The Incredible Legacy of Historical Ancient Women: Where are they in film? — CCU Public History Fall 2018

This is part of a series of re-posts of student blogs from Coastal Carolina University’s Intro to Public History course in Fall 2018. Please visit the class website, https://ccupublichistory18.wordpress.com, for more information.

By Lindsey Perritt

A question that I have currently asked myself is where is the representation of women from the ancient history in modern day films? We see films like Gladiator, Alexander the Great, and Troy. The issue I encounter is the missing representation of powerful women that ruled and bravely campaigned for their kingdoms.

As an historian in training I have researched many incredible subjects of interest. My focus in history is women in ancient Egypt, and my favorite area of study is the life and legacy of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. My minor is women and gender studies (WGST) and I have learned so much in the last two years about powerful and influential women.

The women I search for in films are women that defied all the rules of the patriarchal system of their ancestors. Sure we have films like Elizabeth I or the new Mary Queen of Scotts (which personally I’m dying to see) but I feel that these films are produced simply because of the Tudor legacy that Henry VIII left behind. The scheming, the passion and of course the bloody executions have always intrigued the public and historians alike, myself included.

Women in films are always dependent on the male figures in their life, or have a romantic connection to a dashing male lead. What I am hoping for is a film that shows the biography of women such as Hatshepsut or Neferusobek, women who ruled powerful empires. Representation of women who set the foundation for a lasting legacy that historians, archeologists, and scholars alike scramble to understand and teach. Where are the proposals for a film of a woman who ruled a powerful empire? Where can the public discover such historical figures outside the classroom?

Whenever I discuss my major with the general public who inquiry what I study I say Hatshepsut’s name and I receive bewildered expressions. “Who?” they repeat and laugh, and I then proceed to rant and rave about an incredible, powerful woman in history. Public history has many intersectional aspects, and though films can be skewed or flawed, the impact is everlasting. Whenever I attend my ancient Rome classes, the Gladiator movie is constantly brought up and discussed. Whenever I speak of ancient Egypt I hear the consistently mentioned name of Tutankhamun. A whole three-day movie event premiered the television series for Tutankhamun, but he was merely a young man whose rule is only remembered by his intact tomb, not his actions or surviving building structures.

All I ask is for the acknowledgement of more women from the ancient world and to be remembered in a more public way.

via The Incredible Legacy of Historical Ancient Women: Where are they in film? — CCU Public History Fall 2018

Infographic Syllabi: Fun, Easy (no really!), and Engaging

A poster I whipped up in Canva to advertise a new class

Last fall we had a natural disaster that shut down our school for almost the entire month of September. I did not step foot on campus for the entire month, since for part of it I was in England for DaCNet and research. Once the immediate danger of Hurricane Florence was past us, the real waiting began for flood waters that creeped up and up into our town and over our roads for weeks after. Obviously, this was totally nerve-wracking, and I was unable to focus on any heavy research or writing, because I was constantly refreshing the NOAA flood table charts.

I decided to do something a bit more fun, relaxing (to me), and creative instead: I turned my Spring semester syllabi into info graphs. I had wanted to do this for a while and wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it, so I headed to the Google. I found this article, and this, which gave some overall tips and ideas. I am most familiar with the website Canva, so that is what I decided to use for this project. I started with a completely blank page on Canva, and just added the elements as I needed them.

Canva is great for making posters to advertise your classes online or in print, social media images to advertise conferences or workshops, syllabi, documents, resumes, whatever you want to design. It is also incredibly use friendly with drag and drop functions. You can download as PDFs, JPGs, PNGs, and more. I plan to use the syllabi I have already made in the future, and copy them to make a new document, to update and change information easily. To get started, open canva in your browser and create an account.

Now, I know the syllabus is the contract the drives the semester and needs to have all the pertinent information for a successful semester. We want to get every rule, regulation, policy, and code in there to avoid any issues we have had in the past. This leads to syllabus creep, and eventually a 14 page document of blocks and blocks of texts that I don’t want to revise every semester, and students certainly don’t want to read each semester. Paring things down was hard, but I managed to go from 6 pages of text, to 3 pages of syllabus, with a supplemental calendar on another page, and for my upper division class, a packet of readings information. I also make extensive use of our online platform, Moodle, which made paring the syllabus down a lot easier, too. In the digital version of the syllabus, you can also embed links, so students can easily access the full text of an attendance policy or find information about counseling or health services, or the writing and tutoring centers (also linked on Moodle).

Ok, so how did I actually do this? Basically I opened Canva, opened a new document, and just started dragging elements around to where I needed them. I knew I had to have the course description and SLOs per university rules, and I wanted my contact information to be easily accessible for students to find. Once I had those in place, I focused on what else I thought would be the most important: how they earn their grades, course requirements, and rules/policies (condensed and pared down). I think my favorite part is the academic misconduct section, with the little skull and cross bones. Canva also has charts you can insert that will do percentages and labels, for grading or other charts you want to include.

Within canva I was also able to create an “icon” of sorts for each class, based on the themes in that class. For the museums class, I used a museum emoji with a bunch of people, for Museums and Communities. For Great Debates in Public History, I chose icons that represented our topics: a mummy, historic buildings, and a park ranger.  The icons are on each page of the syllabus along with the course name, and one cool thing about these graphics is I was able to take the icons I made for each class and use on other platforms, like our Slack page, or for different sections of moodle for a “branding” technique. This way the class was always recognizable, even across the different websites we use.

