Reflecting on Influences: Adapting Courses Over the Years

I’m currently thinking about how I can adapt my HIST101: Foundations of European Civilizations Part 1 course when my university’s new Core Curriculum plan rolls out in the fall.  As I think about the projects that have worked, or not had the outcomes that I wanted, I looked back to my first year of teaching this course for inspiration.

Here is what I thought, back in 2012, as I participated in my Ph.D. residency colloquium and taught my first college course, World Civilizations: “Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts[1] was the most influential and interesting book that I read not only during my residency year but probably in my entire academic career.”  Wow!  Big claims.  I need to revisit Wineburg’s book soon and see how this holds up. As a resident in the program, I had no intentions to teach full-time, and instead I planned to enter the public history field on the ground, which I did.  Now, however, I’m back in academia, teaching 101, public history courses, and even a graduate course.

What else did I think about Wineburg?  Let us see…

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, were intriguing and thought-provoking, I taught my first class in a “traditional” classroom.  I wish that I had read this book a lot sooner, as both an educator in museums and historical sites, and as a new teacher of college-level survey history.

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 wanted 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 often tried to relate the actions and values of people from the past to my students here in the present.

Wineburg claims that “strange” history that excludes people and does not engage others.[2]  I keenly felt this with World Civilizations which 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 tried to appeal to the interesting “strangeness” of each culture or group that were studied in an effort to engage  students in conversation and thinking about these people, or even to get them to remember any little detail about these people from the past.  In class we asked such questions as, what will people in the future think about our civilization?  Will we be considered strange by people looking back to the past in which we live?

I love looking back at my old work (even though sometimes it is cringe-worthy), and I can’t wait to re-read Wineburg.  I hope time hasn’t spoiled him for me!


Tenement Museum: Technology, History, & Contemporary Issues @ Shop Life

In March I had the opportunity to visit New York City again, and, as is usually the case, booked a space in the (arguably best neighborhood in the city) Lower East Side. There are a lot of things that make the LES the best, including food, architecture, and the relatively quiet streets, but one of the best attributes the LES can boast is the LowerEast Side Tenement Museum.

Reflections: Our wee group outside the Tenement

The Tenement Museum was a staple of my graduate education discussion groups, in part for their innovative interpretation and programs.  As I continued my education as a PhD student, the ground-breaking efforts to include people with disabilities in a (somewhat problematic) space became a focus of my research, and I’ve written about their efforts in previous blogs.

On this most recent trip, I met up with some fellow museum professionals in the city, and we booked tickets for the Shop Life tour.  This is the newest tour at the museum, and also the only tour within the actual historic building that is accessible for people with mobility issues.  The museum website describes the tour: “.. visitors explore the immigrant businesses once located at 97 Orchard Street, where communities worked, shopped, celebrated and struggled for more than a century. The exhibit features a re-created 1870’s German beer saloon once run by John and Caroline Schneider, as well as an interactive “sales counter” where visitors select audio and visual media clips to explore the stories of turn-of-the-century kosher butchers Israel and Goldie Lustgarten, 1930s auctioneer Max Marcus, and 1970s undergarment discounters Frances & Sidney Meda.”

Photo from the Tenement Museum website.

The tour started in the German bar set-up from the 1870s.  Our group was not a particularly lively group of tourists, but our tour guide made the most of it with interactive aspects of the tour as well as inquiry-based learning.  From the story of the Schneiders’ business, we went through the building to see rooms that are in various states of preservation or excavation.

Advertisement announcing the opening of Schneider’s Beer Garden in the LES

One of the coolest aspects of this tour, aside from the interpretation of a range of time periods and personal stories of the people who lived there, was the use of primary sources in the interpretation of the space. On my first tour of the museum in 2012 I noticed the commitment to the use of primary sources and photographs, and this tour was not an exception.  Advertisements, photographs, menus, announcements, and other sources all provided that tangible connection to the past that museums and interpreters seek to impart.

Perhaps the best part of the tour, however, was at the end, when we were able to engage in active learning and visitor choice using some pretty cool (and not distracting or problematic or difficult) technology.  Technology can be the bane of some museums and exhibits as it often needs updates, breaks, or is rife with user errors. We entered the interactive space, where each person was given space at a table with projected instructions.  We each chose an artifact from the shelves behind us that we wanted to know more about.  The artifacts told the stories of the people, businesses, neighborhood, and historical context who lived and worked in the space where we stood.  We could explore as much or as little about these artifacts and their associated stories before moving on to another item/time period/story.

Lately the Tenement Museum has been in the news for their activism (and the subsequent backlash against that activism) regarding immigration.  The stories of the Tenement Museum would not exist without immigrants.  At the end of our tour, the guide played a short film about a current immigrant business owner who lives and works in the neighborhood of the museum.  She encouraged us to visit his and other immigrant shops throughout the city.  This activism and the commitment to the community surrounding the museum is what museums should be all about.  Connecting the past to the present makes the experience more meaningful and impactful.  I hope to explore these themes and topics more in the future.

