Fall 2017 Student Blog: Motor City Mayhem

This is the fourteenth in a series of Tuesday re-blogs of my student work from our HIST395 course. Please enjoy these blogs written by Coastal Carolina University students.

This is the second blog by student Dylan Livingston about museums in Detroit. 

By Dylan Livingston During this past summer, I traveled to Detroit, Michigan to visit my father and take a look into what he was working on for his job. Over the past year, my father was hired as the CEO of the Michigan State science center. One of my dad’s main objectives was to educate […]

via Motor City Mayhem — Journey into Public History

My book is out!

How did I let a month go by without posting this immediately?  A sign of the life of a museum director, I suppose.  In this week’s adventures, my assistant found a squatter set up on the back porch of our secondary historic home. Playing Xbox.

Anyway… without further ado…

That's my name! On the front of my book!

That’s my name! On the front of my book!

In case you haven’t followed the story of publication and proposals and writing and so forth, here is a short description:

Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites will help museums and historic sites become truly inclusive educational experiences. The book is unique because it covers education and inclusion for those with both intellectual and learning disabilities.

The book features the seven key components of creating effective programming for people with special needs, especially elementary and secondary students with intellectual disabilities:

  • 1442227605Sensitivity and awareness training
  • Planning and communication
  • Timing
  • Engagement and social/life skills
  • Object-centered and inquiry-based programs
  • Structure
  • Flexibility


In addition, this book features and discusses programs such as the Museum of Modern Art‘s Meet Me program and ones for children with autism at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn as models for other organizations to adapt for their use.

Its focus on visitors of all ages who have cognitive or intellectual disabilities or special needs makes this title essential for all museum and historic site professionals, especially educators or administrators, but also for museum studies students and those interested in informal education.

I already have two reviews of the book, too!  Here is what my esteemed colleagues had to say about the book:
Programming for People with Special Needs is an invaluable manual with clear, concise examples of how museums benefit when they open their doors, exhibits, and programming to all audiences in a community. A commitment to common-sense universal design principles opens the dialogue about what matters in our history and culture to every citizen, thus enriching our communities through better education and community engagement.
— Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee University, and Tennessee State Historian

Programming for People with Special Needs is an important new resource for any museum or historic site serious about expanding their current audience base and preparing for tomorrow’s visitors. While the ADA already requires us to accommodate visitors’ physical needs, it is equally important that our programs consider the needs of visitors experiencing various forms of learning and intellectual disabilities, including memory loss, especially since their numbers are expected to increase dramatically over the next several decades. This thorough and practical volume can help your institution accomplish this goal and, in turn, become a museum or historic site better prepared for the future.
— Karen Graham Wade, director, Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California

I hope that if you work at a historic site, historic house, history museum, or small museum that you will encourage your supervisor or staff to read this book.  I really did approach this topic with real-world implications in mind.
You can purchase the book from the publisher on their website.  I suggest hardcover. 😉
Thanks everyone for their support throughout this project, especially my parents, my Charles, Dr. West, and my publisher at R&L Charles.

TAM It 2013 – Recap and Highlights

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

The most wonderful time of the year: TAM 2013

It is once again the time for me to regale you all with tales from the Tennessee Association of Museums Annual Conference.  This year, the meeting was held just up the road in Franklin, which gave participants a great opportunity to visit the sites of near-by Columbia and the rich Civil War history of Franklin.

This year I attended as a conference presenter (twice!), PhD Candidate for MTSU, and as the Director of Collections, Interpretation, and Development for the Sam Davis Home and Museum (that’s a whole other post – if you’ve wondered where I have been, there is your answer – I intend to post more updates in the next week).

In among the sessions, great lunch and dinner breaks, site visits, and of course, hospitality suite shenanigans, I had a great opportunity to chat with and learn from other museum professionals about struggles and triumphs that we all share.  This fit in very well with the theme of this year’s conference, “Against All Odds: Stories of Determination and Resilience.”

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

Meredith, me, and RKD at the Awards Dinner

The first day we traveled to Columbia, Tennessee to visit the James K. Polk Home, the Athenaeum, and a private residence.  We then had the awards dinner and tons of fun at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall.

Early the next morning, I chaired a panel called, “Acting on Accessibility in a Post-ADA America” with Dr. Brenden Martin from MTSU, Jared Norwood from MTSU, and Ashleigh Oatts from Marble Springs State Historic Site.  We asked such questions as: Is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enough? Is your site targeting and building an important audience by creating new opportunities for visitors with disabilities? The session  discussed ways that museums and historic sites can develop accessibility through exhibits, site layout, and program offerings in a post-ADA world by going beyond the typical “fixes” of ramps and benches.  Topics covered included the historical context of ADA, universal and exhibit design, reaching out to Special Education classrooms and individuals with cognitive delay, and struggles specific to historic sites and historic house museums.  Strategies and tips were provided, and we facilitated a short discussion about possibilities and solutions for specific sites.  Below is my presentation: 

Emerging Professionals Discussion

Emerging Professionals Discussion

The same afternoon, fellow PhD Candidate Rebecca Duke and Rachael South Bogema from the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa joined me for a session called, “Rookie Roundtable: Discussions and Tips for Young Emerging Professionals.”  The session was designed as a group discussion to talk about challenges, issues, and advice for people just getting started in the field, students, or those that are trying to figure out where to go next.  We had a great conversation with people from all over the state, and everyone had great stories and advice to share! Please see Rachael’s blog on the C.H. Nash Museum site for more information!

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

Table 1 is victorious at the TAM Auction

 

 

Thursday night we visited Carnton Plantation, and then we got to experience the highly-anticipated dinner and live auction!  Table 1 walked away victorious, with every person seated there taking home at least one prize.  I even walked away with the most coveted prize: the Hospitality Suite Painting, which was created in the bathtub of the suite by TAM members the evening before the auction.

On Friday I attended two great sessions: “Against All Odds: Social Media Strategy and Planning on a Shoestring Budget” with Catherine Shtyenberg, assistant curator/web and social media coordinator, at the Frank H. McClung Museum and then a session about commemoration at historic sites which included: Melissa Davis from Humanities Tennessee,  Myers Brown from the TN State Museum, Charlie Rhodarmer from the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, and Jeff Wells from TN State Parks.  I know I took a lot away from both of these sessions, including a great program through Humanities Tennessee that will take place at the Sam Davis Home next month!  More information here.

You can see Shtyenberg’s wonderful and informative presentation on slideshare by clicking this link.

As always, I could go on much longer about how wonderful TAM was this year (as it is every year).  Instead, I will include these pictures from Rebecca Duke and Tori Mason and the official TAM facebook page so you can live vicariously:

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Programming at The Transit Museum

As I mentioned in my last blog, my trip to the Transit Museum in Brooklyn, run by the Transit Authority, was one of my most favorite parts of my time in New York City.

How cool is this entrance??

On Thursday, still excited from my wonderful meeting with Lori, I headed over to Brooklyn to visit the Transit Museum (and the Pierogi Gallery later that morning, AND some good Vinnie’s Pizza, AND THEN Coney Island!).  After a weird Dunkin Donuts experience and walking the wrong way for a while because the NYPD cop on the corner lied and said the museum was right down that road, I finally found the entrance to the Transit Museum.

I descended down the steps into a subway station that has been cut off from the running lines.  At the “ticket booth” I asked for Lynette Morse, and then we went down to the tracks for my meeting with the educator.  As I mentioned before, the site contains many trains from throughout the subway history that visitors can go through and explore.

I had heard a lot about the opportunities that the Transit Museum offers to children with special needs from other museums I had met with throughout the week, from the MAC website, and from Lori the previous day.   I was excited to see and hear first-hand about these offerings.  Lynette and I chose a train car to sit in and began our conversation.

When these programs first got started, the museum had a goal to focus on better programming for the audiences that were already coming to visit the museum.  There were many special education groups visiting, but there wasn’t any special programming in place yet.  Students were visiting to study New York history and compare the past to the present.  This museum is perfect for the students to be immersed in history, since it is an actual historical site.

