My projects this semester have a lot to do with the deceased residents of Atlanta area cemeteries. The nature of this research complicates the traditional practice of shared authority within the field of Public History. The term “Shared Authority” has a basis in constructivism, and refers to the practice of sharing authority with the subjects of a research project. This typically means that, instead of relying solely on historical records, researchers collaborate with the subjects of their research, or representatives of their subjects’ communities. In doing this, Public Historians incorporate a personal perspective into the presentation of a historical narrative. Practicing shared authority successfully can determine the relationship that researchers have with the resources. Details as mundane as what a curator presents and how a curator organizes information can determine how researchers interact with the deceased’s narratives.

Obviously each person leaves a trail of bureaucratic documentation about their lives: a birth certificate, a death certificate, a will, a series of entries on the census, etc. But they leave behind more than paper records. Typically they leave traces of themselves in the physical environment, in the houses where they lived, the places where they worked, and the people with whom they interacted regularly. With a traditional exhibit it can be impossible to incorporate a person’s entire home into an exhibit or collection about them. However, in types of online exhibits, there are fewer constraints on what can be included. The selection and organization of these objects can significantly impact a researcher’s interaction with the sources.

To present an individual as a collection on Omeka, with their documents and related objects listed as items reflects on the traditional archival organization of physical collections and exhibits. This also allows for a broader range of interpretation. When organized this way, the curator can interpret the person, and the significance of each object or document individually. This method would likely work for a smaller cemetery archive with a large amount of sources or objects related to each individual resident.

For a larger cemetery with fewer historical records related to each resident, a different model may be necessary. In the case of Oakland Cemetery’s project, the collections focus more on the cemetery’s interaction with the individuals and surrounding communities than the lives of the individuals themselves. Using Omeka to organize individuals as items would certainly enable the curator to create a more focused interpretation for larger volumes of individuals. Despite the lack of opportunity for shared authority with the historical residents of both Flat Rock and Oakland Cemetery, the cautious curation of both projects can result in a useful resource.