I can’t wait to go back and try another tour! Have you been to the Tenement Museum?  Which tours did you take, which would you recommend, and why?



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!


The {Ominous} Grant Project: Part 2

So back to this Grant Project that I use for my HIST101 classes.  My last post, “Sneaking Public History into General Education Classes” introduced this project, so have a look at that if you haven’t already.

grant-artLast fall I had 2 HIST101 classes of around 60 students total which provided a pretty great sample size for feedback on the project as a whole.  I collected student feedback through reflective essays at the end of the semester.  Rather than just telling you what I think about this project, here are some of the student thoughts and suggestions:

  • I very much so enjoyed this project better than a research paper, I enjoyed it because it was more real life, we got to put together our own project and really look into the lives of people who actually do this.
  • This grant project taught me a lot. I learned that there is a lot of information out there, however not all the information is right. I learned the importance of doing thorough research so that way you can provide the right information. I also learned that grant proposals are a process, so it was good that we spaced it out since the beginning of the semester.

This project allows us to express ourselves as students and hypothetical executives. I believe students will take more from this than they would an irritable final exam. Regarding the grant, my favorite part was putting together the presentation. I felt like a real life director of a real life protection group, it was cool.

  • This project challenged my academic and creative skills, which would make this project more beneficial to my growth as a student.
  • 3 things I have learned from the project as a whole come from different aspects of the project. One life lesson I learned, is to learn to give and take. Working with two other people, disagreements are inevitable. Learning to listen and add to someone’s ideas is good tactic for not just this project but future jobs too. Two things I learned about the actual criteria of this project, is that there are a lot of overlooked sites in the World that need restoration and protection, most likely because of the shortage of resources provided. Lastly, I learned to be even more grateful for the men and woman who serve in the United States army. I read a lot of primary journals of U.S. soldiers who risked their lives to protect the World’s history, and to me that is inspiring.

images-2The biggest challenges for me as the instructor:

  • Student procrastination and subsequent end of semester panic
  • Lots of information to grade, especially with so many students
  • Explaining cost-sharing and budgets in a history class
  • Trying to fit in even more to a class that is supposed to cover European civilization from the Paleolithic to 1648CE. Which is especially hard for me since it’s basically impossible to recognize “Europe” as a place in a vacuum.  [our new curriculum at CCU should make this easier, soon!!!]

If you’re interested in seeing the actual grant documents or assignment information, please feel free to contact me! Next up, other sneaky public history projects in general ed classes.

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!

International Women’s Day

Today’s regularly scheduled blog post on sneakily teaching Public History in the general education class has been rescheduled for next week in honor of International Women’s Day and the Day Without a Woman Strike.

And here are some (not at all comprehensive) links about women everyone should know about:




Behind the Scenes in Charleston

OLLI at the Museum

OLLI at the Museum

A few weeks ago I was so happy to lead a group from Coastal Carolina University Osher Life-Long Learning Institute to Charleston, South Carolina.  OLLI’s new “On the Road with a CCU Professor” program was a perfect opportunity for me to share my love for museums and public history with a new audience.  We started our day nice and early, leaving from campus, and we headed down the highway and the coast towards The Holy City.

Old Slave Mart Museum, from NPS

Old Slave Mart Museum, from NPS

Our museum visits started with a stop at the Old Slave Mart Museum, a National Parks site. The building is located on one of the last cobblestone streets in Charleston and it is the only known extant building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina. Contrary to popular belief, this building is where slave auctions were held, not the city market.  We had a very informative talk with their educator about the history of slavery in the Americas and the history of the building itself.  Comments and questions from the attendees rounded off our visit.



After lunch at Hyman’s Seafood, we went on the Charleston Museum.  At this museum we were lucky to get a Behind the Scenes curator tour, and we got to spend time in the collections storage areas talking with curators about their jobs.  We got to see fossils that were over 26 million years old, amazing textiles including shoes, an 18th century dress reminiscent of my Felicity American Girl doll, an amazingly embroidered waistcoat, and a ton of old poisonous medicinal bottles. And a sad, badly taxidermies baby buffalo, which I did not get a photo of.

It was a gorgeous, sunny, only slightly chilly day to spend in Charleston, and I hope the students all got a glimpse of why I love public history and museums so much.  Now to go volunteer at a museum an touch all the artifacts….

Next up, New York City for the Art on Paper fair! See you soon, NYC!

Happy Lupercalia!

Ah Lupercalia… er, Valentine’s Day? There is a lot of interesting history about the origins of Valentine’s Day, St. Valentine, et cetera et al. I want to talk about the OG Valentine’s Day today, though.

Ooh-la-la: Pan with a She-Goat, from Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibit at the British Museum.

Ooh-la-la: Pan with a She-Goat, from Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibit at the British Museum.