Many of the older student groups that were coming to the museum has more severe disabilities and they were there to learn life skills such as how to ride the subway.  Since the trains there are in a safe environment, don’t move, and are similar to the “real” trains in the city, this is the perfect place for students to learn.   Visitors to the independent living program would come to the museum multiple times to learn about safety and proper behavior on a train.  For instance, students were taught not to stare at people, how to sit or stand depending on the other people on the train, where to sit, how to interact with other people and more.  One of my favorite anecdotes about this program is the involvement of the staff.  During this program, many staff members participate as “angry New Yorker subway riders.”  They even have staff act as panhandlers to teach the participants how to interact (i.e. – don’t reach in and take money from the panhandlers’ cups).  This is a great example of a museum really interacting with its community not only to tell the history of the site, but to also help the visitors with their needs.

Another opportunity the site has is an after-school program called Subway Sleuths.  This program meets once a week for ten weeks and is offered to students with autism.  The program helps to build social and communication skills while also teaching some history.  Subway Sleuths teaches the history of transit, electricity and science, and more.  This is EXACTLY what I was looking for in my research, and this is a great model for other sites!  The students have the opportunity, in the safe subway station environment to put their hands on the history.  They also learn social skills by using historical objects and situations.

The museum works with special education teachers and speech and language pathologists in addition to their museum educators.  Their programs are very popular with around 8 classes coming to the museum per week.  The museum employs one educator to work with students in the 4th grade and above and another to teach pre-K to 3rd grade.   The educators also have degrees in Special Education as well as museum education backgrounds.

Subway Station Exhibits

The museum is also not just modifying existing programs for special needs students but creating all new programming opportunities.  One program uses a visual magnetic board with images.  This can help students to build on what they already know.  In the train cars, students will look for five things such as lights, seats, doors, advertisements, holds, or other features.   They will then compare and contrast these characteristics in trains from various time periods.  If they start at the newest train and work their way back, they will realize that as they go back in time there is no longer air conditioning, plastic, etc.  This site is really perfect for immersion in history and being able to truly time-travel to see the changes.

In structuring tours for children with special needs, the educators saw that language was important.  Educators use the inquiry method: “is this train newer or older than the last train we were in?”  Thinking about using language in a particular way can be over-whelming.  Using declarative language can also be helpful in getting students to talk.  Educators might say, “This train looks really old to me!” to elicit responses from students telling what it is that they notice about the train.

Programs are evaluated by teachers and parents.  In the past, teachers were given a one page evaluation with a postage-paid envelope.  Unfortunately there was only about a 29% return rate of these evaluations.   Teachers are busy, as we all know, and sometimes evaluations can get lost in the slew of lesson plans, teaching, and being in the classroom.  Now the museum asks teachers to write bullet points to evaluate how children are doing and progressing, they ask the parents for feedback, and they make sure there are different goals for each child to meet.

Overall, this is one of the best museums I have been to.  The whole site is interactive, there are things to touch and climb on, visitors can pretend to drive a bus, hand out subway tickets, and go through old-timey turnstiles.  The museum even incorporates science and technology into the history through discussions of electricity and production.  I wish I had had more time to go through the museum and enjoy all aspects, but instead, I will post some pictures below from my adventures at the Transit Museum.

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Meeting with Lori Stratton, Educator and Consultant

Inside Grand Central

On Wednesday May 9th, I went to Grand Central Station to meet with Lori Stratton, a Special Education Museum Educator at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum and the Program Coordinator and Consultant for her company, It Takes a Village in New York City.   She has a degree in Recreational Therapy which provides a fresh look on museum program development.  It was a delight to meet Lori, who I instantly felt knew what I was thinking and what I wanted to do with my dissertation.  Lori has worked in museum education at several places around New York City, including the Transit museum (more about them in the next post!), and she has focused one bringing rec therapy and history to students with special needs.  Perfect!

After I spent a few minutes awkwardly looking around the station for Lori with her Intrepid staff jacket, we met and went to get coffee at a nice little café.

The part of the conversation that sticks out most clearly in my mind from our meeting is the discussion about HISTORY museums and historic sites and how they can reach out to students with special needs.  So many of the places working with this population are art museums, which is fabulous!  But why shouldn’t history museums embrace this population more widely?  At historic sites and in museums students can actually be immersed in the history, which is a great way for them to learn and get something out of the experience.  Anyone can look at art or historic objects online, but actually seeing it in person gives people an indescribable connection to that piece and its history.  Objects and artifacts are extremely powerful for telling stories; you can have someone as simple as an everyday serving platter and from that you can tell stories about that time period, the people who used it, how it was made, who made it and where, how it got where it was when it was found, and countless more stories that help people build a connection with the past.

