Presenting Dr. Katie: May Updates

The Drs Katie before graduation; O'Bryan on the left, and me on the right.

The Drs Katie before graduation; O’Bryan on the left, and me on the right.

The past month has been incredible: graduation, vacation, and now moving to a new city for a new job (hence the lack of posts)!  Here are the updates:

On May 11th I graduated with eleven other PhD candidates from Middle Tennessee State University.  Proof available here.

My dissertation, “Enriching the Public History Dialogue: Creating Educational Programs at Museums for Audiences with Special Needs,” was finished back in March.

Receiving the Dean's Distinguished Essay Award for my article in Scientia and Humanitas

Receiving the Dean’s Distinguished Essay Award for my article in Scientia and Humanitas

An article taken from several of my chapters was chosen for publication in Scientia et Humanitas 3, (2013).  It is titled “Disability, the Sideshow, and Modern Museum Practices,” and it received the Dean’s Distinguished Essay award from the Deans of the Honors College at MTSU. When it is available online, I will post a link! Continue reading

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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Sensitivity and Awareness at Your Museum or Cultural Organization

This blog has been a long time coming, but I have finally found some free time to get the blog back up and running.  Expect more this summer from former professors and students, a recap of my trip to New York City, dissertation and research updates, and more!

Seriously, best conference ever.

This past March I had the opportunity to once again attend my favorite yearly meeting, the Tennessee Association of Museums Conference.  Even better, I was a scholarship recipient, which was an incredible honor.  To top it all off, I also chaired a session called, “Your Museum: Compliance, Awareness, Sensitivity, and Outreach” with some other folks from Middle Tennessee State University’s PhD in Public History program.  My talk was on, “Sensitivity and Awareness – Steps to Take for Successful Connections.”

This talk stemmed from conversations about my dissertation and research in the residency colloquium I attended last academic year.  The idea is that museums are meeting requirements for ADA, but they are generally only doing the minimum as opposed to branching out to offer more accessible programs to diverse groups.  Before any radical changes can take place, I believe that museum staff must be trained on sensitivity and awareness techniques to use when working with disabled populations.  I wanted to share a few high points from my talk here online so others can take advantage of these options.

As I have said before,  in the residency colloquium in the PhD program, we were required to read selections based around each of our interests and research.  Prior to this, I had already decided that disability and museums would be integral parts of my dissertation research.  The class instructor took this into consideration while choosing our readings.  The special issue of the Public Historian, from Spring 2005, was all about disability and museums.  The articles range in subject matter from FDR to visually impaired visitor’s experiences at a museum to reviews of websites and books.

Presenting at TAM

Striking in this selection of readings were the first-hand accounts of people with disabilities and their experiences.  A lack of compassion, sensitivity, and even awareness was very present in their stories.  This led to discussions about what museums can do to welcome more people.  Also missing from the literature was the inclusion of those who have learning, cognitive, or developmental disabilities.  Since the implementation of ADA so much of the focus has been on wheelchair accessibility.  Accessibility for the sight and hearing impaired has also been embraced, but in many cases those with learning disabilities are forgotten.

As anyone who works in museums or at historical sites, many museums are small and short-staffed.  Resources and training are not always readily available for all staff and volunteers.  Through this blog post I hope to give some ideas and thinking points for small museums and staff members.

Here are some interesting numbers:

  • There are over 500 known disabilities. Common disabilities include: vision, hearing, speech, physical, and developmental.
  • From 2009 to 2010, the percentage of the total US population with a disability grew by 2.0 percentage points (American Association of People with Disabilities)
  • Currently around 10 per cent of the total world’s population, or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability (http://www.disabled-world.com)
  • There are more than 50 million people with disabilities in the United States today.
  • Many of those 50 million are elderly (a large percentage of museum-going population)

As the AAM reminds us, “access is not just a legal and moral obligation. Changes that increase access for those with disabilities can mean more visitors, since most people don’t attend museums alone. In other words, enabling one person with a disability to visit often brings at least two people to the museum.” (http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/MN_JA06_richner-allaccess.cfm?renderforprint=1)

Here are some important tips on what to do when you have visitors at your museum who have a disability.  Some of these things may seem to be common sense, but they are still important to remember in your everyday interactions with visitors.

