Although many of Elizabeth City State University’s history classes are meeting virtually this fall, the learning experience is as real and as hands-on as ever.

Several ECSU history professors are centering local history as part of the classroom experience and they are using modern technology and local and regional partnerships to share their findings.

Dr. Chas Reed’s Introduction to History class will be identifying sites related to African-American history in and around Elizabeth City and publishing entries about them in a free public history app called Clio.

This semester marks the second time Dr. Reed has used Clio to make the region’s history more accessible to the public. In 2018 his class documented the history of ECSU’s campus buildings. The result was a tour that anyone can download and use to learn about ECSU’s history as they walk around campus.

Other ECSU professors are also engaging their students in public history work this semester. For example, Dr. Latif Tarik’s public history class is working on a preservation project in Oak Grove Cemetery in cooperation with the Museum of the Albemarle and the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. And my African Americans in North Carolina class is documenting Elizabeth City’s early 20th century African-American businesses in coordination with Museum of the Albemarle and the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Tourism Development Authority.

Students and professors alike will have opportunities to share their research experiences with the public as part of Museum of the Albemarle’s popular “History for Lunch” series.

Dr. Reed’s fall 2020 class project is inspired by a call to action issued by Kate Masur and Greg Downs, historians and editors of the Journal of the Civil War era. Masur and Downs want historians, groups and the members of the general public to gather together on Saturday, Sept. 26, the weekend after the anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, at sites “where the history of slavery, emancipation and Reconstruction is being concealed or neglected.”

On that day, ECSU history professors and students from their various classes will gather together to honor African-American Civil War veterans buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. Three years ago, a group of ECSU students worked with Dr. Reed and Dr. Stuckey to learn more about these Elizabeth City veterans, who fought for their freedom by serving in the U.S. Colored Troops, African American regiments of the U.S. Army and presented their work at the Museum of the Albemarle’s 2017 North Carolina Women and the Underground Railroad conference.

According to Dr. Reed, this year’s call to action is an opportunity to continue raising awareness of the historical importance of the Albemarle region to our nation’s history. “There is so much history around us that we don’t know about and therefore can’t appreciate,” he said. “Our students are helping uncover that history, and through it are engaging with their communities and developing valuable skills for work, life, and citizenship.”

Melissa N. Stuckey is professor of history at Elizabeth City State University and a Friends of the Museum of the Albemarle Board member.