Another thing that sticks out is the use of popular culture.  I’ve talked about using popular culture with college age students before, and the same theory goes with any student: find something to relate with them about whether it’s Captain America or the movie 300.  Popular culture can be key with any historic site; find your connections with super heroes, songs, video games, tv shows, etc.  History museums and exhibits can also relate history to everyday life, which is a good tip for all historic sites and museums at any time, really.  Drawing connections is one of the best ways that students learn in informal settings.

In her time at the Transit Museum, Lori helped to develop and present several programs for children with special needs, especially those with autism.  I’ll talk more about these in next week’s recap of my trip to that museum, but here are some highlights from our conversation.  The museum is in a now-unused subway station that has examples of train cars from the early 20th century to today.  This is a great environment for students to see the past and today right next to each other, and they have the opportunity to go inside the trains and see first-hand the differences and similarities.

Transit Museum train exhibits

The Transit Museum had several techniques for learning that I found fascinating.  One is that students are given paper to draw their observations; they could draw the different types of lighting fixtures, advertisements, seats, etc.  This especially gives students who are non-verbal a chance to communicate or ask questions.  Another activity used photographs of the trains and a timeline.  The educator would use the photos to match the old and the new and put them into order.  This also gives students who are non-verbal the chance to express themselves and what they learned on the tour as a sort of evaluative process.  Educators also gave teachers a checklist to evaluate what/of students were learning.

When working with students with special needs at any museum there are several things to keep in mind.  If your museum has 8 exhibits, for example, pick 3 or 4 t talk about and adapt the program that day to the student attention spans and interest.  Don’t necessarily go over specifics; keep the students moving and pay attention to their needs.  Lori explained that in her experience a 30 minute program is generally too long for a special needs audience  to be in one place in a museum unless engaged in an activity.  Depending on the age and diagnosis, you can still do an hour tour (longer is pushing it though) but the important thing to remember is to keep them moving.   There can be many distractions and struggles during these programs, so remember to stay flexible and be tuned into your audience.  Try to find a space in the museum that is quiet with few visual distractions to decrease external stimulus when speaking with the group.  Make sure this is also a safe environment for students to feel comfortable in to better their learning experience.  This is something that I will talk about much more extensively in my next blog about the Transit Museum and their life-skill programs.

Unless an educator invites you to!

As in any museum education program, having a tactile component is very important.  Having objects, whether they are authentic or reproductions, is important to the learning process.  Holding, seeing, touching these objects helps to build connections to the past and the curriculum at hand.

Lastly, we spoke about the importance of training all staff members at a museum, not just the educators.  It is important for security and janitorial staff to know the basics, such as not to touch a child with autism (or any child, really).  All staff should also know not to diagnose the children themselves (because it doesn’t matter), and not to judge the students in any way.   It is also important for all staff to know general basics of teaching children with special needs, especially to keep calm and flexible.

Some basic tips I wrote down from our meeting:

  • Remember that the students might be older but at a younger learning level.  Don’t take a first grade program to use with 7th grade students.
  • Special Education classrooms can have various levels of learners (like any classroom).  Remember to scale down the information intellectually but keep things socially the same as you would with any group of that age
  • Compare and Contrast with concrete facts is helpful (is this artifact from the past or present, why?)
  • You can NOT be rigid; educators in this field must be flexible and willing to adapt to the students’ needs
  • Keep the students moving and don’t talk too much!
  • Ask teachers before the field trip what their goals are for their students on this trip; what can the museum do for them?
  • Experiential learning is particularly important in this type of educational setting (for any student).
  • Engage the students in the past, and slip in curriculum

I enjoyed my meeting with Lori immensely, and I look forward to sharing more research ideas and information with her; she is a font of information and experience!  If you are in the Greater NYC area and are interested in learning more about consulting services that she offers, be sure to check out her website, It Takes a Village New York!

