Many businesses and organizations have shifted operations online due to the pandemic, but staff members at the Northeast Georgia History Center have been using technology to bring history to life for years.
In 2017, the center began offering live webcasts with schools through their Cottrell Digital Studio to reach students outside of the area who may not be able to visit the center in-person. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of last year, Cottrell Digital Studio Director Libba Beaucham said that history center staff found themselves in a very lucky situation.
“We had already had so much experience offering digital programs to teachers and schools that it was pretty easy to hit the ground running and begin offering live streams to the general public, as well as offering new digital membership,” Beaucham said. “We have been busy as ever now with virtual programs for even more schools, even outside of the state of Georgia.”
The live webcasts, typically held over Zoom or similar software, feature historical reenactments with characters ranging anywhere from abolitionist Frederick Douglass to Girl Scouts of America founder Juliette Gordon Low. Each historical figure speaks for around 20 minutes, sharing details of their life and historical achievements, before opening up the floor for questions from children.
“I think what teachers are most impressed with is the fact that we are able to interact and engage with the students directly even though it’s on a virtual platform,” Beaucham said. “To have Frederick Douglass answer your question specifically, or have Dr. Benjamin Franklin get to answer your question, it’s a really memorable moment for students and teachers.”
To make the historical figures seem as real as possible, actors and history center staff members dress in costume and stand in front of a green screen for the broadcasts. The center then uses Streamlabs OBS technology, popular among Twitch and YouTube streamers, to edit in historically accurate backgrounds.
According to Beaucham, one thing that comes as a surprise to many teachers is that the digital programs are completely free for Georgia educators and homeschool groups. Groups outside of Georgia are also able to schedule a program for a donation of their choice.
“We’re thrilled to help teachers during this time especially as they navigate a virtual education with our live webcasts,” Beaucham said. “It’s really wonderful to come to work and offer something that educators appreciate.”
In addition to live webcasts with schools, the Northeast Georgia History Center offers a variety of other digital programs to provide history education to larger audiences. Some of these programs include free weekly live streams on different historical topics and the podcast “Then Again,” which features 20-minute episodes on various historical events.
History Center Executive Director Glen Kyle said that, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and things began shutting down, history center staff wanted to keep people engaged by putting out stories and relating them back to the current circumstances. The center began putting out free digital content five days a week and soon realized that they were drawing audiences from all over, ranging from Texas and Colorado to Wales and Germany.
“We’ve decided to use the technology in the studio to leverage it and use it a lot of different ways to reach a lot of different audiences,” Northeast Georgia History Center Executive Director Glen Kyle said. “Over the last year I think, modesty aside, we’ve done a really good job keeping those stories out there and remaining as accessible as possible to as many different audiences as possible.”
A full list of characters and historical figures available for webcasts can be found on the history center’s website, but Kyle said that educators or homeschool families who have a specific educational need or request can reach out.
“What we would ask is, if there are teachers out there or homeschool families who have a need that they think we can help fill, please contact us," Kyle said. "One of the things we have learned over the last year is to be incredibly innovative and flexible, and we want to continue that, but we need our audiences and people who listen to us to tell us what they're looking for and we'll do our best to be what they need us to be."
The free weekly live streams are held every Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the Northeast Georgia History Center’s YouTube and Facebook pages. Additional live streams and programs are available throughout the week for digital members.
For a full list of digital program offerings at the Northeast Georgia History Center or to book a live webcast, visit www.negahc.org/digital-programs.