Madison County has a new online archive that documents local history through century-old photographs, articles and recorded interviews.
The Madison Historical website produced by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville invites exploration of the Metro East county’s history, sorting content by era (19th, 20th, or 21st century), theme (industry, education, government) and community.
The history department at SIUE began compiling the archive last year; so far it has more than 200 photographs and documents, a dozen articles and 15 recorded oral histories.
For history professor and website editor Jeff Manuel, some of the most interesting items in the archive are about the county’s glass industry.
“People don’t know this, but Alton was once one of the world’s major hubs of glass bottle manufacturing, with the Owens-Illinois Glass Company,” said Manuel, who specializes in 19th century U.S. history.
“We have, for example, their entire catalog from the early 20th century scanned and available up there. Hundreds of pages of all the different glass bottles they made and sold; really beautiful illustrations. That’s one of my personal favorites.”
The websites’ audio that features oral histories of local residents is particularly compelling for SIUE professor Jason Stacy, who edits the archive with Manuel and SIUE professor emeritus Steve Hansen.
“We’ve had people talking about (racial) integration in the 1970s in Madison County. We’ve had people talking about the history of bike culture in the 1980s,” Stacy said. “They really come through as living history.”
Bob Daiber, Madison County’s Regional Superintendent of Schools, came up with the idea for the project in 2012 while conducting research for Madison County’s bicentennial. He discovered the county’s official, comprehensive history ended in 1912.
“Other than court records and documented records in different entities, we had no inclusive historical review,” said Daiber. “And there was just so much that has transpired in our county — in industry and business and education, in government, in our legal community — that I felt a real need that collectively we needed to put something together.”
The history department at SIUE stepped up to the plate to fill the void.
In addition to preserving local history and making it accessible to the public, Daiber, Stacy and Manuel see the archive as a way to make history come alive for students.
The regional superintendent’s office is offering scholarships for nine teachers to attend a summer class at SIUE to learn how their students can contribute the historical archive.
As the course instructors, Stacy and Manuel will help the teachers create lesson plans in archiving and collecting oral histories.
Stacy said their hope is that the archive will help students think of history as something they can use and produce, rather than a bunch of dates and facts.
“For example, students often think about the industrial revolution as something that happens far away and a long time ago. But, of course, Madison County was on the cutting edge of the industrial revolution both in the 19th and the 20th century,” said Stacy.
“Our goal is, ultimately, to have students in the community, not only our students, but also elementary, middle school and high school students in the community thinking about the place where they live as a place that is not only historically significant, but a place where they can actually record some of that history, and contribute to a place where other people could use what they have found.”
Other items of note in the digital archive include a photo of the 1934 champion baseball team from Glen Carbon and a recording of an interview of a woman who worked at an abortion clinic in Granite City.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.