Projects Underway and Future Plans
Things may have seemed rather quiet on Texas Beyond History in 2013-2014, but several major projects are underway: one, an exhibit on a 19th-century African American farmstead, the other, a transition to a website format which will provide full functionality to not only the newest computer browsers, but mobile devices with touchscreens.
Breaking into Mobile Media: Take TBH with you!
TBH has faced a series of technical challenges as we try to bring our 13-year-old website into this era of smart-phones, tablets, and other mobile devices with touch-screen technology. The rate of change in website technology has advanced exponentially since its founding in 2001, with new browsers and devices offering markedly different viewing experiences. Those of you who use Apple products, particularly iPads, and Mac books, or newer Android devices, may have been startled to find nothing but blank pages where our traditional TBH interactive map page and "Kids Only" revolving carousel should be.
Many new devices do not support Adobe Flash technology, which we’ve used for programming much of TBH since its inception. Flash programming has been dropped altogether by Apple. As might be anticipated, this is a particularly critical problem for teachers, as schools increasingly are providing individual laptops and tablets for their students. The TBH student animated activities, created in Adobe Flash, are currently not accessible on some of these devices. Further complicating things, the website was designed for “mousing,” before touchpad navigation came into vogue.
We are embracing this opportunity to usher TBH into the new era, and the redesign process is already underway. As we convert much of TBH’s programming code to html5, look forward to seeing exciting new developments such as a new entry page to the website, an optional TBH docent to guide through the exhibits, and much more! Stay tuned!
New Exhibit Underway: An African American Farmstead in Central Texas
Even as we continue technical improvements, exciting new content is under development. The results of recent archeological and historical investigations at the Ransom and Sarah Williams farmstead site in southwestern Travis County are slowly being woven into what promises to be an outstanding online educational exhibit for TBH. Life after Slavery: An African American Farmstead in Central Texas traces the life of this freedmen’s family from ca. 1870-1910 based on archeological remains, historic documents, and the recollections of the large descendant community near historic Antioch Colony in Hays and Travis County.
The site is an important one for several reasons, according to Project Investigator Doug Boyd. There have been very few excavations of late 19th-century African American farms. Of those, none has the near pristine context of the Williams Farmstead. The site was occupied for only about 30 years and apparently experienced only minimal disturbance after its abandonment. This means the thousands of artifacts and features can be strongly associated with the family, providing us a unique view into their life as they transitioned to a markedly different way of life.
Over the last year, the exhibit project has expanded considerably in size and scope, befitting its subject matter and the efforts of its numerous content contributors: Boyd and Aaron Norment of Prewitt and Associates, Maria Franklin and Nedra Lee of the Department of the Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, and Terri Myer at Preservation Central. Three beautifully rendered paintings of the farm and family members also have been created for the exhibit by archeologist/artist Frank Weir.
Several unusual exhibit sections will provide context for understanding the volatile post-emancipation period in Texas and the U.S. including pages from 19th-century African American newspapers in Austin from UT’s Briscoe Center for American History, and a timeline-based historical review. Enriching the exhibit are audio recollections of members of the descendant community drawn from the dozens of oral history interviews conducted by Franklin and Lee in Antioch and the Manchaca area.
K-12 Resources for Learning about African American History
TBH is capitalizing on this opportunity to relate history through the perspective of an African American farm family by creating two new student online interactives and a suite of standard’s-based curricula for teachers. The student interactives are colorful and engaging. Using Weir’s three paintings, Dr. Dirt, the Armadillo Archeologist, guides students through the farm where they meet the family members and learn why this simple farmstead site is significant. At the same time, they learn how archeologists and historians wove together the story of the Williams family from thousands of bits of information. Young viewers will see African American archeology students at work on the site, uncovering African American history.
For slightly older students, an interactive timeline activity traces events in African American history in the U.S., Texas, and within the Ransom Williams family. Collectively, the new Williams Farmstead educational resources on TBH will provide the necessary context and background for understanding the defining challenges faced by African American peoples in Texas and the U.S. after emancipation. This turn-of-the-century time period is not well known in Texas, and there has been a need expressed by teachers for more educational resources focused on African American history. We anticipate these resources will be of particular value during Black History Month.
Seventh-grade lessons written by TBH Education Advisor Carol Schlenk focus on how former slaves navigated the challenges and dangers during the time of Jim Crow. After Slavery: Exercising the Rights of Citizenship in 19th-Century Texas uses primary source documents to trace Ransom Williams’ new life as he transitioned from having no legal identity to becoming a voter and landowner. Students will be able to view a variety of documents unearthed by historian Terri Myers, including his 1867 voter registration record, tax documents for land he purchased, and his Travis County horse brand registration. In the lesson, Freedom Colonies, students will learn the role played by these African American settlements (there were several hundred in Texas) in providing community support, education, leadership, and safety for emancipated slaves and their families. Students research critical laws and restrictions of the time, including Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow Laws, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, to help them understand why many African Americans chose to live in freedmen’s settlements.
For 4th-graders, a lesson by TBH Education Consultant Laine Leibick creatively leads students through the "Explore the Farmstead" activity, culminating in an exercise contrasting life then and now, and the performance of student tableaus depicting the varied aspects of farm life.
Support and Funding
This public education outreach exhibit is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Travis County Historical Commission and has benefitted from contributions from the Texas Archeological Society, the Council of Texas Archeologists, the Travis County Archeological Society, and individual members of these groups. We are grateful for this support and hope to have the exhibit online in early 2015.
Perhaps moreso than any other exhibits on TBH, this project will demonstrate the value of collaborative public-private partnerships in preservation—among state, county, and university entities, museums, private business, and volunteer groups—and provides a meaningful example for others to emulate.