Process Reflection

When I first pitched Constituting the Nation as my final project for this class, I was still thinking of a relatively traditional source site where students and scholars could have access to primary sources. It has been very interesting to see how that initial idea has evolved in response to what this course has taught me.

I had expected to learn about the practical aspects of creating public history projects and experiences. From the start, I was pleasantly surprised when the readings encouraged me to reflect on how historians could re-imagine how their worked served the public and the impact that this interaction could have on their work. I believe that historians’ main obligation is to produce knowledge about the past, understanding of how it has evolved, and to interpret what meanings it may have for our daily lives. More importantly, in doing these things we should aim to teach our readers and students how to think historically, so they can also evaluate and make meaning of what they learn about their past. But if we have learned anything from the precipitous decline in the standing of the Humanities at our universities is that many don’t feel like they are being served by the work we do. This class has taught me that not all historical scholarship needs to be guided by or devoted to cultivating a relationship with the wider public, but that ignoring this relationship hurts both scholars and the public.

Thinking about how to use my scholarship to help others learn to think historically became the main goal of my project. The first two design tools that caused me to rethink elements of my project were the creation of personas based on my targeted audience, and the story boarding exercise. Using these tools helped me make important decisions about the design of my project. First, I needed to recognize that the two main audiences I was hoping to serve were in fact very different. Scholars and students have different needs when it comes to reading primary sources. So I decided to create an exhibit that would use selected documents from a larger collection to teach students how to read archival sources related to the constitutional history of the Gold Coast. I had already created an Omeka site that contained close to sixty documents on this topic. Thus, I turned my efforts on creating an exhibit within the larger site that would be specifically designed for high school and undergraduate students.

Having conducted interviews with two students (one undergraduate and one from high school), it became clear that the main challenge of the site was to help students find a connection to the material. Students learn very little about the history of Africa during their educational careers. What little they do learn is mainly focused on the Slave Trade and, to a lesser extent colonialism. The students I interviewed also had very little idea of what intellectual history was, and constitutional history was just as obscure. However, the concept of a constitution, as a document that defines the character and ideals of a nation, was something that they could recognize. Fortunately for me, students in American schools as quite familiar with the history and importance of the United States constitution and the debates about whether it should change or not, or on what basis it could change. I realized that my exhibit should try to help students use their study of the Gold Coast constitutional development as a way to answer questions about what constitutions are, what role they play in the creation of new nations, who can legitimately write them, etc.

A second finding from the interviews with students was their need to articulate their questions into a narrative. This was a challenge in the sense that historical thinking should encourage us to recognize that narratives are interpretations and that there is rarely as single undisputed narrative of particular events or processes. So I decided that my site would need to give students some guiding questions, the scaffolding of a conversation, of a larger mystery, so they could insert or assess their own conclusions in relation to the debates that historians have had on particular issues. In this case, the larger question I want my readers to address is when does Ghana start? Can we see the emergence of the political community that became Ghana take shape in the constitutions that were written during colonialism? What were the values and aspirations of the nation that started to be formed during colonial times? By providing these questions I hope to give students a few possible frameworks to participate in a much larger conversation, but also to start asking themselves what the history of this foreign territory means to them.

So, doing interviews with two students that represented two potential users of my project was tremendously clarifying for the conceptual design of the project. From a practical point of view these students needed to be presented with something that was easy to navigate and that offered a scaffolded approach to answering questions that could become stories. For this reason I chose to adopt a chronological organization of the material, prefaced with short introductions and brief statements about the debates and questions that students would find in the selected documents. It was clear that too much information presented at the same time, could be quite discouraging to students. Breaking things down in a chronological and consistent way helped simplify the initial access to the documents.

A second decision was to make some brief annotations in the documents. One problem I have found when presenting students with primary materials is that they have difficulty seeing documents as objects of the past. Instead, they focus on the content and they forget, that “form affects content,” that is, information contained in a letter should be read differently from information found in a draft report or a published report, to cite just one example. For this reason, I extracted parts of the selected documents to highlight the differences among them and point out how letters are addressed or signed, what can we expect from dispatches, draft reports, or memoranda. 

