The cultural heritage of Georgia is bound up with the political and social realities of our modern landscape, however, connections between the past and present are not always clear. Technology can be leveraged to clarify the history of a city or community, but not all stories are fun to tell. When people are unable to see the relevance of a story to their personal experience, they are inclined to undervalue its importance. Using technology, we have been able to partner with the Flat Rock Archives to begin the work of bringing an important story to forefront of public discussion in Georgia. Our task is greater than simply popularizing an unconventional aspect of Georgia history for public consumption, our task is to craft a educational tool which can be utilized by anyone to deepen their understanding of what it means to live in the Empire State of the South.  

Building stories on digital platforms is a lot like being a chef and creating a menu for public offering. Not only is it necessary to gather the right ingredients and materials to create the narratives you want,  you must also be able to assemble those pieces into something attractive. Furthermore, for your story to be meaningful it has to be reflective of certain ideas and values, which must be useful in the day-to-day lives of your audience. Therefore, the most critical piece of any story exhibited on a digital platform is imagination. For the Student Innovation Fellowship, this means that the stories introduced on our digital platforms\ must demonstrate a degree of ingenuity from which our audience can take both solutions and inspiration.

My work with the Flat Rock Archives is informed by the ambition of taking the narratives of a community and distilling lessons, with the added hope that these lessons can be useful to the broader public. The Flat Rock community was founded in the mid-19th century by runaway slaves in the area of what is now Stonecrest, GA. The community has been able to survive as a cohesive group for a little over 150 years. Community leaders were able to leverage the economic ownership of their land into social solidarity through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, even when faced with the daunting challenges of racism, agricultural hardship, and political corruption. The way they were able to use the principles of economic ownership to maintain their social standing through obstacles holds substantive meaning in a state which has used its penchant for economic excellence to brand itself the “Empire State of the South”.

When we consider that storytelling is the primary way that human-beings communicate experience, we also have to understand that learning is stimulated by exposure to different experiences. The specific use of storytelling to provide an imaginative demonstration of problem-solving under harsh circumstances can be considered a type of lesson-planning.  Our role as Student Innovation Fellows revolves in-part around our ability to identify how our projects can be used to improve existing teaching methods. Our cultivation of digital storytelling as a teaching tool is critical to achieving this goal. This is especially true given the current trends in education, which seem to indicate that students of the 21st century will become increasingly reliant on the internet and digital platforms for their learning solutions.

In order to bring the lessons of our shared past into public awareness, it is necessary to interpret older narratives through the use of digital technology. I have personally have some reservations about this approach, given that it assumes the supremacy of technologically-based pedagogies and gives them an elevated status as being  innately better than more traditional teaching methods. Analog teaching methods, rooted in immersion and personal exploration, are not necessarily inferior to digital methods. However, there is a very real ethic among students towards believing that anything worth knowing is available through digital mediums, or that it is not “real” if it is not on the internet. Fortunately, as Student Innovation Fellows we do not have to choose between the most effective analog and digital methods, we only have to discover the best way to creatively unite such methods in the pursuit of better education tools. Building a platform for digitally telling the story of Flat Rock Archives is not only project which raises the profile of a community, but also an endeavor which has the potential to provide new insight to the public.

The story of the Flat Rock community is useful in that it enables us to draw comparisons between an enduring Georgia community and currently at-risk communities in other parts of Georgia. Such comparisons enable us to make conclusions about what enables threatened communities to find peaceful solutions to socio-economic problems. Furthermore, the process of expressing the story of the Flat Rock community’s endurance, within such a tumultuous political landscape, through a digital platform encourages the development of new teaching techniques. Creating novel teaching techniques which utilize the best of existing pedagogies, while adjusting for the new technological dimension affecting how we learn, is the first step in assuring that students have the best possible education. The progressive development of such projects will guarantee the social relevance of the work of the Student Innovation Fellowship, and more importantly, the community stakeholders with which it holds partnerships.