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This paper presents an integration of poetry, history and photography through the video medium to convey a cultural history of the irrigated desert in southern Idaho, USA, around 1900. The VideoPoetry project is an investigation of cultural history that employs video and poetry to make it come alive. This social history is revealed through the lives of Clarence E. Bisbee and Jessie Robinson Bisbee of Twin Falls, Idaho. Their marriage focused on their photography business that involved documenting the transformation of the desert into farms, towns, and cities. This project brings out for public view a selection of historical photographs from a vast archive of images, most of which were produced by Clarence E. Bisbee over a thirty-year period. His remarkable technical competence and extraordinary breadth of subject matter reveal the texture of daily life as the settlers struggled with an inhospitable environment. In the video, a narrator provides historical contextualization, linking the photos together to create a cultural narrative. Following the narrative introduction, spoken poetry provides an imaginative, but historically based, personal perspective within this new society. Video- Poetry integrates these elements to make these photographs accessible and engaging to viewers a hundred years later, especially to young viewers who may have very few images of the early history of their state. Such dissemination of scholarship is especially important now. Budget cuts, emphasis on external funding rates, and charges of irrelevance have degraded the role of the arts and humanities on many campuses. Public scholarship and scholarship of engagement with communities—known as public history in the field of history—are essential to the preservation of humanities in higher education. VideoPoetry offers a dissemination method that engages audiences in non-traditional ways and highlights the complex, important social functions of humanities research.

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This document was originally published by Common Ground in International Journal of the Humanities. Readers must contact Common Ground for permission to reproduce this article.

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