As much as I have thought about how to make use these materials to help students become better historical thinkers, I am also happy to say that it has also changed my scholarship. Before I worked on this project I was focused on producing a manuscript on the intellectual and constitutional history of the Gold Coast. My questions were those of historians interested in constitutions or nationalism. But asking myself why should these materials matter to students, particularly American students, has forced me to reframe my questions and even read my sources rather differently. Acknowledging the questions and interests of a wider public can sometimes be used as an excuse to ignore historical questions that are not directly related to our present problems or questions. However, it can also be the springboard to new questions. An important element of historical thinking is to learn to recognize ourselves in the lives of peoples far removed from our experience, either geographically or temporally. If we are serious about helping readers and students see themselves as members of a complex and diverse global community, we need to take the time to figure out what is important to them so we can help them learn about themselves through the understanding of others.

Constituting the Nation, Project Overview and Evaluation

On August 1961, the renowned Ghanaian lawyer and politician J.B. Danquah delivered a paper at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Ghana Bar Association. The title of the speech was: “The Constitutional History of Ghana in the past Fifty Years.” In this document, Danquah recounted the evolution of Ghana’s constitutional development from the colonial past until the then, recently approved, Republican constitution of 1960. Danquah took this opportunity to criticize the new constitution for going against what he saw as a long tradition of constitutional debate that had characterized the Gold Coast and Ghana since it had become  a British colony. 

It has been claimed by some that our constitutional history during the last fifty years has been fashioned by the ideologies of Marcus Garvey. Others have claimed that our constitutional history has been fashioned by the Pan African Congress. It seems to me that when we look at the momentous change of direction which took place in Ghana constitutional struggle during the First Great War, we should discover that the wind of change that overtook our land was motivated, firstly, by local conditions and local talent and, secondly, by the general conditions and the universal stress of the first great war.

I do not believe that our great leaders of the century were moved into action by the fissiparous congresses or movements on Africa which took place in atmospheres at which neither John Mensah Sarbah nor Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford or King Ghartey IV of Winneba, or James Henley Coussey or George Alfred Grant (who are some of the founders of modern Ghana) were present, or even known.

Danquah, J. B. “”A Paper on ‘the Constitutional History of Ghana in the First Fifty Years’ Read at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Ghana Bar Association on August 29, 1961.” in A. Adu. Boahen (ed.) The Ghanaian Establishment : Its Constitution, Its Detentions, Its Traditions, Its Justice and Statecraft, and Its Heritage of Ghanaism . (Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 1997).

In Constituting the Nation students will examine the constitutional struggles that unraveled in the Gold Coast on its way to becoming Ghana. The site provides students with documentary tools to ask questions about how, the diverse societies that came to form the Gold Coast colony, negotiated the tricky waters around building a new political community.

The exhibit was created as a tool for instructors that want to introduce and guide students through the process of asking questions and drafting arguments after reading primary documentary materials. Ultimately, the goal of the project is for students to learn to think historically by making some history themselves. 

Having taught an introductory course to historical writing for many years and, being an Africa specialist, I struggled finding primary source materials that my students could use for class assignments. Although there are several published and digital primary source compilations, these are often carefully curated, generally transcribed and, largely removed from their arrival context. My intention in this site was to present students with scanned copies of documents that I have collected during my own research. Although I do provide some curation and organization, together with some contextual information, I try to balance this by presenting the copies without a specific description. I want students, for example, to learn to use the metadata provided by most archives to get clues about what the document is, both as an object as well as a digital representation. In this way I hope students will get used to asking themselves questions about the original purpose of some of these documents as well as of the ways in which they come to be collected and organized in archival settings or digital collections.

