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July 30, 2019

three students wearing masks and gloves working with old newspapers

The Digital History Lab at Shawnee State University (SSU) has once again been named a host site for the Ohio History Service Corps (OHSC), a federally funded AmeriCorps program administered by the Ohio History Connection and ServeOhio in Columbus. Since October of 2010, the OHSC has been supporting community and local history initiatives all across the Buckeye State. Each year, ten institutions host ten highly motivated college graduates who assist with local historic preservation and public history projects.

Dr. Andrew (Drew) Feight, Professor of American History and the Director of the Shawnee Digital History Lab, secured the AmeriCorps position and supervises the work of the OHSC member in the Portsmouth community. Originally founded in 2005, the Lab supports undergraduate research for students enrolled in the History and Digital Appalachian Studies programs and supports initiatives in heritage tourism, historic preservation, and collections digitization.

Prof. Feight and the Lab have spearheaded the development of “Scioto Historical,” a mobile app and website that focuses on the history of Portsmouth and the surrounding Appalachian region. Most recently, the Lab launched the Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Project, which seeks to digitize over 160 years of local newspapers, covering the 1820s through the 1980s. In a collaboration with the Clark Memorial Library’s new Digital Commons website, the Lab plans to make the newspaper collection publicly accessible and keyword searchable.

The AmeriCorps host-site award for 2019-2020 will mark the third year the program has assisted Prof. Feight and the Digital History Lab with various community collaborations and partnerships. During its first two years, Derrick C. Parker, a Portsmouth native and Ohio University graduate, has served as Shawnee’s OHSC member.

Beginning in September of 2017, Parker worked with Prof. Feight on an architectural survey of 110 structures and landmarks in Scioto County, adding one hundred entries to the Ohio Historic Inventory and filling out ten National Register Questionnaires (NRQs).  Completion of an NRQ is the first step in adding any building or historical sites to the National Register of Historic Places, which qualifies properties for federal historic preservation grant opportunities. The ten historic structures identified by Feight and Parker included the Portsmouth Brewery, Camp OYO, the Eugene McKinley Memorial Pool, the Excelsior Shoe Factory, Spartan Municipal Stadium, SSU’s Massie Hall, the IBEW Hall, the Selby 100 Mile House and Gardens, Portsmouth Little Theater, and the recently demolished Lincoln Theater.

According to Parker, “It was amazing researching and learning about the rich history associated with buildings throughout Scioto County. Previously, the only architectural surveys that had been completed involved structures in downtown Portsmouth. We made it a point to survey other neighborhoods and areas, including the North End, the East End, the Hilltop, and the Shawnee Forest region.”

During his second year in the program, Parker has worked more closely with Feight to develop and edit a number of new tours for the “Scioto Historical” app and website. These tours will explore the history of Ohio’s Little Smokies (the Shawnee State Park and Forest), the rise and fall of professional football in Portsmouth, the struggle for Civil Rights in the city, and the Boneyfiddle District (the Old West End).

Parker and Feight teamed up to tell the story of “The Iron Man Game” – the greatest football game in local sports history – that pitted the Portsmouth Spartans against the Green Bay Packers. This was followed up with the story of “Jim Thorpe and Jack Creasy,” which explores the origins of professional football in Portsmouth when the world-famous Thorpe played and coached the Shoe-Steels in 1927.

Parker also helped Prof. Feight collaborate with community partners on various historic preservation and public history projects. In February 2019, Parker and Feight participated in the Black History Month program at Portsmouth Middle School and helped organize the first Black History Expo and Digitization Day at Portsmouth’s 14th Street Community Center.

In April 2019, Parker helped plan an event entitled, “Placemaking: How Newcomers and Returners Impact Our Community,” which was hosted by SSU’s new Kricker Innovation Hub. The event was the result of a collaboration between the SSU Clark Memorial Library, the Shawnee Digital History Lab, and the Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies. The event aimed to recognize both current and historic newcomers and returning residents, highlighting the work they have done in development of Portsmouth and its community.

The partnership with OSU’s Center for Folklore Studies has facilitated the development of a local digital archive of oral histories and other materials generated by OSU’s Field School work in Scioto County. For example, thanks to this collaboration, the Lab has assisted the Clark Memorial Library with the preservation of oral histories conducted during the North End Super Reunion in 2018 and the Lucasville Bicentennial Celebration in 2019. These digital archives are being made available to the public through the Shawnee State University Digital Commons, a new public, permanent digital repository managed by the Clark Memorial Library.

In June 2019, Feight and Parker organized 30 volunteers to move the Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Collection to a new conservation space in downtown Portsmouth. Over a three day period more than a thousand volumes of bound newspapers were bagged, labelled, sorted, and inventoried in preparation for the next phase of the project -- the digitization of the collection. In total, the effort clocked in well over 136 volunteer hours, and was aided by over $750 of in-kind donations from area businesses, such as the Market Street Cafe, Papa John’s Pizza, Toro Loco, and Savory Foods.

As part of his service, Parker also teamed up with the Spartan Municipal Stadium Renovation Project to assist in planning the 2019 Blues, Brews, and Barbeque Festival, which will raise funds for the historic preservation of this City owned landmark. The event will take place on July 13th and features numerous local vendors, BBQ pitmasters, micro-brewers, blues musicians, and a silent auction. The Lab has digitized the original “blueprints” for the Stadium and created a series of limited edition reproductions, which will be included in the auction, and available, unframed for a donation of $25.00.

According to Feight, “The Ohio History Service Corps (AmeriCorps) program and the work of Derrick Parker has enabled the Shawnee Digital History Lab to make great strides in fulfilling its mission – advancing the application of mobile and digital technologies to the study and preservation of local history.”

With the renewal of the AmeriCorps position for the 2019-2020 academic year, the Shawnee Digital History Lab is looking to fill the position with plans to advance the Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Project, continue the development of content and historical tours for the “Scioto Historical” app and website, and assist community partners with their work on historic preservation and public history initiatives. According to Feight, “We are looking for applicants with a passion for history and an interest in digital technologies, archival practices, and collections management.”

OHSC members will serve full-time for one-year and receive a living allowance of $13,992, along with health insurance, and the opportunity to earn the Eli Segal Education Award (Approximately $6,000) to either help pay off student loans or help with graduate school. Applicants must have a college degree in history, museum studies, or education, or have a commensurate level of experience in any of those fields. To apply, visit my.americorps.gov and fill out the electronic application. All applications are due by August 15th, 2019. 

For more information, contact Dr. Andrew Feight at 740-351-3143 or afeight@shawnee.edu