide visitors with insight into the records, experiences, and perspectives that historians rely on when crafting their accounts.” (Devlin, 148)
However, Devlin made a critique on the site that I find important to discuss. Firstly, Devlin believes that there are some inconsistencies on the site that need to be addressed, such as the oral histories having different methods of accessing the interviews (via buttons, embedded videos, and footnotes) in individual exhibits. When I accessed the oral histories section, almost all of the interviews featured the same “Full Interview” button that should lead to the interviews themselves, so there was a consistent appearance there (I do say “should” intentionally, here, because at the time of writing this blog, I actually could not access the full interviews). However, I do see the point that Devlin was making when looking at the subsections within The Struggle, as when the interviews are presented in mixed-mediums, it is visually disjointing. However, I think if some context was provided as to why certain interviews were presented in these ways, it could make for a really holistic experience of the exhibit. I personally love when I go to/access an exhibit and there are different ways of accessing the materials. While I agree that it is confusing, and as a scholar I agree that there should be some consistency (or at least explanation) with the differing presentation of historical materials, I ultimately didn’t find that it took away from my experience as a visitor of the exhibits. It just might have left me with a few more questions.
Overall, while it doesn’t make for a very interesting blog, I find myself agreeing with Devlin’s review of “A Shaky Truce”. The use of materials, the collaboration with the community, and the creation of a section specifically for teachers and researchers made the experience of this and the understanding of Starkville’s Civil Rights history an incredibly rich experience. Devlin’s critiques of the site hold true for me as well, with some minor complications of the critiques on my end. As a scholar, I valued the organization and holistic presentation of the materials on the site, but as a patron/visitor, I just thought it was immensely cool.
Devlin, Erin Krutko, et al. The Public Historian, vol. 40, no. 1, 2018, pp. 146–48. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26421070. Accessed 29 Sep. 2022.
A Shaky Truce : Starkville Civil Rights, 1960-1980 |. https://starkvillecivilrights.msstate.edu/wordpress/. Accessed 29 Sept. 2022.