I also made the decision of using materials from my own research because I want to emphasize to students that they will be working with exactly the same materials that I read and work with regularly. The debates and questions they will be reading about in the documents and secondary sources are exactly the same I have been working on over the past five years. The working premise of the exhibit is that students are being invited to join a conversation among historians by adding questions and answers to the debates that already exists in the historical literature. For that reason, I thought it was important to bring my own research work and let my students become collaborators in the enterprise.

 

Since the guiding question of the site revolves around the history of constitutional ideas in the Gold Coast, I organized the site chronologically. Starting in 1872, there were five moments when colonial administrators and Gold Coast politicians and intellectuals debated and revised constitutional instruments. For each of these sections I have created two sub-sections, one that introduces the main issues debated in that particular document or revision, and a one where students can read selected documents, and are asked some questions about them. In the first section I introduce contextual knowledge about the documents themselves, but also some questions from secondary sources to introduce students to some of the conversations among historians. By doing this, I will try to guide students’ attention to how the reading of primary and secondary sources goes hand-in-hand. In this sub-section I also introduce names of places and individuals that will help students read the documents as well as important dates related to the issues discussed in the documents. In the second sub-section I encourage students to “describe” the document. Here I want students to focus on the document as an object with a purpose in its time. This is a first important step before students can consider the document as a source. Then students are asked to describe the content of the document, it is here when they can start thinking of the document as a historical source. 

Ultimately I hope to create a student survey to assess students’ experiences using the site. I am sure I will learn a lot from samples of students work, but I think it will be also very useful to get information about the specific aspects of the site that students think are working well and which they think are not working so well. Given that there are several sections and sub-sections, it is possible also that I can make some changes to the specific documents that I chose to include. My initial choice was dictated by the need to include not just documents produced by colonial officials, but also some where one could read African perspectives. In both cases, however, most documents can be long and obscure for students with little knowledge of the topic. For that reason, I hope students will comment on which sections they found easier to navigate. That will be the may tool to make additions and improvements to the site.

Progress Report April 14

It took me a while but I was finally able to change the font color in some of the elements of my project. I think that makes a significant improvement on the site. The main work not is to continue adding content. These are mainly information about the people mentioned in the documents and other contextual information to facilitate the students access.

I am still considering adding some plugin that will allow some interaction, or maybe some annotation from students. I am exploring a couple of possibilities, but I think they require an added account, which adds a layer of complexity, but I will keep thinking about this.

New Technologies and Public History

It is natural that as new technologies emerge, historians will seek to explore how these can be used to achieved the goals of public history. In the most recent modules we looked at how virtual reality, the use of mobile devices and podcasting are being used by large institutions such as museums and universities as well as individual researchers. In this blog, I will seek to assess to what extent these technologies are helping institutions and individuals encourage historical thinking among users, as well as to increase engagement and participation from the public in the making of history.

Not surprisingly, VR technology has so far been mostly used by large museums or institutions. Virtual Reality this is a complex and costly technology that would be very expensive to use in a community or even university-based project. Even large museums can only make limited use of it. For this very reason, we saw that museums are being strategic and judicious in their choice of where and how to use it. In most of the examples that were highlighted, VR is mainly used to highlight and enhance particularly popular exhibits. For example, the Gioconda in De Louvre or Alice in Wonderland and the Victoria and Albert Museum show the strategic thinking behind the investment in VR enhancements of these exhibits. These are designed to increase engagement and maybe even attract more visitors to these specific exhibits, but also to the museums more generally. Thus far, the impact of VR has been to allow visitors a more intimate experience, or simply a different way to “see” or appreciate artistic or historical objects.

Having said this, some important goals of public history are not well- addressed by this technology. In fact, VR may be somewhat counterproductive in helping institutions listen to and connect with their visitors . Community-based projects try to capitalize on their ability to offer increased human contact with visitors and greater collaboration with the community in the curatorial process, Virtual Reality creates more robust barriers between the curator, the historical or artistic object, and the visiting public. Even though these exhibits may offer visitors a rather unique experience, it is not clear that they allow for a more meaningful one.

