What is North Carolina Lives and Legacies?

Started during the 2022-2023 academic year in an Information Science + Studies lab led by Robert Buerglener, North Carolina Lives and Legacies began with the goal of creating a more inclusive interpretation of Bennett Place, a state-run historic site in Durham, NC.  The ongoing goal of the project has been to tell new stories about the site based on current historical scholarship and original research, using the methods of critical digital humanities and heritage studies.



Bennett Place Summer 2023 Project

Jointly sponsored by Duke’s Information Sciences+ Studies program, the Duke Library, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, the Bennett Place Summer 2023 Project ran from May 17 to June 30, 2023.  Mentored by Robert Buerglener and Carson Holloway, Duke students worked as a team to generate new ideas for analyzing the meaning and interpretation of Bennett Place.  Paying particular attention to the longer history of the site and a larger geographic scale—including Native American trade routes, colonial-era highways, and the North Carolina Railroad—we used various historical sources to begin reconstructing the lives of the neighborhood of Bennett Place, centering on the year 1850.

Over the course of six weeks, student researchers created digital visualizations and began a prototype portable pop-up exhibit.  These outputs reflect one of our primary project goals of presenting our findings in innovative and accessible ways.


Work on the Bennett Place Project Continues . . .

The work done so far on the Bennett Place Project confirms the rich potential for continuing this research and, over time, increasing the geographic scope and range of sources consulted.  All the aspects of work on North Carolina Lives and Legacies:  Bennett Place Project will continue in the coming year.  Along with transcribing James Bennett’s account book, we will eventually digitize other items in the James Bennett Papers, thus creating a fully queryable dataset.  As part of the larger neighborhood context, we also plan to analyze more extensively data from the US Decennial Population Census, the Decennial Agricultural Census, the US Slave Schedules, and other sources.

We also plan to continue to build relationships with community stakeholders.  These include people who have previously been underrepresented in the history of Bennett Place, including African Americans and Native Americans, with the goal of giving voice to hidden or untold stories.


What are the student research projects?

In the Information Science + Studies student research lab during the 2022-2023 academic year, a group of graduate and undergraduate students built the framework for what has developed into the Bennett Place Project.  They investigated how other historic sites across the US and around the world are currently telling the stories of people previously underrepresented in historic sites, like enslaved people and Native Americans.  Based on these benchmarks, students analyzed local historic sites, including Bennett Place, for the content and modes of presentation they used.

With this information in mind, students began thinking about ways to reach new audiences and include other topics related to the site.  As a first step toward audience analysis, students tested a matrix for analyzing visitor groups and then created prototype web pages and social media.  At the same time they were creating digital strategies, students researched the Bennett farm and some of their neighbors as a start to the project of reconstructing the social networks of the neighborhood in the nineteenth century.  Students also created content for an updated walking tour intended for use on phones or other hand-held devices.  Continuing the digital focus, students explored different options for digitizing primary documents related to Bennett Place, especially James Bennett’s account book.

As a concentrated research opportunity, the Bennett Place Project Summer 2023 moved us closer to our goal of presenting a more inclusive interpretive framework that allows for environmental change and a more representative picture of the many different people involved in transforming Bennett Place from forest to agriculture.  Over the course of six weeks, student researchers created digital visualizations and began a prototype portable pop-up exhibit.  These outputs reflect one of our primary project goals of presenting our findings in innovative and accessible ways.