In general, people with disabilities are like everyone else, so try to treat them like anyone else.  Think through the other person’s mind – can they see your subtle, headshakes or nods?  Eye movements?  Can they hear sarcasm or inflections of your voice?  Can they reach where you are?

Using your words:

  • Always put the person first. Example: “the person who is blind” and not “the blind person”.  Emphasize abilities.
  • Don’t underestimate people with disabilities.
  • Avoid labels. Never refer to people by their disability. For example, don’t say “the handicapped, the crippled, the blind”, etc.
  • People sometimes use negative language without realizing it. Make sure to emphasize the positive.

Interacting:

  • Speak directly to the person with a disability rather than through a companion or interpreter who may be present.
  • Find the best way to communicate. The person may want to sign, fingerspell, lip read, or write notes.
  • Speak normally-don’t yell or exaggerate.
  • If you offer assistance to a person with a disability, wait until the offer is accepted, then listen or ask for instructions. Assisting without permission may cause serious injury.
  • Offer to shake hands or trade business cards when introduced. People with limited hand use or an artificial limb can usually shake hands. Offering the left hand is an acceptable form of greeting.
  • Use body language. It offers important clues about what you are saying.

Visual Disabilities:

  • Security guards should know how to accommodate the needs of blind patrons, and should be able to direct them clearly and helpfully
  • Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when meeting someone with a vision impairment.
  • Never touch someone with vision impairment unless they know you are there.
  • Offer your arm. Don’t propel or lead a person with a vision impairment.
  • If you meet someone with a guide dog never distract, pet, or feed the dog. If a service animal is distracted it may inhibit the service animal from doing its job.

Wheelchair/Physical:

  • Do not lean or hang on someone’s wheelchair. Bear in mind that people with physical disabilities treat their wheelchairs as extensions of their bodies.
  • Never patronize people who use wheelchair by patting them on the head.
  • Never move adaptive equipment outside the person’s reach.
  • Place yourself at eye level when speaking to someone who uses a wheelchair, scooter, crutches, etc.
  • Prevent a strained neck by standing a few feet away when talking to an individual in a wheelchair.

Mental:

  • People with mental impairment learn slowly and have a harder time using their knowledge.
  • Be clear and concise – don’t use complex sentences or difficult words.
  • Don’t talk down to the individual – in other words don’t baby talk. This won’t make it easier to understand.
  • Don’t take advantage of the individual. Never ask a person with a mental impairment to do anything that you wouldn’t ask a friend to do.
  • Be understanding and patient. People with mental impairments are often aware of their limitations, but they have the same needs and desires as everyone else.

The basics

The Association of Science-Technology Centers has a great website devoted to options for museums.  Below is a list from their website, http://www.astc.org/resource/access/index.htm

  • Become familiar with museums’ legal obligations.
  • Talk to people in your community. Conduct focus groups and surveys, form advisory groups , build relationships with people with disabilities.
  • Consult with community organizations for and about people with disabilities.
  • Call or visit other institutions that have services like those you want to offer.
  • Conduct an access survey
  • Consider what resources you already have available in your museum.
  • Provide staff and volunteer training about interacting with people with disabilities. Additionally, staff and volunteers need to know what services and equipment the museum provides, where to find them, and how to maintain and operate them.
  • Make high priority and low cost changes in accordance with your plan.
  • Seek national and local funding for high cost changes.

Other ideas include creating audio tours, written/captioned options for films or auditory parts of your museum, and creating picture books for inaccessible areas of the museum for those who cannot physical visit certain areas.  Accommodations can often be easily made,  and museums can also adapt presentation techniques (such as being sure the speaker is always visible to those with hearing loss, being aware that people who are blind may need visual information described verbally to them).

I’m sure many of you have ideas and ways that you have adapted.. please feel free to discuss and share these in the comments section!

Successful Accessible Museums

The Museum Access Consortium in NYC consists of representatives from various museum departments throughout the New York City Metropolitan area and members and representatives of the disability community. Members of MAC exchange information, ideas and resources and provide a network of mutual support. Museums such as,

MOMA, The Jewish Museum, Tenement Museum, and Transit Museum have taken advantage of the MAC and are in the process of working on great accessible programming.  I was lucky enough to visit these museums last month, and will be posting a blog on these museums, staff, and programs in the near future.

