Sneaking Public History into General Education Classes

ncph-2016-mockup-1200x735Last year at the National Council on Public History conference in Baltimore, Maryland, I  attended one of the best sessions I’ve been to at a conference in a long time.  It was so relevant to my current work teaching Public History AND general education courses at CCU.  The session was all about teaching public history and using public history in the core curriculum classes.  As I listened to these ideas from colleagues around the country, I realized I was already doing this, and also that there was so much still left to learn and adapt.

As soon as I got back to South Carolina I began to work to adapt one of the coolest projects I learned about at NCPH for my own Western Civ part 1 class. One of the panelists, Nicole Hill from Valencia College, was so kind and helpful to send me her drafts of the project.  After a little bit of tweaking for my own class, I ran what I call “The Great {Ominous} Grant Project” as a pilot in my HIST101 Fall 2016 semester, courses and by (almost) all accounts, it was a success!

c73d1010498d0b62612a57862a88be46I plan to go more into detail on the student responses and outcomes from the project in the next blog, and subsequent blogs will also tackle some of the other projects I go in my 101 classes.

The problem with teaching World and European Civ classes, especially as an adjunct, is that oftentimes the large classes, or sheer number of courses, make it hard to do group work or papers or other critical thinking exercises.  The idea of bringing what I did in museums and my life as a public historian to the classroom seemed like a no-brainer.  Bringing Public History to the regular history class also gives us the opportunity to get students engaged in class when they arent history students.  

Nicole had all kinds of tips and tricks to sneak in preservation, museum ethics, and more into the lecture.  By showing students what historians, archaeologists, or museum workers do in the real actual world, it helps students understand what they do as well as what problems are involved that also relate to general education SLOs.  

UNESCO World Heritage List
UNESCO World Heritage List

The way I’ve adapted and used “The Grant Project” in my courses is this; I begin the semester by explaining my background and how I got into teaching, as well the opportunities people have in history other than just being professors or teachers.  Throughout the semester we discuss real-world scenarios based on the typical curriculum of a HIST 101 course.  A great example is a case study on the Elgin Marbles and the ownership of historical artifacts; students get so into taking a side on the issue that the resulting class discussion is always entertaining.  We also do assignments throughout the semester related to museum artifacts, UNESCO world heritage sites, popular culture, and others.

holiday_2513727b-650_031815055308Once they know a little about public history and its applications, we begin the Grant Project process.  Students start by looking at the UNESCO or World Monument Funds sites and choosing 3 sites they find interesting to write a short paper about.  From those 3, the students choose 1 to focus on for the rest of the semester either in groups of up to 3 students, or on their own.  The grant itself is a 6 page document that they must fill out, a basic budget, and a couple writing portions about how they would spend a fictitious $100,000 on their chosen site, and also on the historical significance of the site. After turning in the application, students present the information for their final exam.  Students evaluate each group, and the top 3 as voted by the class receive extra credit.

Through this process they learn several things that I value most in my courses.  Among those skills are:

  • Time management and non-procrastination
  • Critical thinking and questioning
  • Persuasive writing
  • Cultural heritage awareness and importance
  • The actual cost of protecting historic sites and artifacts
  • Cultural patrimony issues
  • Historic research methods
  • Maybe a little bit a historic place or culture
  • Presenting and being comfortable speaking academically

Tall orders for a foundations/gen ed class!

This blog is getting away from me, so I’ll save the details and examples for the next blog.  Stay tuned!

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