The Learning Tree: A Gordon Parks Digital Archive was initially conceived in Spring 2014 as a student-led project for the Department of English’s Introduction to Digital Humanities course. K-State graduate students from the Department of English discovered holdings of Parks materials relating to The Learning Tree in K-State Library and the Marianne Beach Museum of Art. Among these holdings are correspondence between Parks and his editor and corrected manuscripts of one of his memoirs, A Choice of Weapons, as well as a volume of poetry, The Whisper of Intimate Things.
The greatest discovery was a collection of hundreds of still photographs taken on the set of The Learning Tree shoot, captured by Parks as well as other photographers. These photographs show Parks and the crew at work on the first Hollywood film to have a Black director, and give a sense of the scope of the on-location production. Many of these photographs were digitized and used to create an online exhibit built in Omeka. This online exhibit was hosted by Kansas State University Department of English and Hale library for one year, before being taken offline. The online exhibit was then partially recreated in the digital book application, Scalar, while more material was collected and digitized.
In October of 2014, Katherine Karlin and student intern Kenan Dannenberg attended the annual Gordon Parks Celebration at the Parks Museum in Fort Scott, KS, and interviewed Carole Lamond, who played Big Mabel in The Learning Tree. Funding through the Kansas State Office of Undergraduate Research subsidized the work of student intern Haley Claxton, under the direction of Cameron Leader-Picone, as she digitized the photographs of The Learning Tree film shoot held in Kansas State Special Collections. The following spring, the project received a $10,000 grant from the Kansas Humanities to digitize many of the holdings of the Fort Scott museum related to The Learning Tree.
In the summer of 2015, student interns Daniel Dissmore and Sean Kiernan digitized dozens of hours of audio and videotapes conducted with friends of Parks and other Ft. Scott residents and panel discussions from previous Parks Celebrations at Ft. Scott (including a talk by the film’s star, Kyle Johnson), as well as local press coverage of the shoot, publicity materials, and personal mementoes. With the assistance of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we have been able to combine the Fort Scott collection with the Parks material at Kansas State University.
View the online exhibition, "Homeward to the Prairie I Come", part of the K-State Gordon Parks Project initiated by the Beach Museum of Art and K-State Department of English.