Research group tells the stories of hidden histories on the University of Illinois campus

“A public history project at the University of Illinois is exploring the hidden and forgotten stories of social movements on campus and in the community. Students are creating a map highlighting buildings or areas that were the sites of protest movements, and they are writing narratives about the significance of those places.

“We’re thinking about how we can collectively understand and interpret our past beyond the traditional academic ways we do on campus,” said Daniel Gilbert, a professor of labor and employment relations and a co-director of the project.

The project is part of a research cluster – Public History and Student Research – supported by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. Gilbert and history professor Kathryn Oberdeck are co-directors of the research cluster, which includes a total of about a dozen people, including faculty, five undergraduate students enrolled in an independent study history course, and community members and organizations, including the Champaign County Historical Archives.

One goal of the project is to look at how the shared histories of campus and community are linked. So far, the research has focused largely on campus social movements, such as Project 500, an effort by the U. of I. in the late 1960s to enroll more African-American students; the establishment of cultural houses on campus; and the opposition to Chief Illiniwek. It will also include community events, including a labor strike by nurses at the old Burnham Hospital and the organizing of residents in the Fifth and Hill neighborhood around environmental issues and high-rise development in the area.”

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