Another technology that has been profitably used by museums are websites that can be easily deployed in mobile devices and mobile- applications (apps) where museum content can be delivered and customized by visitors. The key attribute of these twin approaches has to do precisely with the possibility for visitors to craft their experiences according to their time availability, interests based on age and knowledge, and maybe even their particular location in the building, or city. To a large extent, these technologies offer visitors the ability to curate their own exhibits.

The development of mobile technologies has also added new challenges and possibilities to community and place-based projects. Visitors or even residents can use these applications or sites to navigate their surroundings, and even make contributions to the projects, either by commenting or even creating new entries. These technologies have made it portable to reach a wider audience into the curatorial process. However, it also highlights the tensions that we see in other projects that try to incorporate the wider public in the creation of historical knowledge. It is difficult to allow for unlimited participation while trying to maintain historical rigor. It is also difficult to break away from the more traditional forms of history: the history of great-men and famous individuals, vs. the history of everyday people and their changing ways of life. These technologies can encourage and allow many people to think about what the places where they live mean to them, but also to embark in serious historical research to explore, and question those very meanings. In this regard, I believe this types of technologies to have a great deal of potential. Unsurprisingly the realization of such potential is not dependent on the technologies themselves but on the human guidance, connections and relationships behind each project.

The last technology that I would like to discuss is podcasting. This is both old and new in that broadcasted audio has been around, in analog form, for more than a hundred years. Thus the question is, what is new about the digital production and distribution of audio for the purposes of public history. Podcasts are, in some ways, the poor relatives of VR in the that they also are very good to increase interest and engagement of potential visitors but they do so in a relatively inexpensive way. It is possible to achieve high production values of podcasts with technical expertise that is not difficult to acquire and without very expensive equipment. As with VR, podcasting, or at least narrative podcasting, offers limited opportunities for interactions with the public. Good narrative podcasts will evoke the past in ways that only great audio story-telling can do, and, in doing so, it will provoke or highlight new interpretations, new problems, or simply will bring those to a public that had not previously engaged with such questions. However, these stories are still in the control of historians and producers.

Having said that, the ease of producing podcasts, at this  point, does allow for members of the public and communities to produce their own works and thus create a wider diversity of interpretations. This is, in some ways, both the blessing and the curse of digital technologies; they allow for such proliferation of views, that it seems less necessary that these diverging views speak to one another. To what extent the increased means of participation of the public, lead to the dissolution of the public sphere? Or to a weakening of a sense of community? This is, in fact, one of the great challenges that these technologies pose to institutions that try to harness them precisely for the purpose of creating stronger and resilient communities while still making space for rich differences in history and experience.

Review of Clio entries in Easton, PA.

I have lived in Easton for close to 18 years and I have often heard about its history, however, I have never spent any time investigating more closely. The application Clio actually facilitated this process. As user, Navigating Clio is very simple. Upon opening the app one can simply go to sites in your present location (if your device is set up to allow location services), or one can search by name of the city or by zip code. For my first search, I did not use location services, rather, I used entered a zip code. Interestingly, that first search resulted in three sites in Bethlehem PA, which is about 15 miles west from Easton. But when I entered the name of the city, Easton, I was able to find some historical markers in downtown Easton and the surrounding area. 

I decided to focus my visit on three sites in the downtown area of Easton. These were relatively small sites, none of which amounted to a full museum. However, it was for this reason that I appreciated they being included in the app. It is precisely small, relatively, uninteresting locations, that are often overlooked, and it was nice to be able to discover them and explore them with the aid of this app. 

Easton PA is situated right across the Delaware River from the New Jersey town of Phillipsburg. If one is traveling from the East to the West along interstate 78, Easton will be the first town they encounter. The first of three major cities that represent what is called as the Lehigh Valley: Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown. Allentown and Bethlehem are better known, Allentown has grown more large and important in the recent past, while Bethlehem was the site of Bethlehem Steel, a large steel- producing company that fueled much of the industrial revolution in the United States. Easton is the smallest of the three towns and the one that has suffered the most of economic decline. However, things have started to improve in the past twenty years and Easton is in the middle of a resurgence. This has allowed for some improvements in the  area of historical preservation particularly in the downtown area. 

As soon as one crosses the Delaware using the Free Bridge (there is a second bridge built more recently but it is only open to cars) one enters Northampton Street, which runs East to West across a grid that goes from First Street, starting on the second block and continues all the way to 25th street, well outside of what we would consider Downtown Easton. The first stop in my visit is located in 200 Northampton Street. In the corner with 2nd Street one sees a recently renovated building that still preserves much of its old architecture. Most of the buildings in Northampton street have been turned into restaurants or stores, so this particular one stands out. This is Bachman Public House. There is a small sign mentioning this, but not other references to the history of the building. It is by using the app that I was able to find out that this structure was originally built as a tavern in 1753 by Jacob and Katrina Bachman and this is Easton’s oldest building. The tavern served also as an Inn and, for a about twelve years also served as a court house. According to the app, the tavern hosted meetings between settlers and Native leaders and was the site for the signing of some treaties. It also hosted strategy sessions during the revolutionary war and offered lodging for John Adams, William Ellery and William Whipple. It continue to serve as an Inn and court house until the nineteenth century. In the 1920s it came to be known as the Blue Moon Cafe, a speakeasy during the prohibition era.  It was first acquired by the Easton Heritage Alliance in 2001, but efforts to renovate it were eventually abandoned. It is now owned by the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. It is used to host special events, historical re-enactments and it is the home for the Bachmann Players, an amateur theatrical troupe.

I would not have known any of this if it was not because of the application. The Bachmann Public House record includes not only a long description of the history of the house, it also includes pictures of of the interior, a Google Street View of the structure, a citation for the historical description and sources. There are also some links at other available resources, particularly more recent news pieces. In addition, one can also find useful information such as hours of operation, phone number. Most importantly, the entry also includes information about the person who created the entry, how many times the entry has been revised and by whom

From Bachmann Public House I walked a couple of block north up 2nd Street to find a blue historical marker indicating the place where Florence B. Seibert (1897-1991) was born. She was a famous bio-chemist who made her name by working on the development of a test for tuberculosis. The marker is relatively small and it does not include as much information as the entry in Clio. The entry in Clio also includes several pictures of Florence Seibert, google street view, sources, citation and credits. 

My last stop in this improvised walking tour requires that I walk back, towards the south. cross Northampton street walk an extra block south and then turn right until I get to 4th street where one can find another historical marker that commemorates the life of George Taylor, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as representative of Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress. This entry is the shortest one and it is not clear what is the connection between George Taylor and Easton, other that having stayed at Bachmann House

Overall, the app Clio did offer me the opportunity the learn more about the history of Easton. It was very easy to navigate and the entries were well-written. The entries in Clio are written by volunteers and edited by trusted individuals and organizations. In this regard, Clio allows for a mixture of volunteer work that is monitored by a select group of more experienced editors. Individual entries can be combined to create a walking tour. I could have done that with the three sites I visited, although I decided I would have needed to add more contextual information. Given that two of the entries went back to the eighteenth century and a third one was from the twentieth century, it would have been necessary to fill some of the gaps. What this reveals is a view of history that is only interested in major events or figures and less on the everyday lives of regular people. I am sure one could add more entries on buildings that can help us tell the history of Easton from the perspective of the people who have lived here bot for whom there are no historical markers.

Project Report April 9

I am afraid that there is not much to report this week. I was able to do a little bit of work adding some research on individual biographies for each of the pages. This was time consuming, but not particularly difficult. 

Other than that, my main area of concern is visual. I experimented with different templates for the exhibit and I like the one I finally chose, but I am not happy with the color of one of the fonts. I will try to find out if there is a way to change it. 

