Behind Rosenwald Reinterpreted: A Digital Strategy of Interpretation of St. Johns Elementary School

Author: ORCID icon
Glatt, Hannah, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, AR-Arch History Dept, University of Virginia
Johnston, Andrew, AR-Arch History Dept, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, PV-Ofc of Exec VP & Provost, University of Virginia

The 20th century brought great struggle and opportunity for African Americans in the South, and that heritage needs to be told to the public. One component to the complete history, especially concerning African American educational heritage is the Rosenwald Fund, which allowed rural African American elementary education to develop and helped create a constructed schooling landscape. Some of these Rosenwald Schools still stand today, but are vacant and unused by the communities surrounding them. St. Johns Elementary School in Albemarle County, Virginia, is on its way to becoming part of the community again. However, it is in need of interpretation for the public, in order to not lose the meaning of the original building and its students' experiences.

Public history informs society of parts of their past that they might not have realized was significant, however, access to this information creates meaningful exposure to the past. With the growing world of technology, St. Johns is able to become a physical part of the community again while telling the important story of its history through digital heritage online. It preserves both the community engagement and the building's lived experience.

This thesis specifically will look at the digital interpretation of African American educational heritage and Rosenwald Schools through St. Johns Rosenwald School, located outside of Gordonsville Virginia. The first goal of this thesis is to discuss the process of the creation of a digital strategy of interpretation of Rosenwald Schools as a source of public African American educational history, while preserving the Rosenwald School community engagement in order to act as a template for Rosenwald digital interpretation. The second goal is the product itself: a digital interpretation of St. Johns Elementary Rosenwald School through the creation of the public history website Rosenwald Reinterpret.

The written work acts as a template to follow in order to create a digital strategy of interpretation of a Rosenwald School where the building is not accessible or no longer exists. Chapter One is a discussion of the historical foundations of African American educational heritage through the ideas and beliefs of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Carter G. Woodson. Chapter Two analyzes four strategies of interpretations of African American heritage in Virginia, all indirectly made possible by the three figures in Chapter One, and how the sites aided in the creation and understanding of Rosenwald Reinterpreted. Chapter Three looks to one specific example of a restored Rosenwald School, Scrabble School, in order to see what is already available to the public and how that contributes to this interpretation of St. Johns. Chapter Four closes the text with a breakdown of Rosenwald Reinterpreted in order to understand the incorporation of precedents and the display of content.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
African American, Public History, Digital History, The Rosenwald Fund, Education, Rosenwald
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