Canva has a lot of icons to choose from in the free version, like the skull and crossbones and the museum; however, you can also upload any icons or images you have downloaded on your own device to use within the program. All of the circles, starbursts, boxes, and so on are available in the sidebar of the program.

My favorite page – POLICIES!! Just look at those sweet little skulls showing the doom that awaits plagiarizers.

I taught this style of syllabus design recently at a CeTeal professional development workshop on my campus, and some of the instructors there have really run with it! One of the theater professors is planning to make hers as a Playbill, for instance, and a literature syllabus could be designed as an old book. A geography or map class could be done in a series of maps… the possibilities are endless, really. Maybe in the future I will redesign my museum one to look like an exhibit in a room! The most important thing is to be creative and have fun.

I did not do any kind of official assessment on use of the syllabus this past semester, but it did seem that students asked less questions that were answered on the syllabus. I’m sticking with it, and will post my fall syllabi at the end of summer!

 

Egypt in Edinburgh

I was so, so, so excited to visit Edinburgh while the new The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial exhibit was on. Egypt, mummies, museum, and death customs; what’s not to love?

IMG_20170513_141345816.jpgAt the time of writing this, the exhibit has closed, but luckily the National Museums of Scotland have an excellent web presence, with information, interactive, videos, and even games and learning materials.

The exhibit is described on their website as such:

The Tomb was constructed in the great city of Thebes shortly after the reign of Tutankhamun for the Chief of Police and his wife. It was looted and reused several times, leaving behind a collection of beautiful objects from various eras. These are displayed alongside objects found in nearby tombs, giving a sense of how burial in ancient Egypt changed over time.

The Tomb’s final use occurred shortly after the Roman conquest of Egypt, when it was sealed intact with the remarkable burials of an entire family. The exhibition comes ahead of the new Ancient Egypt gallery, opening at the National Museum of Scotland in 2018/19.

Interactives in use!

When I visited in May 2017, the gallery was a bit crowded, especially with children.  This limited my ability to try out the interactive elements of the exhibits (get off my lawn – adults like play, too), but it was nice to see kids excited about history.

Like Jameson Distillery, the exhibit used multi-sensory engagement and technologies so visitors can learn more and connect with the past.

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Touch, see, and smell table

I also really liked the exhibit text and content, which isn’t praise I give out lightly. I’m generally easily bored or uninterested in text, but the detail and translation of ancient funerary texts was fascinating! They also include a youtube video explaining the text on their website:

Next time I visit the museum, hopefully the new Egypt gallery will be open.  I can’t wait!

The British Museum: Elgin Marbles, Cabinet of Curiosities, and Overwhelming Spaces

British Museum front facade

British Museum front facade

On the best day in London ever, I had a chance to visit the British Museum, which was a dream come true.  For years, I’ve read about the museum, longed to see the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone, and I even used the museum in my dissertation as an example of the old paradigm of museums.

Old paradigm, indeed.

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In the entryway

I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate (next blog coming soon), and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.

Regardless, the British Museum was still impressive, and again, the Day of the Feels continued.

We walked up Drury Lane to Museum Lane, and rounded the corner to find the great British Museum.  I got really excited about what was going to come next – I mean, this is THE place!  Home of the Rosetta Stone, countless Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts, and bane of every museum professionals’ ethical and reasoning mind powers – the Elgin Marbles.  I had a bit of the vapors as we went in, saw the entrance, and walked through some of the Egyptian rooms – but the real feels didn’t come until…

EMOTIONS!

EMOTIONS!

We got to the room filled with the Elgin Marbles.  They were huge, and beautiful, and amazing… and I was so sad that here they were in the middle of London, instead of in Greece still on the Parthenon.  Of course, there are many pros and cons to this situation, which is why its a perfect Museums Studies class discussion.  But the current ethnic Greeks aren’t the same ones who are there now – but the Turks sold them to that British guy – but otherwise they would be destroyed – but but but – I really can’t decide what is right or wrong in this case.  All of that aside, they were astounding to see.

Elgin Marbles!

Elgin Marbles!

Charles dragged me along, I saw the Rosetta Stone and felt/got felt by a ton of people trying to do the same thing, and the rest of the museum is kind of a blur.  I remember seeing some goat mosaics, and the large library-esque room.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

The British Museum also seemed a bit, like most huge museums, to be a Cabinet of Curiosities gone wild.  There is a hodge-podge of  anything and everything there.  Some of it was thrilling to see, and some of it seemed to be a testament to colonial conquests.

We saw all the things and stuff,  as you can see in the pictures below, but by the time we got to the more modern exhibit of watches and timepieces, I grabbed a small stool and sat in a hall while Charles explored some more.

Final thoughts – I am an expert spotter of goats, both in the wild, and especially in museums.

Also, I can’t decide if I have memory fatigue from that day because of the sheer size of the collection and space, or if it was because of the reasons raised in this fantastic article on the Huffington Post called “Why Taking Photos At Museums Is Hindering Your Memory. “When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences,” Henkel explains in a description of the study.”

It was nice to get back into the fresh air as we walked on to the Richard II performance.  I’m still processing the whole visit to the British Museum, but I wouldn’t say I DIDN’T like it.  It was just a little overwhelming.  I also can’t say I’d particularly want to go back to it, either.

Hopefully someday, I’ll think some more about the visit and update this blog with more thoughts and feels…

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Disaster Planning Code Red – What Can We Learn from the Tragedies in Egypt?

With the  atmosphere in Egypt being what it is, most historians and archaeologists knew it was only a matter of time before aspects of the rich Egyptian history and material culture were destroyed.  Among all the other heartbreaking stories of the massive loss of human life and looting, the story of the Mallawi Museum in Egypt stands out as one of the greatest cultural tragedies in recent history.

The Mallawi Museum after looters took most of the collections

According to the Egypt Heritage Task Force post, around 1050 artifacts from the Mallawi Museum were looted during the nationwide protesting and unrest.  During the event, the security guards were shot at and the museum director was injured.  More recently, reports have come out that the remaining 49 objects that were too large to be looted have been burned in a fire.  In addition to the looting of institutions, many archaeological sites have been left unguarded and illegal digging has taken place to uncover items that may never be recorded by historians.

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Katie’s Khronicles: A News Roundup: 3/30/13 – 4/7/13

I’m going to start a regular Sunday feature on this blog that will collect some of the news around the inter webs related to current events in: history, museums, public history, historic preservation, and other similar topics.   Sometimes there might even be the occasional goat or popular culture reference.

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Here is the first attempt at a news round-up, but please let me know if you have any suggestions or heard anything else exciting, scary, weird, or awesome during the week!  Also, if you know of any website feeds with similar information, let me know.

Museums Join U.S. Tribe to Oppose Paris Artifact Sale” from Naharnet.com — Kachina spirit figures are fundamental to the faith and heritage of the more than 18,000 members of the federally recognized Hopi tribe who mainly live in northeastern Arizona.  A French auction house says “it will be putting 70 kachina visages — mask-like representations of spirit characters used in Hopi ceremonies — on the block. One of them is valued as high as 50,000 euros (more than $64,000). Robert Bruenig, director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, appealed for the objects’ return to Arizona, in an open letter to the auctioneers posted on the Flagstaff institution’s Facebook page.  He said, “For them, katsina friends are living beings. … To be displayed disembodied in your catalog, and on the Internet, is sacrilegious and offensive.”

Image from Landmark Society of Western New York

Image from Landmark Society of Western New York

April Fools’ Tour at Stone-Tolan” from Landmark Society of Western New York — Now this sounds like fun!! This historic site has special tours for April Fool’s day.  Their website says, “For one day only, The Stone-Tolan House Historic Site will once again be forced to suffer the indignities of sushi, lava lamps, and a number of other inappropriate items on display in its venerable rooms.  On Saturday April 6th come to Stone-Tolan, and see what you can find that is out of place in the tavern room, kitchen, parlor bedroom, hallway and pantry. Some may be obvious – like the sushi. Others will be a bit more challenging (hint: what is the date on that coin?) There will be prizes!”  This sounds like a fun way to get new visitors out to a site for something new.

University Museum at SF State preserves ancient artifacts” by Nena H. Farrell for the Golden Gate Xpress — Two of my favorite things: ancient stuff and museums.  The San Francisco State University Museum has the only mummy in the Bay area, and students were behind this exhibit on campus.  The article says, “Tucked away on the fifth floor of the Humanities Building is the University Museum. Students from various classes put together the museum exhibits, oversee volunteers and field trips, catalog objects and take on other tasks that maintain the museum.  The whole operation is run completely by students, under the direction of the museum studies faculty.  The current exhibit in the museum is called “Fearless Women Voyagers: Women Who Challenged the Middle East, 1870-1940.” The exhibit, put together by the museum curatorship class in the fall, was created with the help of Linda Ellis, curator of the museum.”

A digital illustration shows the ancient Plutonium, celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology. From: FRANCESCO D'ANDRIA, Discovery News

A digital illustration shows the ancient Plutonium, celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology. From: FRANCESCO D’ANDRIA, Discovery News

Pluto’s Gate Uncovered in Turkey” by ROSSELLA LORENZI for Discovery News — A “gate to hell” has been found, and surprising to all MTSU students, it wasn’t in Peck Hall.  “Known as Pluto’s Gate — Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin — the cave was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition. Historic sources located the site in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now called Pamukkale, and described the opening as filled with lethal mephitic vapors.”  According to the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC — about 24 AD): “This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death.” Early tourism was even at work at the site: “According to the archaeologist, there was a sort of touristic organization at the site. Small birds were given to pilgrims to test the deadly effects of the cave, while hallucinated priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto.”

What interesting news did you read in the past week?

Facebook in the classroom: How can we effectively use social media to teach?

I’ve talked about facebook in the classroom before, as a way to provide funny snipets of history from historical figures.  I wanted to try to find a way to integrate the social media that students (and myself!) use on an almost every day basis into the classroom as a teaching/learning tool.

As an optional extra credit homework assignment (full assignment and rubric available here) I challenged students to think creatively as an historical figure.  Their assignment was:

1. Chose a historical figure that we have studied or a person from one of the civilizations we have covered in this class.

not an accurate representation of me

2. Create a profile page for this character.

3. The next page has a checklist of all the information that must be included.  Use this sheet to complete your research before you begin constructing the page and finding pictures. Make sure you check off each item as you do it to get full credit!

4. This page does not literally have to be an online account.  You can produce a mock-up through Word, Photoshop, Powerpoint, or with magic markers or colored pencils depending on your level of creativity.

5. This assignment does require research.  You may use your textbook or other academic books.  You may go online to find information, but please remember that WIKIPEDIA IS NOT A VALID SOURCE.  NEITHER ARE NON-ACADEMIC WEBPAGES.  If you are unclear on what an “academic webpage” is email me.  Use websites with .edu or.gov for valid information.

6. You must, as always, properly cite your sources and include a works cited page.  I prefer footnotes for this assignment since it needs to be aesthetically pleasing.  Since this assignment requires more research I expect your citations to be correct.  If you have questions, email me or visit the writing center.

7. To get full credit you must have information for every category listed below.  This may require you to be creative but also be historically accurate.

8. Extra extra credit (1 point each):

  • Prepare a presentation for the class on your historical figure, your page, and your process of creating this page for an extra point.
  • Create an actual facebook page published using the information you have compiled here.
Students then had to fill in the worksheet with the following information:

Since this was an optional homework assignment for extra credit it did involve a lot more work and research than previous projects.  I wasn’t sure how students would react, or how many would take the time  and effort to fully develop the assignment.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have as many students participate in this as I would have liked!  In the future I hope to make this a required homework assignment instead of extra credit.

One creative idea was to do a page for Cleopatra using the Shakespearean play for the wall facts and conversations among the Pharaoh and her lovers.

I also had another Cleopatra, Achilles, and Jesus. Surprisingly, they all love watching Ancient Aliens!  Clever, students. Very clever.

Achilles’ page was great.  He has some pretty awesome lines; his last status update was, “taking a dip in the Styx River!”  This was after he met with Homer to give him some info on the Illiad and complained that Lycomedes made him dress like a girl.  His interests include working out, sailing, and traveling, while his favorite movies are 300 and Antigone.  Also, for all you Achilles stalkers, he lives at 1345 Hellenistic Drive, Athens, Greece.

My second Cleopatra got very creative, as well.  Her last status was, “…will not let Rome control me!  My Antony is dead and I can not live without him!” dated 30 B.C.E.   Her relationship is “It’s complicated” with Julius Caesar.  Her statuses also complain about having to marry her brother Ptolemy XIII, but she is quite happy to take the throne and rule Egypt.

She also talks about running off to learn Egyptian language and culture to try to gain respect of Egyptians.  Her favorite music includes the sistrum and Walk Like an Egyptian, and she enjoys watching the Style network.  And for any Cleopatra stalkers, you can email her at isislover@ptolemy.com   Her political view is divine rule, and she included several pictures of herself on her facebook page.  She included photos from Egyptian papyrus, Renaissance paintings, 1920s film, Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Kim Kardashian as Cleopatra, Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra, and also a Greek bust and a coin that may show the “real” Cleopatra.   Another album was also posted of herself and her Ptolemy family members.

My students used (for the most part) valid educational websites or books for this research project.  It seems that they enjoyed themselves and the opportunity to be creative in a history class, which may not always be the case.

It also seems that the students learned quite a bit from this project.  Not only did students learn a lot about a specific person from history (or mythology), but they also learned a lot about creative thinking, the historical context and the world of that person, and how to do proper research and citations.

Have any of you used Facebook in the classroom, or other social media?  How can it be used effectively?  I encourage you to try this with your students either as an extra credit assignment or as an alternative homework assignment.  I believe in my future classes it will be a very beneficial learning tool.

What can you learn from watching History’s “Ancient Aliens”?

I often wondered about this very question while watching this show (before I gave up watching because it almost gave me a stroke to watch it).  I decided to assign my students in World Civilizations 1 a homework assignment revolving around this very question.

The assignment was basically this:

Watch an episode of Ancient Aliens either on the History Channel or online. ***Be sure to watch an episode that is about ANCIENT aliens (despite their name, they have had shows on about the American Founding Fathers and the Third Reich). I would prefer you watch something from Season 1

1. Choose three claims or ideas that are presented in the show.

2. Using critical thinking and deductive reasoning, and some research if needed, come up with an explanation for these claims using historical sources and what you have learned in class or from the book about ancient civilizations.  CITE YOUR SOURCES!

3. What things did we talk about in class that are also discussed in this show?

4. Do you think this show fairly represents history?

5. Why do you think the history channel would show this?

6. Is this a show about history?

7. Who are the “experts” that present the evidence, and what are their backgrounds?

8. What are alternate explanations to theories presented in this show?

9. What is your opinion of this show? (Honesty is fine, as always!)

I hoped that this would help spark some ideas about questioning sources, thinking both critically and historically, and questioning bias and motives that are always present in historians and all people.

I was pleased to get plenty of well thought out and reasoned papers!

Students brought up ideas such as:

–          Maybe the “radioactive bones” at Mohenjo-Daro were exposed to the sun for a prolonged period of time.

–          Even if there are aliens, why do we give them credit for everything?

–          We can’t assume aliens exist from something like a cave drawing that is similar to another one on the other side of the world.

–          Aliens didn’t build massive structures for us – today we are too lazy to imagine something like that being possible.  Instead the ingenuity of ancient man isn’t given enough credit.

–          The show is just an opinionated crazy idea that the History Channel shows to make money and get more viewers.

–          Just because a god or spirit is shown in a different way than we think they may have looked doesn’t mean it was an alien – that’s just how followers depicted them

–          More time is spent on the ancient astronaut theorists’ ideas than those with historical research backgrounds – this shows an obvious bias.

–          People looking for alien evidence are not objective and are just trying to find the most simple explanation without using their brains.

–          Why is it so hard for us to give ancient ancestors credit for what they accomplished? This insults those ancient people and also people today.

Today we had a follow-up discussion about the assignment, and we talked about what they got out of the assignment and I also shared with them what I hoped they learned.

We talked about art and artistic representations of people.  Several students wrote about the artistic and physical representations of Akhenaten and Tutankamun.  Ancient Aliens claims that the reasoning behind this is that they were aliens.  Obviously.  We argued

Alien or artistic representation?

instead that oftentimes art is just that – a person’s own visualization of what they think.  A great modern example is Francis Bacon’s representation shown here.  Might someone in the future think that there was a person who looked like that?  Will they immediately come to the conclusion of “alien?”

Additionally, we discussed the idealization in art that is sometimes used.  Almost everyone recognizes the golden mummy mask of Tutankamun, but did he really look like?  He certainly wasn’t gold, and his features are more of a uniform look used to show Egyptian Pharaohs throughout much of the New Kingdom.   In reality, his mummy shows that he had protruding teeth, a slight cleft palate, and a slightly elongated skull.

Perhaps most importantly we discussed the idea of questioning sources and biases.  Throughout Ancient Aliens many “experts” are interviewed.  The name card graphic tells their name and part of their credentials, such as author or Ph.D.  Some of my students went the extra mile to actually look up these people, their curriculum vitaes, and their personal websites (without using Wikipedia!!!).  Most pleasing to me was the student who looked up Giorgio Tsoukalos (http://legendarytimes.com/giorgio ).  This website claims that he is the world’s leading Ancient Astronaut theory expert.  Exactly what does this mean?  Wouldn’t you think that someone who makes a living talking about ANCIENT history would have at least a minimal background in history to have the proper context to discuss this?  One would think.  Tsoukalos DOES have a college degree – in Sports Management. His website also explains, “Until 2005, Tsoukalos also functioned as a professional bodybuilding promoter; for 6 consecutive years he promoted, produced and directed the IFBB San Francisco Pro Grand Prix, an annual cornerstone event in professional bodybuilding.”  Additionally, “Giorgio enjoys a good and relaxed sit-down meal with friends, weight lifting, listening to motion picture scores, classic jazz standards, classical opera, sailing, going to the beach and the movies, and hanging out at the Legendary Times Clubhouse in Southern California” and “ 2 more things: (1) Giorgio loves listening to talk radio. Both at home, the office and in his car. Please don’t ask him to turn it off. Ever. (2) Giorgio loves to sit front and center at the movie theater (5th or 6th row). Movies are meant to be seen like this, that’s why they are shown on the silver screen first. If you want to sit in the back of the movie theater, go right ahead, but you’ll both watch the movie alone cuz’ he won’t join you in the back, and you might as well just wait until the movie comes out on DVD so you can watch it on TV.”  No further comment needed.

Additionally, a student astutely pointed out that this show DOES have some historians that appear – to give historical context and explain various stories and historical happenings.  The way this show is edited almost makes it seem that those actual historians agree with the “ancient astronaut theorists.”  Whether or not they DO agree is never addressed, but tricky editing gives that appearance.

Everyone should understand: you don’t have to have a PhD to be an expert.  Conversely, having a PhD doesn’t necessarily make you an expert.   Is a person with a PhD in 19th century American Literature necessarily an expert on chemical reactions?

OBVIOUSLY aliens are the explanation.

Another great product of this assignment was that I got my students to think critically.  Rather than just saying, “I don’t know – therefore, aliens” they started to think back to lecture and things they have read in their books to come up with other explanations than just aliens.  They also did some outside research to find out what historians think about such “mysterious” things as the building pyramids or moving huge stones for monuments.

I was pleased that many of my students were highly offended by the show’s idea that ancestors were too stupid or incapable of doing great things.  My lectures and enthusiasm for ancient and classical peoples and their abilities seems to have rubbed off on them.  Rather than giving credit to outside extraterrestrials, my students gave explanations that included our ancestor’s ingenuity and ability.

An expert on Ancient Aliens

Lastly, we discussed the dangers of talking in absolutes.  Many times the “experts” say words like “obviously” or “of course” without hard evidence.  Even historians may not have the absolute facts or evidence, but many times they say “possibly” or “maybe” – not fact – in those situations.  We may not know either way, but using absolutes can lead to the wrong impression.

Several people have alerted me to the South Park episode about the History Channel.  It is available to watch online at: http://www.tv-links.eu/tv-shows/South-Park_8958/season_15/episode_13/.  The synopsis is: “After watching a Thanksgiving special on The History Channel, the boys believe that aliens were involved in the original feast. But, questions remain… was the first Thanksgiving haunted? Is alien technology responsible for stuffing? The truth could change Thanksgiving for everyone.”  I personally can’t wait to watch it, and I’m glad the show’s creators are tackling this issue as well, on a level that many people may understand.  Have you seen this episode?  If so, what did you think?

Whether or not you believe in aliens is beside the point.  Why can’t we give ancient people credit for the things they did?