Accessibility at the Jewish Museum, NYC

When I started researching museums that are working extensively with accessibility, especially accessibility for people with cognitive, developmental, or learning disabilities, I was fortunate to find the Museum Access Consortium of New York City.  This was one of the main reasons I chose New York City as my main research hub; there is a huge concentration of museums, and the citizens of the metro area value and support museums to a greater extent than many other areas of the country.  The MAC website led me to several different museum websites where I was able to learn about programs available to people with special needs.

The Jewish Museum

The first museum I visited was the Jewish Museum at 5th Avenue and 92nd Street, which is principally an art museum.  There I met with Dara Cohen, the School Programs Coordinator.  The museum offers several types of programs for people with special needs including: access school programs,  visitors with sight impairments, hearing impairments, dementia, and learning or developmental disabilities.  The museum also works with all general access groups including groups with autism, emotional disturbances, and more.

Our discussion focused primarily on their programs for learning and developmental disabilities.  The Jewish Museum adapted their current programs for special needs groups that cater to groups with fewer children.  The museum has specific access educators and hopes to train all educators sometime soon.  Educators contact the school teacher in advance and talk with the teacher to adapt the programming; this provides more avenues for participation by the students.  Dara made it clear that even with planning, there is still a lot of “on your feet” teaching and critical thinking involved with presenting programs to children with special needs.

Accessibility at the Jewish Museum

Being an art museum, the programs are very visual; they have a studio art component for all elementary age groups and access groups of all ages.  For participation they might pick out a shape from the art piece and hold it, look at it, make the shape with their body, count the times the shape appears, etc.

The museum also holds  Sunday Workshops 4 times per year, that are open to the whole family, not just students.  The audience is generally people with learning and development disabilities. This program was adapted from MOMA and Met offerings that were changed to fit the Jewish Museum.  Dara estimated that 95% of students who attended these workshops have autism, a small percentage have Down Syndrome, and the rest of the percentage is made up of other disabilities or multiple disabilities.  In the morning, the workshop is set up for children ages 5-17, which generally seems to skew to the 5-12 age group.  The afternoon is for 18+ adults.   Tours are led by an access educator, and they have gallery and studio time for a total time of 1-1.5 hours.

Kehinde WIley, Napoleon leading the army over the alps, 2005

A recent example of a Sunday workshop activity was done in conjunction with the Kehinde Wiley exhibit.  The group spends half an hour in the gallery with the works of art, and the gallery guide engages all members of the family with the art and subject.  Wiley’s art is generally a African American male subject in traditional portrait form with an elaborate backgrounds which are inspired by Jewish paper cut-outs.  In the studio, the family has a photocopy of one of the subjects that they can place on different backgrounds to explore how background, color, and shape can change the mood and expression of the art.  In the studio, the family creates a paper cut out from butcher paper that they can use as their own background for a family portrait taken in the studio.  Parental involvement is important at these workshops, and the museum wants to expand into a family day event with school partnerships.  Attendance at the workshops varies, but including the family (siblings, parents of the special needs child) there are usually 15-20 people in attendance, with 7-8 of the attendees being the special needs child/adult.  These programs are fully funded through grants, and they are free for the families.

Dara is responsible for all access educator training, and the group of educators meet 4-5 times a year to duscuss teaching strategies about specific art pieces, listen to talks by consultants to help on certain things such as dementia, general management, strategies, different disabilities, and more.

The Jewish Museum started creating these programs to expand and diversify their audiences.  They looked at who was coming to visit the museum, and then explored how they could better serve them.  It seems as if art museums have an easier time at adapting programs and drawing in the special needs audience.  One reason for this might be that art museums are more about experimenting with concepts and the abstract.  Concepts at history museums are somewhat more challenging to adapt.

Some tips that the Jewish Museum shared when working with special needs audiences are:

  • Sometimes open-ended questions can be very abstract.  If students are struggling to respond verbally to open-ended questions, try asking more concrete questions or narrowing the focus (i.e. focusing on a particular part of the painting like the figure or the figure’s clothing or the sky instead of asking general questions like “what’s going on in this painting”)
  • Sometimes yes/no questions can be useful, despite the fact that museum education courses usually stress the importance of asking open-ended questions.  Yes/no questions should be used in conjunction with open-ended questions, and with other activities that allow students to participate non-verbally (i.e. through sketching, movement exercises, etc.)
  • Giving the students the language to use helps (is this hard or soft?)
  • Reaching out to accessibility groups benefits other groups and the museum as a whole (wheelchair ramps can be used by people with strollers or knee problems)
  • Sensitivity and awareness training is important – educators are not the only ones who need to be trained
  • Security guards need to have some level of training to be comfortable working with people is disabilities.

