Reviewed December 2017
Sarah Kirkley, Instruction Librarian & English, Arts, & Humanities Liaison
Georgia State University
Oh Freedom! is a free educational web resource that utilizes artworks from Smithsonian's collections to teach the history of the African-American Civil Rrights Movement in the United States. Made available by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and The National Museum of African American History and Culture, this website contains high-quality images of artworks from the collections of those institutions along with relevant secondary sources, including photographs, musical records, additional artworks, and historical artifacts, to provide the historical context for the featured artwork and to frame its relevance within the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to the selected artworks, the site features an interactive timeline of Civil Rights Movement events and milestones and a glossary of important terms within art and civil rights studies. This site endeavors to show the intersectionality of art, history, and social justice through the ongoing struggle for civil rights within the United States.
In total, the site contains 38 selected artworks along with supplemental materials. In addition to the curated set of secondary sources, each artwork is accompanied by useful discussion questions and background information on both the work and the artist, all of which are designed for use in educational settings. The images of the artworks are available to download and to print, and users can create accounts to customize their experience by saving works, making notes, and more. This site has great potential for collaboration by allowing users to submit lesson plans and to share experiences in using these resources in classroom settings. However, at the time of this review, the links to create an account and to start a conversation with others were not properly functioning, so those features and functionalities were not available to be properly tested.
The audience for this site is educators of all kinds who are interested in incorporating the intersectionality of art and civil rights into their teaching on art, history, and social justice. Oh Freedom! effectively demonstrates the active participation of artists in social and political movements, rather than portraying them as passive observers or documentarians of events. The resource thoughtfully positions the works and accompanying secondary sources into relevant contexts.
The site is extraordinary in its mission to make artworks from Smithsonian collections more accessible and to create and sustain a community of practice. However, the overall site design is very text-heavy and feels under-designed, lending the site a slightly dated appearance. The site pages that display the artworks require users to click on linked headings for sections of text to display, which may be an attempt to balance the text-heavy feel of the site but which hinders a seamless experience for the user. Additionally, the links to create an account are not easily findable, but rather are embedded throughout the text on various pages within the site.
Ultimately, the artworks and information made available through this resource are invaluable and have the potential to benefit teachers, professors, and other educators in all varieties of educational settings. The site could benefit from a more intuitive design and more strategically deployed text, but those shortcomings can be easily overlooked through the potential for sharing and collaboration and the overall value that this site provides.