Now you, the reader.  I would love for you to try this assignment yourself!  I want to get more feedback from people about this show, sources, “experts”, etc.  Have you done a similar assignment in your classroom?  What do YOU think about the show?

Popular Culture and Public History

Getting ready to present my panelists

I recently ventured to New Orleans to present at the Popular and American Culture Associations in the South annual conference. Rebecca,  another PhD Student at MTSU, and Dr. McCormack, one of my professors who has been super influential in my studies and ideas, joined me on the panel, “Public History and Popular Culture: Use and Abuse.”  Needless to say, we had a fabulous time enjoying the sites (and food!) of NOLA, and I felt pretty good about our panel and presentations.  However, our panel, being on Saturday morning in New Orleans, was not as well-attended as I would have liked.  Therefore, I have decided to present my information to you, my online viewers.

We’ve seen social media impacting movements throughout the world and it has even helped to organize the overthrow of politically figures throughout the world.  Social media is a part of pop culture through its power to unite people and share information across the world as well as with friends.  But can these devices and the internet also teach us anything?  And how can these be adapted to use in classrooms?

My first example is from YouTube – The Historyteachers channel – Amy Burvall is a high school history teacher in Hawaii who believes very much in engaging her students in nontraditional ways.  She uses her own free time to take popular songs, such as Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack, and write new lyrics pertaining to subjects she is teaching in her classroom. She then dresses in costumes and sings the song for a camera and edits the videos using graphics and effects to make them visually appealing.  If you watch the Norman Invasion video, you will never again forget the date of the Norman Invasion. She uses these videos not as the only teaching tool in her classroom, but instead as a jumping off point for her discussions.  Students and teachers alike comment on these videos, and almost everyone seems to enjoy them.  She has 53 uploads to her YouTube channel with everything from the Beatles, to Lilly Allen, to Nancy Sinatra and Blondie.

Drunk History – is an interesting experiment in getting historians drunk and then filming them as they explain an historical event or talk about a historic person.  Whether or not these are completely staged or not is debatable, but their affect remains the same.  The original videos, produced by Derek Waters, have appeared on the Funny or Die website and they permeate Youtube and are shared fiercely on facebook and other social media sites.  The drunk historians narrates an historical event, in this case, the relationship between Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln and its impact on the country and race relations.  Famous actors, in this episode Don Cheadle and Will Ferrell, with a cameo by Zooey Deschanel as Mary Todd Lincoln act out the narrator’s words and mime the words as if they are their own.  The effect these historical figures played by celebrities using popular vernacular of our time is amusing, but at the same time, the stories are generally accepted as true tellings of historical events.  Someone may actually learn something about race relations or the roles that these two historical figures played in the beginnings of civil rights and the abolishment of slavery in the United States.  Other examples include Jack Black as Benjamin Franklin, John C. Reilly as Nicola Tesla (my favorite!!!), and Michael Cera as Alexander Hamilton. 

Tumblr- My Daguerreotype boyfriend – this is something I came across in my time as an educational coordinator at a Civil War historic site.  The pictures are of actual people from history, who some people think are attractive.  This site not only shows the pictures but tells the medium with which the photograph was taken, the year, and sometimes a story about that person.  This may teach people something about these people, such as what people wore in that time period, the history of photography, and a plethora of other things.  However, I believe one of the most important things that this website does is personalize history.  Many people see history as a cold and or dead thing in the past with no bearing on the world today.  Looking at these photographs and pictures can help people to realize that these were people with lives and stories of their own.  And let’s face it… those are some hotties of history.

Blogs –  The National Archives have several blogs that they maintain, but one of the most interesting to me is Prologue.  This site really engages the public instead of just telling stories or listing off historical facts.

On Fridays they have facial hair Fridays – for whatever reason, facial hair, mustaches and beards are growing extremely popular with people today.  Mustache finger tattoos and fake moustache packets are popping up all over the place.  The national archives have pounced on this and now every friday they post a picture from their collections of a historical figure with interesting facial hair.  Not only do they post the picture, but they also tell about that person and his impact on American history.  The gentleman in the lower corners story is as follows, “If you’re planning to travel this Columbus Day holiday (and it was, like, 1835), you might thank this guy for building the first steam locomotive in the US: Peter Cooper—inventor, industrialist, and one-time Presidential candidate. But, most important for our purposes, Cooper was the owner of a truly remarkable beard. Impressive facial hair is an asset to any Presidential candidate, but we are sorry to report that Peter Cooper’s beard did not win him the 1876 election, when he ran for the Greenback Party. Still, at the age of 85, Cooper is the oldest person to be nominated for the Presidential office.”

Not only do we learn about the beard and the person behind it, but we also learn a few interesting historic facts as well.

On Thursdays the blog hosts a “Put a caption with this photo” contest.  They post a photo from their collection that is funny or interesting and then ask readers to come up with a clever or amusing caption.  The winner gets something from their online giftshop, and the following week the pictures’ true story is revealed.  Again this engages people, teaches them something, and they get a prize while the national archives boosts sale in their giftshop.

These two slides are pretty self-explanatory – several historical figures are popping up on facebook and on twitter.  While these are often times amusing or clever, they also do provide snipets of history and biographical information.  As discussed below, I hope to experiment with this more in my class through an extra credit opportunity.