I had a wonderful time at the Jewish Museum (in spite of being 10 minutes late because of a subway mishap), and I want to thank the museum and Dara Cohen for having me and discussing their programs openly with me.

Where have I been? Well, let me tell you ALL about teaching Public History…

I can say with all honesty that teaching public history is the single most rewarding, educational, and fun experience I have had in my time as a PhD student at MTSU.  Sure, studying abroad in Toronto was incredible and I got some great field work experience and great portfolio builders, classwork and time spent with my fellow graduate students is educational and fun, and it goes without saying that conferences provide some of the best networking opportunities, learning experiences from other professionals, and titillating giveaway contests in the hospitality suite.  Teaching World Civilizations I was also a great experience, and imparting my knowledge of Ancient History to unsuspecting undergraduates was a learning experience for me as well as my students.

However, there is just something about teaching students who CARE about the subject, are passionate about public history, learning, and just the field in general that makes me look forward to teaching, planning, and going to class every week.

Here is some background information….

As a PhD Resident I was posed with the task of finding a residency that would fulfill the requirements of the department and also provide me with professional public history work that will inform my dissertation and eventually my career.  I struggled and thought, schemed and fought – but I did NOT want to teach.  I wanted to be “in the field.”  In my time as a Masters student in Memphis, I was given the opportunity to work in a museum for my assistantship while also holding two other museum jobs – I missed working in those institutions directly with the public on a daily basis.  Hello!  PUBLIC historian!  As things began to fell in to place, it seemed that teaching was going to be the best bet for me.  I wasn’t convinced, because, hey – I want to be a public historian, not a teacher.

I had no idea what I was getting myself in to.

I have talked several times about teaching World Civilizations on this blog.  I knew preparing for that class what my audience would be; generally students who take World Civilizations come from all colleges of the university and are not super enthused about history or taking a course about ancient, classical, and post-classical civilizations.  I hope that in teaching that class I did make a difference to some students and get at least a few interested in the subject.

True story.

Coming in to the Spring semester, I knew that the students in Explorations in Public History would be a completely different audience.  For one thing, the course is a 3000 level course, which means that many upper-division students are enrolled and also that many of my students are history majors.  History majors have to love history, at least to some extent, right?

So what is this class I’m teaching?

Explorations in Public History is a course that basically serves as an introduction to the field of Public History for undergraduate students.  In preparing for the class I knew that the first question most students, and people in general, would have is, what is this public history that you speak of?  In writing this, I realize that perhaps this is something that I haven’t even really addressed on this blog.  So let me explain to you, my readers, how I’m going about teaching this class.

The course meets twice a week, so each week I am presenting a different topic relate to Public History.  The topics we are covering in class include: What is public history? Who owns history?  Bias and POV, Audiences, Archaeology, Material Culture, Archives, Historic Preservation, Oral History, Cultural Resource Management, Historic Memory, Museums, Education, Public Programming, Exhibits, History in Unexpected Places, Popular Culture, Environmental Protection, National Parks, Media & Technology, jobs & Opportunities, Professional Development, Issues & Problems.

A relevant Ryan Gosling Meme

This is a TON of material.  Some of these topics are combined, many overlap, and all are related in some way to the larger themes of the course and the public history program.   Essentially, each week my students are assigned readings that relate to the week’s topic.  For instance, the first topic was “What is Public History, and Who, if anyone OWNS the Past?”  My students read the National Council on Public History Website article, What is Public History? (http://ncph.org/cms/what-is-public-history/).  They also looked at James Cuno’s introduction to the book Who Owns Antiquity.

We had in class discussions about the readings, and we also explored other questions in discussions such as: What are some of the definitions of public history?  How do YOU define public history?  What is your favorite part of public history? If you don’t have one yet, what are you most interested in learning about? What do you expect to learn in this class? Who owns the past?  What are some issues involved in believing someone can own the past? Can anyone own the past? What problems might historians, especially public historians have because of the idea that the past can belong to someone?