Project Update March 31st

The fact that this project update comes in a few days late should be telling. My main obstacle has been finding time to devote to the project, but once I can sit down and do some work, things progress relatively smoothly. The bulk of my time has been spent doing research,  trying to find visual materials for the site. Like I explained in my last update, it is not difficult to find images that could work for this site, but I am trying to make sure I abide by copyright laws and I also create proper meta-data for everything I add to the project. This is what is proving to be most time consuming. Fortunately, I only have a couple more images that I need to find. 

Also, as I work on the visual presentation of the site I am working on standardizing its look and navigation. I had been able to set up a couple of the pages, but the rest were still not consistent. This meant making sure all the fonts were the same size and color, so users can navigate the site more easily. Since this is meant mainly for students, I want them to have a consistent experience, even if the specific materials in each page change. 

Once I am done with this, the next step is to finish filling in the content of the pages. Mainly this will be the short biographies and other reference materials that will help students read the documents.  I am also working on the best way to add one or two maps that illustrate the geographical status of the Gold Coast Colony. I have found historical maps, but I would like to figure out a way to add them to show the constitutional evolution in geographical terms. I was thinking on annotating these maps, I think there is an Omega Plugin that will allow me to do this.

Project Update: March 24

As of today, I was able to complete the basic structure of the online exhibit I am creating for my project. Among the things I was able to finish was the reorganization of the site following the story boarding exercise.

The focus of my work right now is populating the different sections I added for each part of the exhibit. The main items in the exhibit are documentary sources which are already added to the different collections. However, the purpose of the exhibit is to help students contextualize and work with these materials. For this reason, I decided to add, other materials such as photographs, videos or other types of explanations, that can help students connect with the content in the documents. Finding and/or creating these materials is the next step.

I was able to complete and add a dynamic (JS Timeline) to the exhibit. But there are still several other bits and pieces that I want to add. The main challenge in doing this is to find relevant materials that are in the public domain. This is not very hard for pictures of major figures, particularly British governors and politicians. However, a key part of the exhibit is to highlight the role of African thinkers in the writing of colonial constitutions, so I would like to find some visual materials that can underline the roles that African played in these discussions. Unfortunately, these are not as easily found as those of British officials. This imbalance is of course telling, but I would love to figure out a way of making it apparent in the exhibit.

Revised Personas

Leo

Descriptor: College Student unsure of what are the new expectations of a college History degree.

Needs: Requires clearly articulated expectations and well-explained processes that can lead to the cultivation of better research skills and habits.

Who is it?: Male, college student. 22 years-old. History major. Middle class professional parents. Goes to school full-time but also has a part-time job in retail. 

Goals: Leo is not sure what career he wants to pursue after college. He would like a career in government or maybe teaching History.

Attitude: As a high school students, he always enjoyed history classes. College has been very different from high school. A lot more reading and writing and longer papers.  He is still a little confused about how to do well in his history classes.

Behavior: Leo used to do very well in his history classes when he was in high school. In fact he used to do well overall. But it has been hard to keep that up now that he is in college. He used to get-by with memorizing things, but that is not enough now. He makes sure to attend classes regularly, but has more problems with the amount and difficulty of the readings he is asked to do. He does not like to participate in class discussions because he is not always sure he understands the readings. Writing papers is particularly hard. He is supposed to think of questions and organize arguments, but he has difficulty with that. His confidence has taken a bit of a tumble. He is trying to prove to himself that he can do well in school. He would like to have a better idea what is expected from him and maybe a more step-by-step approach on how to get there. He used to be faster making decisions, but he has been slowed down. He relies more on facts than emotions. 

Chloe

Descriptor: Curious high-school student interested in History but not contemplating a History degree in college.

Needs: Clear articulation of the purpose of materials. Ability to self-pace, deliberation and self-discovery.

Who is it?: Female, high school student. Sixteen years old. Youngest of two siblings. Professional parents of Hispanic background. 

