One of the architects of the newly launched public history website-A Liberian Journey, Dr. Gregg Mitman has disclosed plans to work with educators in Liberian high schools and colleges to implement the site as a teaching tool and to expand the virtual exhibits to give voice, meaning and historical context to the images the website presents.
The website, an initiative of the Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, captures a substantial part of the national history of Liberia beginning in 1926. The site was launched by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday.
Dr. Mitman, who comes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also said that the website is designed to be accessible via mobile phones and in areas with limited internet connectivity, therefore becoming useful to students for research. “This website will be of great use to our student population. This is a good research tool that every student can take advantage of,” he said
The site, according to Dr. Mitman who was giving an overview of the project at the launch, is meant to inform, raise questions, and invite stories about a transformational moment in Liberia’s past. He disclosed that in 1926, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company secured a ninety-nine year lease for up to one million acres of land from the Liberian government to establish one of the world’s largest rubber plantations.
He said to help the company understand the conditions and challenges it faced, Firestone sponsored a Harvard team of scientists and physicians to conduct a four-month biological and medical survey of Liberia’s interior.
He said Loring Whitman, a Harvard medical student served as the expedition’s official photographer.
“The motion picture record Whitman gathered is the earliest known surviving motion picture footage of Liberia. The moving images, along with hundreds of still photographs that appear in this digital collection, give a view of Liberia of the 19th Century western views of American scientists. At the same time, the footage and photographs offer a valuable historical record of the people, cultural traditions and landscapes of Liberia at a time of rapid economic, cultural, and environmental change,” he said.
“We need to appreciate this website because if we do, we will be appreciating our own history and our culture,” he said, adding the website is a meaningful venture.
The President disclosed that she played a small role in providing content to the site during the initial collections of its historical artifacts. Viewing video footage of some of the past historical leaders, including former female Paramount Chief of Suakoko District, Bong County, Neh Suakoko, she said such initiative needs to be improved to enhance the learning of young Liberian students.
Madam Sirleaf said despite the raw and invasive nature of the video footage, something she said she preferred not to see following initial glimpses, she was impressed by the determination of those behind the building of the website to become a reality for the benefit of young people today.
President Sirleaf lauded the collaboration between the CNNDR and the universities of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana respectively as well all those who supported the effort financially and materially in order to be able to complete the work.
“It will make Liberians to know about their true history and the roles their forefathers played in bringing all of their children up to this point,” she pointed out. She commended the collection of historical artifacts through sound research for the website, backed by the collection of historical photos, interviews with traditional chiefs, elders and zoes orally recounting their past experiences.
CNDRA Director General, P. Bloh Sayeh described the launching of the website as an important moment in the existence of the Center. She praised those who helped in setting up the website, including Mr. Emmanuel Urey, a Liberian, along with a team of researchers from the United States.
The website features films, photographs, oral histories, and documents, an interactive map and an archive containing nearly 600 photographs and more than two hours of motion picture footage taken on a 1926 Harvard scientific expedition to Liberia.