A Reflection on New Course Exploring History of the Allentown Band

The Allentown Band: Final Reflection by Susan Falciani, Anthony Dalton, Kate Ranieri

Faculty and students from Muhlenberg College recently collaborated on a new course merging Documentary Fieldwork and Essentials of Archives, which brought together principles of oral history, documentary fieldwork, storymaking, and archival theory/practice within the context of working with the historic Allentown Band.

Students cataloged and rehoused a small collection of the Band’s physical records, making organizational decisions and conducting historical research to formulate conventional finding aids. These finding aids will be compiled by the archivist into an accessible, web-based research tool.  We collected oral histories to more fully understand the Band’s history in the Lehigh Valley over the past 50 years, how they envision their future performing for local and international audiences, and grooming new members and engaging with youth to encourage their musical talents.

Using digital tools in various modalities – writing, imagery, audio, video, data visualization, and web and graphic design – we designed a website serving as both a crafted, visualized narrative to the efforts and findings of the semester and as a gateway to future expansions, data, and storytelling.

Students reported finding a deeper understanding of archival theory and practice, and of its interconnectedness with storytelling or, as one student reported, “the symbiotic relationship” between the two; ‘…having an understanding of the archival side helps with the effectiveness and efficiency of research.”  While students experienced challenges when putting archival theory into practice, the majority found the struggle “…one of the pieces of this class that I have derived the most joy from.”

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