Student Researchers Bring Local History into the Digital Age

Local history buffs can now tour the Wayne County Courthouse, visit century-old churches, and even stroll through the former Freedlander’s Department store — without ever leaving the comfort of their own home — thanks to a new website created this summer by a group of students from The College of Wooster.

August 14, 2013 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Local history buffs can now tour the Wayne County Courthouse, visit century-old churches, and even stroll through the former Freedlander’s Department store — without ever leaving the comfort of their own home — thanks to a new website created this summer by a group of students from The College of Wooster.

Organized by Greg Shaya, associate professor of history, and implemented by four rising juniors, the Wooster Digital History Project features online exhibits in five basic areas, from “Early Settlement,” which spotlights such familiar figures as Joseph Larwill and John Bever, to “The Remaking of Downtown,” which chronicles the renaissance of the last 30 years. Lesser-known historical treasures, such as Wooster’s robust African American community and the City’s noteworthy industrial legacy, have also emerged and will be explored in greater detail by future student researchers.

“We’ve been talking about local history for a long time, and thinking of ways to bring College resources to bear on the project,” says Shaya. “We came up with 12 areas that we would be interested in talking about, and we quickly realized that this could become a multi-year project.”

If the first entries are any indication, there will be plenty to look forward to in the future. In just two months, the team of Raven Abell, a history and French double major from Austin, Texas, Shannon Dade, a history major from Wooster, Laura Merrell, a history and English double major from Lake Forest Park, Wash., and Scott McLellan, a women’s, gender, and sexuality studies major from West Salem, put together an impressive collection of material online, including video interviews with Historian Harry McClaren and Freedlander heir Ann Freedlander Hunt. They also posted photographs and developed tightly written didactics.

“This was definitely a student-driven project,” says Shaya. “They met weekly with our four faculty advisers, but they did most of the research on their own.”

Information was gathered through the help and collaboration of the Wayne County Historical Society, the Wayne Country Public Library, and The College of Wooster’s Special Collections. In addition, students conducted audio and video interviews. Future plans call for the development of an app that can be accessed on mobile devices so that visitors can take a walking tour of the city.

“There is enormous value in this kind of independent project,” says Shaya. “It has been a great research experience for the students, and it produced a tangible result. It also connected the students to Wooster in some really neat ways.”

The sophomore research program and a new fund for interdisciplinary research provided support for the project. The student researchers chronicled their work on a blog, while the digital history can be accessed online.

- Story by Libby Fackler and John Finn