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My Town: 'Digital Holland' initiative at Hope College puts community history online | Arts & Culture

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My Town: 'Digital Holland' initiative at Hope College puts community history online
My Town: 'Digital Holland' initiative at Hope College puts community history online

HOLLAND, Mich. – The story of Holland is only as far away as the nearest Internet connection, thanks to an ongoing project coordinated through the Mellon Scholars Program at Hope College.

Launched earlier this summer, the online “Digital Holland” initiative features articles, photographs, interactive maps, audio files and even video highlighting multiple dimensions of the history of the Holland area.  The index for the project runs from “A” through “Y” currently, but the organizers intend for it to continue to grow, making it all but certain that the coverage will eventually extend to “Z” as well.

“Our plan is to expand it,” said Hope senior Allyson Hoffman of Marshall, who is the student director of the project.  “There are about 150 pieces right now.  We’re pleased to have that, but would like to have more.”

The mix so far includes topics ranging from the Holland Armory to L. Frank Baum (author of the “Wizard of Oz,” who summered at Macatawa); to Fiesta and Hope College’s oldest building, Van Vleck Hall.  Project highlights also include maps showing the city in the first part of the 20th century,  scans of postcards show early views of Centennial Park, and a digitized recording of Margaret Van Vyven’s song “Tulip Time in Holland.”

Some of the narrative content has been prepared specifically for the site, while some is previously developed material, such as articles written for the quarterly newsletter of the Joint Archives of Holland.  In many cases, links direct visitors to additional resources.

Hoffman and Hope juniors Ian Bussan of Niles and Erika Schlenker of Troy developed the site this summer with the mentorship of Dr. William Pannapacker, who is a professor of English and director of the college’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program, and Geoffrey Reynolds, who is the Mary Riepma Ross Director of the Joint Archives of Holland.  The three students also conducted research for and wrote some of the new content, along with multiple other Hope students and a high school student interning with the Joint Archives.

Hoffman, Bussan and Schlenker have all been involved as participants in the Mellon Scholars Program, which was established in 2010 and has been supported through two grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The program involves select students in the arts and humanities in coursework and research in areas of scholarly interest with faculty mentors from a variety of academic disciplines, with a particular emphasis on teaching them how to use new and emerging digital technologies in pursuing and sharing their work.  Students join as sophomores, and the members of the new cohort this fall will be developing articles for the site through their initial work in the program.

Some of the others who wrote this summer were also Mellon Scholars, but being a scholar is not a requirement.  In fact, Hoffman and Schlenker, who will be leading an editorial board responsible for coordinating the project, are hoping that members of the community who enjoy area history and scholarship will opt to contribute to the site as well.  The website includes guidelines for how to become involved.

Pannapacker noted that “Digital Holland” was inspired by the American Guide Series that was developed by the Federal Writers’ Project during the 1930s and early 1940s to share the stories of states and individual communities, a model that he long felt could be applied well, and even more effectively, given the capabilities of digital technology.

“This project is all about the potential for faculty-student collaboration, personal interactivity and crowdsourcing—engaging the local community,” he said.  “We had the dream of a ‘Digital Holland’ project even before we approached the foundation for our initial grant, so the launch is a big deal for us.”

Pannapacker, a member of the Hope faculty since 2000, has been involved at the national level for several years in encouraging the use of digital tools in teaching and research in the arts, humanities and social sciences, the better to prepare students for their post-college careers.  In addition to his teaching at Hope, for the past year he has also been the faculty director of the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative of the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA), of which Hope is a member.  He sees “Digital Holland” as a natural for replication, both as a learning experience and as a chronicle of the unique communities in which those colleges reside.

“We hope that this project will serve as a resource for the community of Holland, but our vision is to extend the model to the other 12 GLCA colleges and have it expand to include communities across the Great Lakes as student and faculty collaborators at other institutions develop similar resources of their own,” he said.

“Digital Holland” is available at https://sites.google.com/a/hope.edu/digitalholland/