Project Reviews

The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project
Created and maintained by James N. Gregory, the University of Washington, the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, and community organizations

The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is an examination of the city's complicated history of labor and race relations. From well known stories such as the International Workers of the World (IWW) and the Seattle General Strike of 1919 to lesser known stories of residential segregation, the project explores the interrelationships between class, race, and labor in the Pacific Northwest. In the process, the authors demonstrate that, far from being geographically and culturally isolated, the twentieth-century history of labor and race in Seattle mirrors that of the nation as a whole. But rather than the simple racial dichotomy of white and black as was common in much of the rest or the country, issues of race in Seattle were multifaceted with many ethnic and racial groups vying for their position and identity in an increasingly multi-cultural America. As a result, the story of race and labor in Seattle is, in many respects, the story of the maturation of the nation as a whole.

The project is organized primarily around several subheadings which explore facets of Seattle's racial and labor history and are listed along the left hand side of the page. Inside each subsection, the authors have placed a brief introductory essay, an assortment of interactive resources, a wealth of relevant primary source material, and several interpretive essays written by University of Washington faculty, graduate students, and interested members of the public. The "Segregated Seattle" section, for instance, includes an introductory PowerPoint presentation, twenty-seven maps illustrating both de facto and de jure segregation across a range of racial, ethnic, and religious groups, over 400 examples of restrictive neighborhood covenants from the city and surrounding suburbs, and several article length essays, complete with abstracts, that explore facets of the subject. The project additionally contains significant examinations of civil rights groups active in the Seattle area and of Seattle's ethnic press.

In addition to the primary project organization, users can also choose to explore highlighted topics which are placed in a shaded "Special Sections" box on the front page. At today's writing, this included an exploration, again complete with a variety of primary sources, visualizations, and interpretive essays, of the little known history of Ku Klux Klan activity in the Seattle area. Additionally, users can browse the project collection for content relating to any of the major ethnic or racial groups examined. The creators have also provided a Google search box to facilitate the exploration of the project.

One of the most enticing possibilities in a work of digital scholarship as opposed to a traditional print article or monograph is the ability to foreground the underlying primary source materials. In this respect, the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project does not disappoint, offering an array of primary source materials both within the individual subject sections and within their own dedicated sections. The project contains more than seventy streaming interviews with former and current civil rights activists which are indexed in such a way that a user can navigate directly to points of interest within the video. Additionally, the project dedicates a major research section to an examination of the ethnic presses that were once common in Seattle and other major American cities. While this section is primarily analysis of the role of the ethnic press in the history of Seattle and not an archive of the presses, it remains refreshing to see such attention paid to primary sources. The project also contains, both spread through the content and within a stand-alone section, more than a thousand photographs relating to civil rights and labor history in Seattle.

The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is primarily designed to be a resource and teaching tool for educators and students in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the project resources, including Power Points and lesson plans, are explicitly designed to be classroom friendly. Furthermore, that so much of the project's content is produced by students at the University of Washington indicates that its creators envisioned the project as an opportunity to teach students in their own classrooms how to create content for a larger audience.

The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is a fascinating case study in one of the most turbulent and foundational periods in modern American history. Due to its focus on matters of race, labor, and identity, the project is able to better capture the true complexity of the subject. While student produced content is notoriously inconsistent, the creators have worked to insure quality content is present throughout and have provided an elastic enough thesis to contain any potential digressions. Although its utility is likely somewhat constrained by its geographically narrow focus, The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is an excellent work of digital scholarship for the classroom.

Charles Klinetobe
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: December 2009