More on Sneakily Teaching Public History

I’ve talked recently about the big Public History term project I do in my HIST101 foundation classes, but today I want to talk a little bit more about other ways to sneakily teach Public History in the foundations classroom.

phwordlemostlyhorizontal350Teaching as an adjunct teaching associate for the past 2 years has been a blast.  While it was hard to leave the museum world where I served as an Executive Director of a small historic house for 2 years, the opportunity to engage with undergraduates in history (and graduate students this year!) has been wonderful. I have generally taught a few sections of HIST101 – Foundations of European Civilization Part 1 with some public history and museum courses mixed in as well.  I couldn’t very well just teach a generic 101 class – I had to put my own personal spin on it.

Apart from the grant, smaller public history and museum assignments lead up to and complement the course throughout the semester.  The first assignment I generally do explores UNESCO world heritage sites in preparation for the grant.  I also spice up the class with museum ethics, cultural patrimony, human remains (eww!), and popular culture.  Here are a few notes on those projects that I rotate throughout the year:

me absolutely fan-girting with the elgin marbles
me absolutely fan-girling with the Elgin Marbles
  1. When the class is getting ready to discuss the cultures of ancient, archaic, and classical Greece, we spend one class period discussing the Elgin Marbles and cultural patrimony.  I’m always so interested to hear the analogies they come up with.  My favorite this year was a comparison of the Elgin Marbles to a child in foster care; perhaps Greece didn’t have the skills to take care of the Elgin Marbles at first, so Britain took them in.  Now Greece has a new job and safe house, but the British Museum wants to adopt and thinks the marbles are now theirs. We also take this opportunity to talk about current events with history in the Middle East, human remains, and more. I never know where the conversation will lead.
  2. The discussion on cultural patrimony is then translated into a museum artifacts assignment.  Students must explore museum collections websites and find 3 artifacts (mummies, temples, paintings, whatever) and discuss them as primary sources.  Then the students engage in a written discussion about who “owns” each artifact, if they think it should be somewhere else, and why it is important.300
  3. Some semesters I include an assignment that compares and contrasts a film and documentary about the same topic.  I have a whole 2 page spreadsheet of films and corresponding documentaries that relate to our class (300, Cleopatra, Kingdom of Heaven, Knight’s Tale, etc.).  Students watch the documentary first, then the film, and try to find inaccuracies or simplifications.  I’m always surprised at the number of students who admit they prefer the documentaries.
  4. Pop culture and history – students must identify 3 UNEXPECTED references to history in pop culture.  Examples include True Blood references to maenads, everything in Harry Potter, and a lot of things from the Hunger Games.  My all-time favorite, though, was trojan condoms.  The student astutely mentioned that knowing the history, this may not be the best example of history in advertising.
  5. One fall when I knew I would be missing class, I made up that time by having students research the origins of various Halloween-y things (zombies, black cats, witches, jack-o-lanterns).  Halloween is my favorite holiday,  and I find that students enjoyed this as well.
  6. My all-time favorite assignment that I do is an extra credit assignment based on  StoryCorps. I will save that for its own post, because it is so fantastic.

I’m always looking for new ideas and additions to these assignments – do you have any? I’m looking to totally re-vamp my curriculum for the Fall semester, and I can’t wait!


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