As pop culture for the general populous

With historians these things are generally immensely popular, especially among graduate students.  Youtube videos related to historical events make the rounds among my teacher and student friends on facebook and twitter to enormous response and critique.  Historical facebook twitters and facebooks are generally maintained by those people who study the figures.

However, should I post something on my own facebook or twittwe, historical or related to popculture and history, friends who are not historians or particularly interested also often comment.  Their comments are not as varied or voluminous, but they do exist on some level.  An interesting study of the effect on the general populous would be valuable to see how these things affect people who are not in the history or education fields.

Many comments on youtube videos and articles about twitter and facebook are by people who are interested in the subject matter, are teachers, or are students doing research for a class.  However, many times the students comment on how much they enjoyed learning something new in a way that is not usually used in the general classroom.

Pop culture in the classroom – my assignments and thoughts

I currently teach a section of World Civilizations to 1500 at Middle TN State University where I have a variety of students and only 3 history majors.  While I want my students to learn to appreciate history and what it can teach us, I’m not huge into learning facts and dates, but I believe there are some that are very important.  I hope instead that my students can learn critical thinking and the questioning of sources and ideas.  When my class studied pre-Hellenistic Greek cultures I opened the class asking them if they remembered from their readings on which island the Minoans lived.  No one could answer me until they looked it back up in the book.  I then delivered a short presentation on the Minoans, the geography of Crete, the culture and stories of these people, their art, and the archaeological excavations the site has undergone.  Once I delivered the information I asked how many of them knew the band Radiohead and enjoyed their music.  A large majority of the class was familiar.  I then explained we would watch a youtube video, which received exclamations and praise.  I showed my class “I’m from Crete” by Amy Burvall on the historyteachers channel.  The song is a play on Creep by Radiohead, and the chorus repeatedly sings to the viewer, “I’m from Crete… I’m Minoan…” Interspersed throughout the song are other facts about the culture such as their discovery by Sir Arthur Evans, bull-leaping games, and dolphin fresco art.

At the end of the video I engaged my students in a discussion about this video.  The first reaction from one student was that he thought it was terrible and he couldn’t learn anything from it.  I was not going to let him get away with that explanation so I pushed him to tell me why he thought it was awful; perhaps the singing isn’t the best in the world and the graphics are done by a high school history teacher, not Michael Bay.  I then asked him, well, where are the Minoans from, and he said from Crete.  He then went on to list at least 5 or 6 other small facts about the culture that he had remembered from the video and reneged on his original statement that the video was terrible and worthless.  On my students first test I included the fill-in-the-blank question, “I’m from _____________, I’m Minoan.”  Every student who was in that class remembered Crete and got it correct.  While these facts may not be the most important thing they will learn in my class, I’m still proud that I have been able to use popular culture in the classroom successfully.

We also covered questions such as, what does this teach you? Can you learn better from something like this? What do you like and dislike about it?  These questions get the students thinking historically and questioning, but still they have fun and enjoy the learning environment more than they would reading a textbook or listening to a lecture.


So that was my presentation in a nutshell – unfortunately for you, the internet viewer, you were unable to catch my witty remarks and anecdotes, but I hope this was somewhat beneficial or representative of the content.

In other news, I’m about to assign an extra credit project to my class in which they research information needed to create a facebook profile page for a historic figure we have studied.   Hopefully soon I will have information to report on that!

St. Louis Cathedral and the French Quarter

I will leave you with this picture, of me enjoying the other side of the conference – sight-seeing in NOLA!Crawfish deliciousness

 

Great book for anyone who educates anyone about any kind of history

In my professional residency colloquium this semester, myself and my 3 fellow PhD students are required to read books and articles related to the Public History field.  The first book we read was by far the best book I’ve read in my entire time as a graduate student of history/public history. My only regret is that I did not read the book before working in education in museums!  I would highly recommend this book to all museum professionals, secondary history educators, museum educators, public historians, and all graduate students or people interested in pursuing public history or education.

The book is Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, by Sam Wineburg. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.  You may even buy the book yourself on Amazon  or Half.com and I highly recommend that you do!

Here are some of my thoughts and notes on the book as I was reading it, and as it relates to my own class and degree plans.  These are basically just notes on chapter 1 on the text, and I hope to share more thoughts on this book in the coming days!

Sam Wineburg teaches Education at Stanford University and previously taught at the University of Washington in Seattle as an adjunct History instructor as well as instructor of cognitive studies of education.  According to his Stanford faculty page, Winebug received a Bachelor of Arts in History of Religion and a PhD in Psychological Studies in Education.  This background is evident throughout the book, and sometimes the educational psychology was confusing to someone with little “traditional” educational training.

The author approaches several questions I have wondered about both in my studies and in the beginning of my residency such as why people study history at all, what history can teach us not just about the past but about humanity and ourselves, how history should be taught, and what exactly history’s place is outside of the classroom. Wineburg’s analysis of how people learn, and how history has been taught in the past is enthralling.  Additionally, the questions he asks, such as why to study history and what students should learn from their history classes, are intriguing and thought-provoking, especially to me as I teach my first class in a “traditional” classroom.

