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    Digital Initiatives at the Center for Mason Legacies
    (Conference on Community Writing, 2021) Dobberteen, Anne; Fahringer, Alyssa Toby; Guidone, Anthony; Oberle, George D.
    Who writes history? Who is history written for? How is it accessed, and how can it become more accessible to local communities? This panel will discuss how digital initiatives at George Mason University’s Center for Mason Legacies (CML) is making this history of Northern Virginia, important both to local and national history, more accessible to different communities. We believe that history writing need not be limited to traditional print monographs but might instead be practiced on more inclusive and accessible digital platforms. In this way, history that is hidden in dusty old account books or made contemporaneously at protests digitally becomes part of how not only academics but also students, individuals, and community members engage with history. The Center for Mason Legacies (CML), established in 2020 at George Mason University, is a digital research center which partners faculty from University Libraries with the College for Humanities and Social Sciences. CML preserves and examines the legacy of George Mason IV (1725-1792), his ancestors and heirs, and the people he enslaved. This panel features a single project team discussing CML’s origins, the digital tools it uses, and three of its digital projects. CML originated with undergraduates asking how their university namesake lived and thought as a slaveholder; their inquiries informed new fieldwork related to campus statues, memorialization, and racial and gender reckoning. CML grew from their initial efforts and has several new digital projects underway using Omeka S and Drupal. The Mason Family Papers: The Digital Edition is a hub and index to guide researchers to Mason documents; CML’s Racial Reckoning digital archive responds to the mass protests following the police-involved killings of Black Americans during the spring and summer of 2020; and the Mason Family Account Book is digital documentary editing and transcription project. Selecting the appropriate tools to encourage community writing projects is critical. CML uses the Omeka content management system for its public history-based digital scholarship projects. Omeka is a free and open source software, making it an ideal platform to use when working on projects centering local and community experience. Many of the plugins created for the Omeka platform, such as the Collecting module, were made specifically to invite individuals to contribute to projects. Racial Reckoning uses the Collecting module for that purpose, and draws on the legacy of other similarly-minded endeavors, including Preserve the Baltimore Uprising Project and The September 11 Digital Archive. Omeka is unique in that it was made with community in mind—specifically museums, archives, and galleries, and their audiences—and is designed to exhibit public history in an accessible and user-friendly way. Mason Family Papers plans to extend beyond the three-volume letterpress edition of Papers of George Mason published in 1970 and collect vital archival documents that were not included by the original editor Robert Rutland. The goal is to provide a more comprehensive understanding of George Mason’s legacies through the systematic collection of all known surviving records of his family, starting with the great-grandfather George Mason I and moving forward to Lucy Randolph Mason, a highly influential woman in twentieth-century regional and national politics. This work is designed to fill in gaps to the documentary record which will allow scholars to explore the impact of the dispossession of Native American land and racial slavery were deeply embedded in the lasting wealth of this family over the span of eight generations. Racial Reckoning seeks to collect, preserve, and present the stories, personal experiences, and digitally-born materials of protests from the larger George Mason community. The idea that everyone is their own historian and curator of their history via social media, journaling, or in creating protest art is a crucial one to shaping a more inclusive and representative historical archive. However, collecting images of protest is fraught with ethical challenges and serious questions about privacy, consent, and intended use which must be thoughtfully addressed. The Mason Family Account Book is a digital documentary editing project that sheds light on the free and enslaved communities of Loudoun County in the during the Early Republic. The project utilizes a Drupal platform to digitally annotate and share a physical account book held by the George Mason University Libraries. It documents the business, family, and personal accounts of Stevens Thomson Mason (1760-1803) and his son, Armistead Thomson Mason (1787-1819). Included in the accounting are extensive records for the operation of the family plantation, Raspberry Plain Farm, near Leesburg (Loudoun County), with many entries related to those enslaved by the family. Stevens Thomson Mason was the nephew of George Mason IV, whose life as a local Virginia planter and enslaver took on national importance when he served as a writer of the Fairfax Resolves (1787), the Virginia Declarations of Rights (1776), and finally as a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention (1787). Although the Libraries created a digitized copy of the account book, this rich resource remained largely untapped and hidden from the surrounding community until professors George Oberle and Cynthia Kierner began teaching a documentary editing course in Spring 2020 using the account book. Through this course, students began transcribing entries from the account book and conducting related research. This transcription and research project is ongoing and will lead to a valuable, public online research tool. This will allow the local Northern Virginia community to gain a more thorough understanding of the ways in which enslaved and free Virginians in the Early Republic interacted and will help the modern community better understand the context for the legacy of slavery both in the region and, more broadly as part of a national story.