I am sitting in my son’s living room as I write this note. For the past year, he and his new family have lived here in Mableton, Georgia, a quickly growing town west of Atlanta.
Although I know a bit about the history of Atlanta and other large cities in Georgia, I knew nothing of Mableton when he moved here. A quick search on Wikipedia offered a cryptic account of the geographic location of the town, its last census count, and comments about its name. At best, the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, I turned to my trusty smartphone app, Clio (https://www.theclio.com/), and immediately found a long list of informative links to places of historical interest. Among the entries are the Robert Mable House, the Concord Covered Bridge, and several civil war battlefields, museums, and homes of other storied residents of the area.
My first impression of Mableton as a sprawling suburb of planned communities and strip malls has been vanquished by the more profound and remarkable history of those who made their mark here. Mr. Mable, for example, was a Scottish immigrant who moved to the area in 1832 when he learned about the Georgia Gold Land Lottery. He purchased 300 acres of land and eventually made a fortune in the lumber industry. His house survived the Civil War; indeed, it served as a Union hospital under the direction of Mrs. Mable.
For me, fascinating history is not of the “great” person or epochs of prosperity and decline. Instead, the history I find most compelling is of unremarkable people doing remarkable things. Consider our celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. While it is true that notable women, and a few men, were the firebrands of the suffragist movement, understanding the lobbying for and the eventual ratification requires a study of how the many women, and the few men, argued among themselves as they navigated the political battlefield that resisted the expansion of the right to vote.If you are sitting in your living room as you read this note, open the Clio app and see the fascinating history of Huntington that exists in your back yard. I think our past is riveting, and the Clio app amazing.
My colleague and friend, David Trowbridge, a professor of history at Marshall University, created Clio — named after the muse of history — as a tool to engage his students in history. His idea was profoundly simple, ask students to study the history of a place or building near where they lived. Working with original documents, secondary sources, and images, students can create unique accounts of important sites. Given the design of Clio, students can edit and improve other entries. In short, students learn by doing. They also better understand how the past shapes the present. Fortunately, David’s work has received much attention. Those who love history across the nation write and edit entries about their neighborhoods. Recently, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded David a large grant to support Clio and its continued development. I think it is important to note that Clio is free. There are no subscription costs. There are no annoying advertisements. Clio is, if you will, an open book that allows the dedicated to contribute to the narrative we call history and the curious to learn more. As I noted in a previous essay, there are many great things about living in West Virginia. I am, therefore, grateful that David has made Clio the tool to help share our history and culture.