Lupercalia. A Roman festival (perhaps Pre-Roman, Greek festival of Pan)  celebrating the god Lupercus or Faunus. This combines so many of my favorite things: pagan festivals, history, the Classical world, Pan/Faunus, and of course, goats!

Lupercalia, traditionally celebrated on February 15, was a combination of many things; one of the most important was as a celebration of the wolf who suckled and raised Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. Anyone who has read the Harry Potter series will recognize two words here: Remus and Lup(in). Therefore, the word Lupercalia literally means wolf festival.

The Capitoline Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus in the  Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome

The Capitoline Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome

At the Roman festival, priests of the god Faunus, a goat-like god of farms and forests and the Roman equivalent of the Greek nature god Pan, would sacrifice dogs and goats to the god. These priests were called the Luperci, the “brothers of the wolf.” They would be anointed with the blood of the sacrifices, and the celebrations would start. The priests would dress in the goat-skins of the fresh sacrifices, and the real fun would begin.

Statue of a Luperci with his whip. Whipping it good.

Statue of a Luperci with his whip. Whipping it good.

The luperci, dressed in their fresh goat skins, would run the borders of the Palatine city, leather thongs (not that kind of thong) in hand, happily whipping the women and girls who lined up for the privilege of being (literally)

hit on by the priests to bring about fertility and ease the pains of childbirth.

Plutarch described it thus:

“Lupercalia.. was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea… many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Once Christianity expanded and pagan rituals and festivals were often outlawed (Thanks Theodosius), pagan rituals were often rebranded and repackaged as new, holy, Christian festivals.  This might be the case with Lupercalia and Saint Valentine’s Day, though primary sources are often muddled and hard to interpret.  Some scholars indicate that a pope in the 5th century combined the two holidays to keep the peace and encourage Christian worship.

Regardless, the parallels here are obvious. Love, lust, men hitting on women, the undeniable passions of the wild naked people running through the streets…. well maybe some parallels are obvious, at least.


Public History Projects: Fall 2016

I’m trying to take a bit of time to get things back up and running here at Something Old, Something New. Stay tuned for info about my current work writing grants, thoughts on the new world of education and public history in a new federal administration, academic teaching of PH and Museum studies rumination, and my continuing work with accessibility and historic sites and museums.

Last fall, I taught Introduction to Public History at CCU,and I wanted to take a minute to share a few of my students’ projects and promote some of their final projects.  I’m working to possibly re-design my Intro to PH class in the future, but then sometimes I’m so impressed by the projects my students come up with, as with these posted below, and I don’t want to lose that aspect. Here are just a few examples:

Bailynne Miller created a website for historic downtown Conway, South Carolina called: Small Town, Big Stories, Even Bigger Adventures. Bailynne says, “I am currently enrolled in a course at CCU called Introduction to Public History. This is not just your typical history course that involves copious amounts of reading and endless hours on Google trying to figure out if you can find some sort of summary … This class involves each of us taking our unique passions for history and helping to ignite that same spark into our community. Each student is encouraged to come up with a project related to something that they are passionate about. I happened to stumble upon my idea when interviewing the nicest man on field trip for this class. I realized that so many amazing connections can be made in this community related to history in my own backyard! So I decided to pack up my notepad, pen, and big mouth and trek to downtown Conway, South Carolina to visit some famous local and historical spots to get locals’ takes on what they know and love about their own communities.”  The blog takes visitors on a tour of some of the highlights of Conway including the town hall, restaurants, and shops. Folklore and history are blended, along with suggestions for your own adventures and further research. Bailynne’s blog can be found at:

Jeff Bean spent the Fall 2016 semester research the local Waccamaw people and mapping sites of importance on a public website and research blog.  He describes his passion for history saying, “I have always had a passion to know the unknown, to shine light on a subject that has been in darkness. This site is dedicated to the Waccamaw Indian people of Horry County, South Carolina. The Waccamaw people of Horry County have a poorly documented history and this is my attempt to change that.”  The interactive map and additional research can be found at:

Travis Holland worked with the Horry County Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation to identify more local businesses for their Legacy Business program.  The program pays tribute to local businesses that have contributed to the economic heritage of Horry County for more than 50-continuous years.  Travis researched and compiled information about 3 businesses for this program.  His research was made public on the website:

Another HIST395 student, Phoebe Morrison, states, “I am a student of the world intrigued by history and empowered by physical activity. I was raised on Block Island, Rhode Island from the age of eight until I was fourteen years old with minimal understanding of how involved this small island was in American history. With age I have become facinated by the impact this small yet mighty island possesed and continues to exert.”  To these ends, Phoebe created several history bike tours of her home island.  She says her “intentions are to motivate people to explore Block Island’s historic places in a healthy way… the interactive map is designed to enhance the experience of making your way around Block Island while informing you about historic events that have been forgotten along the way.”  The history and routes she developed are available at: