So I’ve included in this post (at the bottom) the most recent draft of the Hollins historical timeline. I guess my main question is does it seem to flow and make sense? Honestly it was pretty challenging trying to distill down all the research we did as a class, and some that I did on my own, into a cohesive and linear narrative. For me, it’s always been pretty hard to know just how much you need to say to convey an idea or the significance of an historical event without overstating your point, or making it too obvious to the reader/viewer. As Dr. Meringolo once told me, the idea is to make it seem like you are not telling your reader what to think, but at the same time you aren’t really giving them an option for seeing it any other way. It’s a subtle and difficult balance to successfully pull off.
My main issue with this particular Storymap, at this point, is too much text. Historical writing, especially in a public history context, is never made better by adding too much information. I like to think of it like you are in a museum and there is a text box bellow an historical object hanging on the wall. You don’t want to have to stand there for 20 minutes reading it like its some kind of academic article. You want to be able to read 4-5 sentences, get the message, and move on. I’d really love any suggestions on how to cut down on the filler, or condense the ideas somehow.
If you scan through the Storymap, you will notice that I included a good amount of buildings that we didn’t include in our initial research. I should clarify, that this was not my way of suggesting that those things don’t matter. They obviously do and are important granular social histories of the neighborhood. By including some other buildings of note, I thought it was easier to convey the broader history of the neighborhood, which obviously goes way back almost 200 years. For example, Hollins Market wouldn’t have existed without the railroad industry so it’s pretty essential that any timeline include a lot of discussion of the B&O.
This project has really made think a lot about how I might be imposing my narrative of history on a community by being too liberal with my interpretation of the available sources. As any historian will tell you, what we do involves a heavy dose of personal interpretation because we are constantly working with incomplete sources in order to tell stories that are organized and make sense to the reader. This interpretation often allows us to creative narratives that might not be apparent, or even real to others. For example, I doubt many whites who left Hollins in the 1940s-1950s, many of whom we wrote about in our person profiles earlier in the semester, realized they were apart of a larger movement that historians would one day called suburbanization, nor were they thinking of the social consequences of that movement for their old neighborhood.
To this point, I’m about half way through my graduate thesis UMBC and I keep having these recurring flashback/anxieties about how one of the persons I interviewed for my research about a year ago told me that the single event I’m centering so much of my story around wasn’t as important to them personally as I, the outsider, was making it out to be. My point is that even though I certainly wouldn’t argue that the event might not have been important to that single individual in the community, I as a researcher still feel like I’m telling a story that is both real and significant. That being said, I’m sure that if I went back to that person after I finish my story and gave it to them they would probably read it and be like “this is a bullshit version of the story”.
Which sort of gets to the whole “do no harm” approach of our research. As far as Hollins goes, I personally haven’t talked to a single person in Hollins beyond Curtis about the history of the community, and can only base this version of its history off the limited amount of time I have spent studying sources primarily online combined with an awareness of broader historical trends/events that offer context for those sources.
So in anticipation of class tomorrow, I guess I’d be curious to know if our class story of Hollins past, via the timeline draft, seems like bullshit? What else should we include, or maybe take out?