The project is time sensitive. A year ago, the land upon which the fort was built was sold to developers in what I’ll euphemistically describe as a shady deal. While the fort’s future was up in the air, the neighborhoods surrounding it rapidly gentrified. Each tall and skinny in these areas surrounding Fort Negley represents a family whose story left with them as they were priced out of the neighborhoods that had been theirs for generations.
Drinking from the rooftops of certain honky tonks in downtown Nashville, you can spot one of the nation’s most important, yet underappreciated sites for African American history: Fort Negley, the Union Civil War fortification on St. Cloud Hill. Many tourists have no idea what it is they are looking at.
The fort was built in 1862, using a combination of forced labor of enslaved Africans which the Union army in Nashville had rounded up from nearby plantations, and free blacks of Nashville and the surrounding areas, who offered their services in exchange for payment (much of which never materialized). There were also contraband workers- people from all over the South who fled their enslavement and sought out the protection of the Union forces on St. Cloud Hill through volunteering their labor. Once built, the fortification was defended by various regiments of the United States Colored Troops against the Confederate forces. Both builders and defenders died in record numbers at Fort Negley in the defense of our union. Recent ground-penetrating radar reports have indicated a high likelihood that their remains still lie on the grounds of Fort Negley Park.
Chestnut Hill, Wedgewood Houston, historic Edgefield, and Edgehill. At the turn of the century, several prominent families from these neighborhoods founded North Nashville and all of the prestigious black institutions residing there- the historically black colleges, businesses, and churches. In the 1950s, these same institutions trained and supported some of the sharpest minds of the Civil Rights movement. There is a long and unbroken connection between the builders and defenders of Fort Negley, and Nashville’s current African-American population. Many members of this population see the fort as sacred, and they memorialize it with ceremonies, oral traditions, and historic reenactments.
I do so much work with Digital Humanities for my position. So much. But do I ever write up any of that and submit it to publication? Ha, nope.
I write everything else of course, and this always falls to the back burner. And I’m willing to bet that sadly, I am not alone. How many of you do cutting-edge work in whatever field you happen to be in, and then put off the writing for summer, or for next year, or for when you get that research leave, or or or?
We all know this is a major missed opportunity for critical reflection, for peer feedback, and for collaboration. Fortunately, Rebecca Panter, another postdoctoral fellow, felt the same way. So we made 2016 the year we did something about it: we started the Digital Humanities Writing Group for faculty and grad students on campus who found themselves always doing and never writing it up. And as anything worth implementing is worth implementing well, we slapped an ambitious goal onto it: each of our members will have a complete journal article or manuscript chapter finished by the end of the Spring 2017 semester.
It’s a lot, but it’s also doable, and I think that is one of the main draws of the group. Just like you eat an elephant one bite at a time (well, I don’t. I hope you don’t, either. We don’t have enough of them on this planet for you to be making them part of Taco Tuesdays.), you write an article one page at a time.
This post is Part 2 of a series on the Mellon Institute of Public and Digital Humanities. A special thanks to Allison Myers, Ryan Trauman, and Marie Lovejoy at the Story Center. For part 1, please click here.
I didn’t know anything about digital storytelling when I walked into the Story Center’s workshop as part of the Mellon Institute of Digital and Public Humanities. I thought it was maybe something like an audiobook, or a video of me, telling a story. No big deal, I thought. As a historian, I pretty much write and tell stories for a living.
But then the story specialists at the Story Center taught the other institute participants and I *how* to write a script for digital storytelling, and I began eyeing the door. Not because it was too big or difficult, but because it was so small and succinct. How was I going to tell a full story worth hearing in fewer than 250 words? I’ve probably written longer sentences than that!