Additionally, I opened a forum on D2L for students to post responses to specific discussion questions so that they could interact virtually.

Not my students (most days... that I notice..)

The first day of class I was extremely pleased to find that I had a class that would actually talk to me. Intelligently!  With thought-out answers and questions! What a change from a group of general education students who aren’t necessarily interested in learning the finer details of Egyptian history or ancient Chinese civilizations. The discussions and discourse in class have really helped to make this class enjoyable for myself as a teacher, but also (I hope) for my students who don’t have to listen to my lecture from a powerpoint all day.

Most weeks, in addition to readings and in-class and online discussions, we have a guest speaker and/or a field trip.  In public history, what can you really learn about your public and the field by sitting in a classroom listening to some graduate student expound on theory and ideas?  In fields that I myself have not had a ton of personal experience in, I have been lucky enough to find willing experts at the university or in the community who are willing to take time out of their days and busy schedules to come speak to my students.  This is something I am very grateful for, and I can’t begin to express the extent of my appreciation to those individuals and institutions.

In addition, my students are required to volunteer DOING public history for an organization in the community, and also to do hands-on individual projects.  The project proposals I got had some really great and innovative ideas, and I can’t wait to see what my students produce.  These things will go into their portfolio, and also give them experience in the field, and something to put on their resumes should they decide to pursue public history.

I recently created a website for the class as a place where student projects can “live” after completion.  Some driving or tour guides, brochures, or informational tools might not otherwise get any exposure, so check out http://www.explorationsinpublichistory.wordpress.com for more information about the class, photos, and coming soon…. Student-written blogs!  That’s right.  I’ve offered extra credit to students who want to write about some aspect of public history on their class website.  Again, this is a great opportunity to work on writing for the public, develop thoughts and ideas about aspects of public history, and also create a presence on the web.

Sorry to be so long-winded in this post, but I am so thrilled with this class that I had to share it with the world.

It's true: I owned this book. BUT NOT ANYMORE!

Essentially, I have ended up absolutely loving something that I never thought I wanted to do.  This reminds me of another time in my life when I had preconceived or ill-thought out notions about my professional career.  When I took the job as an Educator at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, my boss at the Sam Davis Home (after the first time I worked there…) laughed and could not believe that I, who was not the biggest fan of children at the time, was going to work in that exact field at a different museum.  Who knew that those experiences would lead me to where I am now? – Writing a dissertation about education in museums.

And honestly, aren’t I doing something in the field of public history, through teaching?  Oh Past-Katie… how little you knew then.

This is me now - just add public. BTW - You can buy me this shirt by clicking the picture. I wear a small.

This is, of course, a lesson for all aspects of life, but particularly in academic or professional work – why not try something new?  You never know where you might end up.

Are any of you readers teachers?  What kinds of things get you excited about teaching?  How do you share your enthusiasm with your students?

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!!

 

End of semester updates

Well the semester isn’t QUITE over, but it’s so close I can feel it!  This will mark the last spring semester of course-work EVER (which yes, I realize I have said that a couple times now…), but for real, I will be finished with PhD classes other than residency and dissertation hours in a little over a week!!!  I have had tons of news and breakthroughs in the past few weeks, so this post will try to encapsulate those and catch you up on what I’ve had going on.

Professor?

– I have a residency!!  After several really great meetings with organizations across the state, everything finally came down to funding (as always).  Luckily, the Public History program offered me the opportunity to do a Teaching Residency for the History Department at MTSU.  I wasn’t too excited about it at first, since I had a preconceived notion that teaching would mean I would have a class of US History 1 in the Fall semester and US History in the Spring semester.  That’s not the case at all!  Instead, this fall I will have a section of World Civ I, which will be great experience actually teaching college, because in the Spring I will be teaching Explorations in Public History, which is an upper-division undergraduate introduction to Public History!!  I have never taught my own courses, so this will be great experience, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind… As I was told several times the  next week at NCPH, I’m super lucky to have this opportunity, and I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  I’m really excited to teach, and any advice is welcome!!