Section I is labeled, “Why Study History?”  The first chapter in this section shares the title of the book, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.”  Wineburg opens with the debate on national history curriculum standards and the question of “which history” students should be taught in the classroom.  Traditionally, white old men were the focus of history courses, and with civil rights movements and women’s rights movements this has been called into question.  To me this seems almost a moot point; is there a specific history to learn?  Wineburg goes on to explain that history is grouped into the subject heading humanities, and this is true at Middle Tennessee State University as well as most other colleges and high schools.  Rather than a string of events and people and dates, students should be learning judgment  and critical thinking from humanities courses, history included.  Additionally Wineburg claims that history can humanize us in ways that other parts of the curriculum cannot.  The author even goes so far as to state that history can bring us together and not tear us apart as recent debates have done.

In planning for my own World Civilizations I course, I wanted to introduce my students to the global culture through the class and stories that can be found throughout ancient and classical history. I want to focus on the connections of cultures through themes to humanize the people and civilizations we talk about.  Additionally, critical thinking and questioning are ground stones for my course structure.  Explaining to my students that the people in the past are foreign to us and some of the things they did were strange is not difficult; students often bring that up in class and claim that they find something about ancient cultures “weird.”  I try often to relate the actions and values of people from the past to my students here in 2011, which has presented some challenges.
Familiarity and strangeness are also explored in this first essay.  While the familiar history helps us to place ourselves in time and

Wineburg claims that “strange” history that excludes people and does not engage others.  I have keenly felt this with World Civilizationswhich many people find to be foreign.  However many people have an inexplicable love for Ancient Egypt as evidenced in popular culture, museum exhibitions, Halloween costumes, and countless other venues.  Perhaps in the case of Egypt the strangeness is what is appealing.  In my class I try to appeal to the interesting “strangeness” of each culture or group that we study in an effort to engage my students in conversation and thinking about these people, or even to get them to remember any little detail about these people from the past.  What will people in the future think about them?  Will they be considered strange by people looking back to the past in which we live?relate to the past the strangeness of the past does not always engage students or others.  Discarding history that we do not understand or that does not fit with our previously taught histories or ideals is very dangerous.  People such as Hitler or Stalin, or even modern day political parties come to mind; these people and groups have used history to fit their own worldviews, and contorted what they knew, or thought they knew, to fit what they wanted in their own agendas.

Related to this strangeness is also the development of feelings of kinship and relationship to people in the past that we study.  A movement towards learning about humanity and social history is evident in the past several years, and perhaps because of this familiarity and my own personal training, social history is what I enjoy the most.

Even museums are moving towards this model; a session at the Tennessee Association for Museums last March focused completely on telling the stories of people who lived and their personal documents and pictures; using these primary sources, curators told the history of Tennessee through people rather than “facts and dates.”  This builds a connection to the past that might otherwise be lost in Woodrow Wilsons, “one damn fact after another.”  Even so teachers must be careful when instructing students in using primary sources.  Wineburg’s example of an honors student who interpreted primary documents was particularly telling; the student reads the sources well and understands the content, but he distorts it with his worldview and bias to shape it to what he already knows.

I want my students to understand that everyone has a bias and a worldview that is present through even what claims to be the most objective writing.  We have also explored primary sources such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hammurabi’s Code, and the Chinese Peasant’s Protest, and primary images and artwork.  Through group exercises I have tried to explain that even though these are primary sources, the authors and artists also had an agenda to some extent that must be identified.  Especially with the Peasant’s Protest I believe that this information has begun to sink in with the students.  Again, this comes down to critical thinking and analysis, which is one of the most important skills I want my students to learn in my class.
Finally, there are three other concepts from this chapter that I particularly enjoyed.  Wineburg’s explanation of context and strangeness through Marco Polo’s excerpt on unicorns/rhinoceros

is a great example of people interpreting what they see and learn through their own knowledge and ideas.  It is an important thing to remember both in my own personal studies and in teaching undergraduates.  Presentism, viewing the past through the lens of today, is another important concept for me.  Trying to get students to remove themselves from the present and look back is a hard thing to do.  When we covered the Mayans and bloodletting rituals this was particularly evident.  My students were appalled and could not understand why people let mutilation and “torture” happen.  It was hard to explain to them that their worldview and religions were different, and that perhaps the people who were being sacrificed or who were mutilating themselves to give blood to their gods did so willingly.  At the same time, I tried to explain that they were people and not that different from us even though they seem so strange.  I used the analogy of wrestling or cage fighting today and even the ancient Romans and gladiators to explain the allure of seeing executions.  At the same time, there was a difference in Mayan culture because of the religious

meanings behind sacrifice and bloodletting rituals.  Lastly, this chapter introduces context; this word is from the Latin “to weave together.”  History and context are inextricable, and historians and teachers must connect the past into a pattern to understand what happened, why it is important, and what we can learn from it.

This book helped spark a lot of thoughts on my own study of history and how I teach the students in my World Civilizations class.  I have often wondered why exactly it is that I study history and what I want my students to learn through my class.  I do not necessarily want them to learn dates or a chain of chronological events, but rather I want them to understand the bigger concepts, critical thinking, globalization and worldview changes, how to study for a test, how to think critically, how to be a citizen in a global world, and to some degree empathy and understanding of difference in culture throughout the world.  I wish I had more time to plan and to give them more resources that are “fun.”  Next time I teach this course I want to give them more hands-on and interactive opportunities instead of just lecture with powerpoint slides of pictures.

I hope this has been a helpful review!  This truly is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read, as evidenced by the multitude of markings in the margins.  If you have read it or have thoughts, please let me know in the comments section below!!