Houston Community College System (HCCS) is one of CCDI’s 2023 Higher Education recipients. The team began their project this past April and recently presented at CCDI’s 2023 Summer Fuse event in Washington, D.C. Dr. Theresa Jach, team lead, is a History Professor at Houston Community College.
HCCS is receiving $47,523.02 in support of their project, “The Prisoner Experience in the South, 1866-1940.” Their project will use materials from the Library and Houston, Texas area libraries and archives to explore the connections between enslavement, convict labor and leasing, and contemporary mass incarceration. Dr. Jach will be working with students to develop creative projects such as podcasts, short films, and more.
Olivia Dorsey, a Program Specialist for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, interviewed Dr. Jach to learn more about her project plans.
Congratulations on receiving a CCDI Higher Education award! Can you tell us about your project?
Dr. Theresa Jach: My project, “The Prisoner Experience in the South,” is designed to allow students from several disciplines to explore what life was like for incarcerated individuals across the South, from the 1860s through the 1940s. Students at Houston Community College will not only do research on the history of southern prisoners, but they will also use their stories as inspiration for music, creative writing, and film making. As we create a StoryMap of the project, our geography and anthropology students will work alongside students in other classes. We will share our student projects in an end of project exhibition that will be open to the public.
What excites or inspires you the most about the work you’ll be able to achieve with the CCDI award?
Dr. Theresa Jach: I am most excited about the opportunity to show that the men and women caught up in the southern criminal justice system were more than statistics. Many, if not most, were caught in a system designed to criminalize their behavior. They were real people, with real stories and lives. They created music, art, friendships, and found ways to resist an oppressive system. The goal for this project is to tell some of their stories.
I am inspired by the other award recipients in my cohort. They are all passionate and excited about the opportunity and have many great ideas.
Can you share how you plan to incorporate materials from Houston libraries and archives with the Library’s materials?
Dr. Theresa Jach: We will focus on the Lomax Collection at the Library of Congress. There are digital recordings of prison work songs and numerous photos taken at prison farms across the South. These will nicely complement images and documents about the prisons in the Houston area. Students will look at the Sugar Land 95 (the remains of 95 people re-discovered in 2018 on the site of a former prison farm). By linking this local story to the larger story of convict leasing and prison farms across the South, our students will see the value of local history.
Your project, “The Prisoner Experience in the South, 1866-1940,” directly links to Houston Community College’s African American Studies course. Can you share how you’re hoping this project will build the course? How do you envision it will help expand students’ perspectives of African American Studies?
Dr. Theresa Jach: When I teach African American History, I cover the history of convict leasing and prison farms. Faculty participating in the project will create lesson plans that can be utilized in English/creative writing, humanities, history, etc. These lesson plans will help weave together the many classes offered at Houston Community College that fulfill the requirements of our certificate in African American Studies.
The third round of the CCDI Higher Education opportunities are now open. What advice do you have for those who are interested in applying?
Dr. Theresa Jach: When I applied, I did not think I was going to receive an award. But I found the process of applying rewarding and thought-provoking, in and of itself. It made me think creatively about how I could use the Library’s vast resources and pushed me to go beyond thinking simply as an historian. I saw the possibility of a deep and meaningful collaboration with faculty across disciplines, something we often talk about, but rarely have an opportunity to implement.
I would advise applicants to think about ways to collaborate and connect with your local community. With the thousands of great resources at the Library that complement local sources, there surely is a fantastic project just waiting to be uncovered in your community.
CCDI Higher Education Application Open until Sept 7, 2023: Apply Now!
Are you a higher education institution looking to create a project that centers communities of color and uses the Library’s digital collections? Check out the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative’s award opportunity: www.loc.gov/programs/of-the-people/represent/higher-education-application/!
CCDI will select up to three Higher Education projects for awards of up to $70,000 each.
Applications are open until Sept 7. APPLY NOW!
CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.