At the NCPH Opening Reception by the bay

– I went to the National Council on Public History Conference in Pensacola, Florida at the beginning of April, and it was INCREDIBLE for a million reasons.  I met a bunch of great professionals and other graduate students in my field and reconnected with other contacts, I went to some great sessions, I got to spend a long weekend away from Murfreesboro and even got a little bit of beach time in!  There are countless stories, but I’ll stick with just a couple.  First, I signed up to be paired with a mentor through NCPH, which I recommend to any students or young professionals who go to the meeting.  My mentor and I met for lunch on Thursday of the conference, and he just had great advice and encouragement, and it was really just nice to have lunch with someone new who had perspective on my school stuff and my future and just life in general.  Second, I went to a session on teaching intro to public history, since I had JUST learned 4 days earlier that I would be teaching the Explorations in Public History course next spring.  I got some great advice and got to hear about what others are teaching, and made some contacts with others in my position.  Third, and possibly most importantly…

The site of my dissertation epiphany

– While walking through the pretty Pensacola park we passed each day on our way from the hotel to the historic village, I had an epiphany.  Out of the blue, my dissertation and research topic popped right into my head!  I don’t want to get too detailed into it since it is still developing in my head, but it is something I am really excited about, its meaningful to the world and community (which is super important to me), and hopefully it will help museums, historic sites, and people in general.

– On a related note, I have assembled my pre-dissertation committee, and I think they’re pretty awesome, and basically the best committee of all time.

That's me!

– Perhaps MOST exciting (though really, everything has been MOST exciting lately), was a surprise I found on my MTSU account last week.  Apparently the history department has a few scholarships they award each year, and I was the recipient of one!  I am the honored and happy recipient of the Bart McCash “Outstanding Graduate Student  in History” Memorial Scholarship!  It was definitely a welcome surprise, and I’m so grateful to the committee for selecting me for this award and recognizing my work in the time I’ve been back at MTSU.

With Dr. Sayward

– I also accepted a nomination to be the Association of Graduate Students in History’s PhD Representative to the Public History Committee for the Fall 2011-Spring 2012 school year!

– Things are going GREAT at the Sam Davis Home… we are all getting ready for Days on the Farm (which also happens to fall right at the end of finals week…) and school groups almost every day the next several weeks, then summer camps right around the corner as well!  It’s keeping me busy, but I love driving on to that beautiful site in the mornings and spending the days with the greatest co-workers.

Pretty drive in, even in the rain

So, yeah!  That’s pretty much all of my exciting news of late, and hopefully once the semester wraps up I will have more time to post all the crazy ideas I’ve had running through my mind.

Thanks for reading!

Midterm Report!

Midterm Report:

  • Public History:

Essay on the Historiography of African American Women’s Social Roles After Emancipation – completed.

Project subject: selected – Schools and education in Rutherford County, emphasis on Cemetery Community area.  Finished product will be some sort of visual/text for use at the Stones River National Battlefield.

  • Egyptian History:

Midterm –  completed.

Research Topic: selected – Egyptian Religion, particular emphasis on ghosts/letters to the dead.

  • Principles of Management and Operations Management:

Midterm – completed, and passed with an A.  Even the math parts.

  • Foundations of Education:

Several good lessons learned.  Good conversations and contacts made.

  • Public History Program Updates:

1.  Application and supporting documents submitted for review.

Courses applying for:

o   HIST 7535 (Essentials of Museum Management) or HIST 7540 (Seminar in Museum Management) (3 hours)

o   HIST 7530 (Seminar in Administration of Historical Organizations) (3 hours)

o   HIST 7220 (Seminar in Public Programming for Historical Organizations and Archives) (3 hours)

o   HIST 7545 (Seminar in Collections Management for Historical Organizations and Archives) (3 hours)

 

2.      Possible courses for next semester:

o   Classical History

o   Native American History

o   Seminar in Foundations of Education

o   Leadership and Motivation

o   Teaching Social Studies

o   Assessment of Teaching and Learning

o   Material Cultures

 

3.      Residency/Dissertation Ideas:

Education and evaluation in museums.  I am currently researching ways of measuring the effectiveness of programming… any suggestions or stories are welcome!  This is still in the very beginning stages.