Digital history through a new musical

I’ve just run across something that may be of interest.

I’m linking to a page for Mill Girls: A New Musical. This is a musical about the 1845 petition for fair hours and working conditions by the mill workers in Lowell, MA. On International Women’s Day they released their “interactive EP.” The page I’ve linked gives a very short history about the petition, then an image of the body of the petition itself, then typed names of those who signed, then images of the signatures. Visitors to the site or followers of their Instagram account are encouraged to “Help us commemorate their [the mill workers’] activism throughout Women’s History Month by choosing a name from the two thousand petition signers below, signing it in your handwriting, and posting a picture of it to Instagram. Tag @MillGirlsMusical, @LowellNPS and #WhyWeRise – then tag three women or allies to join you. The Lowell National Historical Park will be collecting all signatures for a display in the Park where the mill girls lived, worked and fought.”

Part of this is definitely marketing and trying to drum up hype, but I think it’s also a compelling example of getting “the public” invested in a primary document (sort of like our collaborative project). I’m interested in the process of collecting photographed signatures and incorporating them into a physical exhibit. The @MillGirlsMusical account has also mentioned plans for further interactivity throughout the month. I’m not sure what form this interactivity is going to take, but I am hoping for some more public digital history from this project.

In any case the musical is very good. At least two historians worked on the project, a ranger for the National Historical Park and a professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. I think you can really feel the presence of their research in the lyrics — this use of research creates an immersive world in just a fifteen minute set of songs. Really an inspiring collaboration between public historians and artists!

One thought on “Digital history through a new musical

  1. Fascinating use of the names and the petition as a source! It made me want even more features there, such as clickable biographies of some of the signers, as we are attempting in our own project. And a very creative idea to encourage viewers/listeners to bring pieces of the document out into the world. I’m trying to suppress my own discomfort with Instagram here, because I really like the project’s idea generally.
    Aiming for the next “Hamilton”?

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