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Digital Collections Fellowship awarded to Shepherd, Loyola Chicago

Dr. Benjamin Bankhurst, assistant professor of history

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture at the College of William & Mary has awarded Dr. Benjamin Bankhurst, assistant professor of history at Shepherd University, and Dr. Kyle Roberts, associate professor of public history and new media and director of the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities at Loyola University Chicago, with a $5,000 Lapidus Digital Collections Fellowship for “The Maryland Loyalist Project.” The project is a collaboration between Bankhurst and Roberts that aims to make the letters and petitions of British loyalists who fled the American Revolution housed in the British National Archives available in a digital archive.

The grant will provide undergraduate students at Shepherd and Loyola the opportunity to develop in-demand skills in the digital humanities such as web design, transcription, mapping, and visualization while they help create a website that will provide scholars and the public with online access to rare manuscript records from the Parliamentary Loyalist Claims Commission held by the National Archives at Kew, England.

Students in an American Revolution course jointly taught by Bankhurst and Roberts meet each week via online video conference and are learning how to transcribe original documents to recover the stories of individual loyalists. They will help design and upload the transcriptions, along with images of the originals, to a new website and will write research papers that might also appear on the site. The grant also provides money for a Shepherd and Loyola intern to continue work developing the website over summer 2019.

Loyalists, the women and men who chose to stay loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution, have been the subject of a resurgence of scholarly interest over the past decade. Previously dismissed as the losers in the conflict, scholars have turned their attention to those who separated themselves from their friends and neighbors and gave up their land and possessions when they chose to leave the new United States at the end of the American Revolution. The story of that difficult decision recorded in the Loyalist Claims Commission is one that has been largely overlooked since the end of the war.

The Maryland Loyalist Project comes out of collaboration between Bankhurst and Roberts in teaching an innovative digital history course on the American Revolution. This upper-division course brings together Shepherd and Loyola students to learn about the American Revolution through lecture, discussion, and a series of individual and group digital projects. Class meetings are held alternately in connected classrooms and online so that students can benefit from lecture and conversation with multiple faculty and a range of guest speakers. Throughout the semester, teams of students from Shepherd and Loyola blog about important topics in the American Revolution from the perspective of different historical figures.

“Students from Shepherd and Loyola universities are really fortunate to have the opportunities being provided through the American Revolution class,” said Claire Tryon, a senior history major at Shepherd. “I think working directly with documents such as those from the Loyalists Claims Commission will give us a more profound expansion of these individuals’ perspective through the intimate experience of reading their thoughts, having to decipher for ourselves the emotions and implications, and our critical analysis.”

“I am looking forward to gaining a better insight into a period of history that is so integral to our American experience as well as other nations at the time,” said Paul Witry, a senior global and international studies and political science major at Loyola. “By taking part in this research process, our joint classes have the opportunity to offer a voice to those who are no longer living and shed light on subjects previously unknown.”

Bankhurst and Roberts have both researched and written extensively on the history of North America and the Atlantic World in the 18th-century. This is their second time teaching this course.

The Lapidus Initiative for Excellence and Innovation in Early American Scholarship, funded with a major gift from Sid and Ruth Lapidus, looks to build on the Omohundro Institute’s tradition of excellence in scholarly programming and publishing by funding projects that incorporate digital platforms and tools. Scholars must partner with special collections libraries that will digitize the needed materials with the funds from the fellowship. The fellowship awards funding to the holding library and to the scholars whose research relies on or will be greatly enhanced by the digitization of a collection or partial collection of materials related to early America, broadly conceived, before 1820.