Recovering a Hidden History

Students’ award-winning website preserves stories from an African-American newspaper published more than a century ago in Winter Park.

History professor Julian Chambliss and his students explore rare newspaper clippings from The Advocate,
 an African-American newspaper published in 1890s Winter Park. (Photo by Scott Cook) History professor Julian Chambliss and his students explore rare newspaper clippings from The Advocate, an African-American newspaper published in 1890s Winter Park. (Photo by Scott Cook)

The best digital history projects often start with a lot of old-fashioned, analog research.

Last spring, students in Julian Chambliss’s Introduction to Digital History class transcribed dozens of rare newspaper clippings from The Advocate, an African-American newspaper published in 1890s Winter Park.

The resulting Advocate Recovered website, which documents the city’s early days—especially in regard to issues of race, politics, and life in nearby Hannibal Square—recently won the Florida Historical Society’s Hampton Dunn Internet Award.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

“This was a black newspaper in the time when black newspapers were incredibly hard to find in Florida,” says Chambliss, who chairs the history department. “The project’s goal was sort of a recovery of articles from a scrapbook by town founder Loring Chase. Even though the scrapbook had been digitized in 2004, the OCR (optical character recognition) was poor, so it was hard to read and it wasn’t findable online. It was as if someone had built a house but neglected to tell you where the house was.”

The project grew out of a class Chambliss offered three years ago called Decade of Decision: 1890s. In it, students explored the redrawing of Winter Park’s municipal boundary, an act that removed black voters from the city limits and shifted the political landscape.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

“When the town was founded, African Americans were key voters and had two councilmen on the first city government,” Chambliss says. “In 1892, Democrats claimed that the town boundaries were improperly drawn. State law invalidated the town boundaries in 1893, and black people in the Hannibal Square neighborhood were disenfranchised from Winter Park.”

While researching the issue, Chambliss found little to no online source material from the African-American perspective. In addition to Chase’s scrapbook, only three full sheets of The Advocate are known to exist: two in the Winter Park Library and one in Rollins’ Olin Library.

Having students transcribe the articles for modern use, Chambliss says, broadens the narrative by “reflecting the stories of people of color, women, and those from non-Western backgrounds.”

“Winter Park has a strong historical narrative,” he adds, “but many times the African American part gets omitted. This project was a chance to put a spotlight on the centrality of the black experience in the formation of the town. It also gave students a chance to explore how the integration of technology impacts the study of history.”

Today, thanks to the efforts of student researchers like Andrew Morris ’16, a new generation of scholars has better access to a more comprehensive view of Winter Park’s founding.

“The Advocate Recovered project was like putting together pieces to a very complicated puzzle,” says Morris, an international relations major pursuing his master’s in urban planning. “It’s neat to see how history connects to current events. The thing with Dr. Chambliss’s class is you deal with a lot of issues like racism and poverty that otherwise might get brushed over—and you get to do it in a very relevant, hands-on way that takes you into the community.”

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

Rollins students who participated in Advocate Recovered project

Howard Tursi ’18
Marisol Mendez ’17
Andrew Morris ’16
Bailey Welch ’17
Paul Allen ’18
Jasmine Flores ’18
Patricia Scheffler ’19
Duncan Ellsworth ’18
Erick Perez ’17