On the second floor of Binghamton University’s Rockefeller Center building, you’ll find a room pilled high with boxes of photographs and film canisters alongside an array of digital equipment. This room is the headquarters of Binghamton University’s Past 2 Future Project.
The Past 2 Future Project was started by the university as a way to preserve the area’s rich local history and to give its undergraduate students an opportunity for hands-on research.
“Several years ago, the university interviewed undergraduates and asked them what would they like more of, or what was missing from their education,” states Dr. Kevin Wright, the director of the Past 2 Future Project. “One of the things that really came to the top of the list was more involvement in research.”
The Past 2 Future Project, or P2F, collects donations of historical materials, including photographs, diaries, and newspapers, from local individuals and organizations. Students in P2F then digitize the materials and return them, along with a digital copy, to the owners.
“At this point we’re simply taking materials and digitizing them. The next big phase is to catalogue it,” states Wright. “So we’re creating what eventually will be a database of information that students can access but also the community can access.”
According to Dr. Wright, the ultimate goal is to build a digital database that students, scholars, and the community can access and utilize for research projects.
“So it becomes a real win/win situation for students,” states Wright. “(Students) have the opportunity to look at interesting things that have happened. It gives the family or organization a digitized copy, and for the community we are documenting the rich history of the area.”
A Humbling Experience
Undergraduate students, like Jonathan Lanz, are the backbone of the P2F project. They are tasked with digitizing all the donated materials and with laying the foundation of the future database.
“I’m really interested in research in the humanities,” states Lanz, a history major. “While Binghamton has many different programs for the sciences… this is one of the few that emphasizes the role of research in things like local history that really interest me.”
According to Lanz, spending hours combing through the personal effects of individuals is both an interesting and humbling experience.
“One of the albums I was going through this past week had children of a family at different ages and you see them grow up,” states Lanz. “So it’s really important to remember that these materials are very personal to people.”
Preservation for the Future
Lanz believes the work he and the other students are doing will help preserve many of these historic objects for years to come.
“We live in a digital age, it’s very important that we begin to digitize our history,” states Lanz. “A lot of the films and photos are very old, without digitization they’ll continue to deteriorate. “
According to Lanz, “Preserving (the history) through digitization is a great way to not only remember it, but also to explain to the students, like myself, many of whom are transplants, that there is more to Binghamton than just the university.”
Dr. Wright also believes that the project will help teach Binghamton University students more about the surrounding community.
“What I’ve found in working with the students is that as they begin to learn about the area, then they get very interested in this area,” states Wright. “I think a potential impact of the project is it will connect students that have come from other areas to this area.”
“I’m from Nassau County, Long Island,” states Lanz. “So when I first came to Binghamton, I really knew absolutely nothing about the area.”
Working on the Past 2 Future Project has exposed Lanz to many different facets of the region’s colorful past.
“I think it’s so interesting how shoes that are made here were on the beaches of Normandy,” says Lanz. “Binghamton has a very, very rich local history.”
The Past 2 Future Project’s website contains additional information about the project and on how to contact the organization.
Shane Johnson is a producer for WSKG’s History & Heritage team. Before arriving at WSKG, Shane earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema and History, Master’s Degree in History, as well as his Master’s of Arts in Teaching in Social Studies Adolescence Education from Binghamton University. He has a personal interest in 19th Century American history, especially the Civil War, and as a young lad, he dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer.