Recontextualizing the Past Through New Technology

In honor of Black History Month, the Hunt Library Commons Wall was transformed into a cinema to present three rarely-seen educational films about African American youth in the 1960s and 1970s. I collaborated with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks, who provided the films from his collection, and Professor Marsha Gordon of the NC State Department of English, who introduced and discussed the films.

In honor of Black History Month, the Hunt Library Commons Wall was transformed into a cinema to present three rarely-seen educational films about African American youth in the 1960s and 1970s. I collaborated with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks, who provided the films from his collection, and Professor Marsha Gordon of the NC State Communications Department, who introduced and discussed the films.

Separate But Equal Event Flyer

How It Got Started

The MicroTiles visualization walls in Hunt Library were constructed as open canvases — high-definition displays for data visualization, art, and moving images. On separate tours of the Hunt Library in 2013, Skip and Professor Gordon were both drawn to the display possibilities of the large MicroTiles Commons Wall.

The Commons Wall presents a unique site for film events — it sits opposite the 3rd-4th floor stairs, which double as built-in seating, and features directional speakers to project sound to an audience. I decided to connect Skip and Professor Gordon about collaborating on a film project to be displayed on the Commons Wall. 

Viewing of the film Felicia

Because of Marsha Gordon's previous work with the film Felicia — a short educational piece about a young female growing up in Watts in the 1960s — we decided to put together a program of films about African American youth curated by Professor Gordon and culled from the A/V Geeks collection. The films would be shown in honor of Black History Month and students, staff, faculty, and the public would all be invited to attend. This would be the first film event on the Commons Wall since the Hunt Library opened.

What Happened

Three films - Felicia (1965), Joshua (1968), and 220 Blues (1970) - were selected for presentation by Professor Gordon and digitized by Skip. The films depicted the challenges of growing up in Watts, dealing with racial epithets, and struggling to find peace in a divided society. The films were shown on Friday, February 28th, 2014. 

The event provided an engaging forum for discussions about African American youth in the 1960s and 1970s in America, the role of educational film in society, and the experience of taking historical objects intended for educational use in American classrooms and replaying them in a new context, as part of a celebration of Black History Month in the high-tech space of Hunt Library.

How It Went

The event was a success. At its peak, 28 people were seated on the stairs in front of the Commons Wall watching the films, with more than twice that many seated temporarily at the top of the stairs and around the area in which the screen was visible. 

Both First Year College Students and students from the 21st Century Scholars program, as well as general students, faculty, staff, and the general public attended the program. 

The event demonstrated the collaborative possibilities of the MicroTiles screens at Hunt, and has led to an ongoing collaboration with A/V Geeks for a monthly film series at Hunt Library. The programs How to Be A Time-Traveling College StudentVote - and the Choice is Yours, and Beyond the Food Pyramid all feature films from the A/V Geeks collection which were chosen in collaboration with NCSU faculty members, and the events will be hosted by faculty members and Skip.