Goals: Wants to do well in school and go to college. Probably in a career related to computer science. Wants to do well in sports too. She is a cross-country runner. She does not think she can get a cross-country scholarship, so she tries to study hard so she can get an academic scholarship for college.

Attitude: She usually finds history classes interesting, but she does not like having to memorize stuff. She would like to find a  way to enjoy studying history and feel less pressure.

Behavior: Chloe spends a lot of time on youTube. She learns a lot from videos that she finds online. She particularly likes watching videos that have history content, which is why she finds it annoying that her history classes seem so boring and that she has to memorize so much stuff. She likes to check around the things she learns online. She reads a lot of Wikipedia to see if she can verify some of the information she finds online. She is very eager to please, but this also makes her resentful of being forced to do things without understanding the benefits or reasons. She appreciates mostly functional benefits because this reduces the stress of not knowing how to act, or having to act too quickly. She takes her time making decisions, she likes to deliberate and she resents being rushed into giving answers. Her emotions can get the best of her sometimes, she is eager to please and be accepted. This eagerness can add emotional charge to her outlook. She values being comfortable.

Constituting the Nation: Public History Project

Constitutions are generally seen as symbols of a modern nation. Yet, many of us have little understanding of what gives these documents the authority they hold or how they represent the history and value of the societies they rule. Constitutions are meant to be founding documents that encapsulate the essence of a nation; but what gives them this power? How do they become legitimate? What gives them authority? Can the sources of legitimacy and authority change over time?

These are some of the questions we hope to explore in Constituting the Nation. This is a site where history students and researchers can read and identify resources to study the evolution of Constitutional thought in the British Colony of the Gold Coast (present day Ghana) between 1821 and 1950. The main purpose of the site is to use documentary resources and bibliographical references to introduce students to the use of documents in a manner that simulates an archive. The site will include collections of documents relative to different moments of constitutional revision, organized tutorials, and a bibliography. The central goal is to help students identify key techniques to examine different kinds of documents, learn what it means to contextualize primary sources, and understand the contribution that primary and secondary sources make to historical thinking.

A secondary goal of the site is to introduce visitors to the rich and complex constitutional history of the Gold Coast. The site includes sources that document the evolution of constitutional ideas in the British colony of the Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) between 1821 and 1955. In 1821, on the eve of the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, Great Britain established its first foothold of colonial control over the Gold Coast, a small strip of land on the coast of West Africa. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century, British authority expanded in-land and new territories were incorporated into the Colony. By 1957, when the Gold Coast gained independence from Great Britain, the new nation included a diverse mix of societies from the largely stateless communities that inhabited the Northern Territories, the powerful kingdom of Asante, and coastal communities that spoke different languages and were organized in multiple political forms. During the colonial period, British officials drafted several constitutions that sought to establish the legitimacy of Britain’s control over the colony. Even though these constitutions were drafted and approved by colonial authorities, they were often debated and challenged by African lawyers, Chiefs, and politicians who fought hard to influence the creation of new social and political structures. 

The sources included in this site tell the history of what many Africans saw as the constitutional challenges facing the diverse communities that gradually came to form the Gold Coast and later Ghana. These sources will help students and scholars examine the role that  African Chiefs, lawyers, and politicians played in the creation of a tradition of constitutional thought that, well before independence, grappled with the challenges of imagining legal and political frameworks that could incorporate diverse societies. 

At a time when the role of constitutions is questioned throughout the world and many African nations face constitutional crises, it is worth asking ourselves where do constitutional ideas come from? What makes constitutions legitimate? What role do they play in the evolution of modern and diverse societies?

The site is primarily targeted to advanced-level high school students who typically have very limited access to documentary sources. A secondary audience includes graduate students and scholars interested in the history of the Gold Coast who may not have direct access to some of the documents included in these collections.

The site is built using Omeka Classic. Tutorials will be built using the Exhibit Builder Plug-in. It will also incorporate a Timeline made with Timeline JS and the necessary plugin to incorporate it in Omeka.