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Crystal Donkor

Photo of Crystal Donkor in front of a shop windowPh.D. Candidate, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies

Learning environments that extend beyond the confines of the classroom have always been a source of great fascination for me. As a child, museum spaces were my favorite because they had a unique way of brining the past to life. As an adult, this fascination for Public History grew as I became deeply interested in historic preservation sites, particularly plantation spaces. As a PhD student in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies with a research focus in the nineteenth century, I am drawn to the living history and memory that plantation spaces evoke. My research is primarily focused on the literature of the late 19th century and how African American women writers engage the legacies of these spaces in their fiction.

My participation in the Public History program at UMass has provided me and my research with a whole new set of analytical tools with which to understand how space, place, and artifact speak to making and understanding meaning. On a much more personal level, Public History has challenged me to consider the broader impact of my own scholarship. Working with Springfield youth on creating a digital archive of their oral histories around a natural disaster during my first semester in the Public History program created a new enthusiasm within me for bringing historical methods and practice to real people.

I think the best feature of the Public History program at UMass lies in its ability to introduce students to community partners like Historic Deerfield and Historic Northampton. These spaces give in-class research a much more tangible and practical outlet. My relationship to these spaces in Massachusetts often inspires me to return to my hometown of New York City, full of large, well-known museums, and explore some lesser known, historic homes and historic sites.