Homestead Museum in Los Angeles County, CA is also working on programs for adults with dementia and programs for people who reside at adult living centers.  The Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, N.Y is a historic home with a small staff.  However, they initiated physical changes, including making a restroom accessible, adding ramps, renovating obstacles in pathways and acquiring county money to replace the elevator. Their full story can be found on the AAM Website – http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn/MN_JA06_richner-allaccess.cfm.

Additional Resources:

For those of you in the Nashville area, information about our upcoming workshop is available below:

Middle Tennessee State University’s Public History Program Presents:

 Disability and Your Cultural Organization: Sensitivity and Strategies for Going Beyond ADA

 Saturday November 3, 2012

9AM – 3 PM

at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

 Morning Sessions Include

 Keynote Speaker:

Krista Flores, Program Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program

 Additional Speakers:

Karen Wade, Director of Homestead Museum, Los Angeles County, California

Dr. Lisa Pruitt, Middle Tennessee State University

 Panel of various experts in the fields of education, museums, special education, recreation and more!

 Afternoon Breakout sessions will include case studies, information about specific issues, and think-tank opportunities.

 Registration Fees will include lunch and all workshop materials

 Please email Katie Stringer at mkatestringer@gmail.com for more details, questions, or registration information

Doctoral CANDIDATE Updates

Again, you may have noticed I have not been posting as much lately.  There are several excuses I could throw at you, but instead I will give you some quick updates!

– I spent most of the past month working on my dissertation proposal and online doctoral portfolio for review by my dissertation committee.  I defended them both on Friday, April 27th, and I passed!  I’m now officially a doctoral candidate and can start the long, arduous task of writing my dissertation.  Luckily, I’m really passionate and excited about my topic, so it should be an enjoyable process (other than the obvious struggles with bureaucracy, formatting, technology, etc).

– On that same note, I have been working on merging my professional blog with my doctoral portfolio, so let me know what you think of the site changes around here!

Sun Studio Visit with TAM

– I went to the Tennessee Association of Museums conference in Memphis in March as one of their scholarship winners… if you kept up with my twitter at all you know some of what went on there, but that only scratches the surface.  I have a blog in the works to review more of the conference, the sessions, the sights, and of course my own presentation on sensitivity and awareness of disabilities at museums.  Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks!

– I’ve also been finishing up teaching Explorations in Public History.  My students have been writing blogs that I post on their website, http://explorationsinpublichistory.wordpress.com/.  Check back soon, because I will be posting their final projects in the next week!  They were a wonderful class, and I look forward to seeing them as new public history professionals in the future.

– Next week I will head to New York City for a research trip!!  I will have all kinds of updates on my dissertation and ideas to talk about once I get back.  I am fortunate enough to have meetings set up with people from the Intrepid Museum, Jewish Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Transit Museum, Museum Of Modern Art, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Coney Island USA, and people from the Museum Access Consortium.

Liberal Arts Awards Banquet

– As for other updates… I won the Bart McCash Memorial Scholarship for Graduate Students again this year!  My dissertation committee chair shared with me last week that Dr. McCash was his step-father and an influential person in his life personally and academically.  I’m honored to have been chosen as the recipient of a scholarship named for such a great person.

– I was elected to serve as the Graduate Student Association president for the 2012-2013 academic year.   I’m looking forward to serving the 3000 graduate students at Middle Tennessee State University!

SGA Awards

 

– April finished up my term as a graduate senator for the Student Government Association.  Serving as a senator was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot.  Surprisingly, I was elected “Best All Around” senator, and the graduate students were named “Best Friends” by the Senate Superlatives.  We were treated to a lovely banquet on campus on my birthday, which I consider to be MTU’s birthday gift to me.

– So I had a crazy end of my academic semester, not to mention I bought art, had a birthday, watched a lot of trash TV, finished the Game of Thrones books, spent too much time looking at Tumblrs, got a radical haircut change,  and reorganized all of my bookshelves.

This summer should be more conducive to blogging, if I can squeeze it in among writing and researching the dissertation, traveling, working as a camp counselor at Camp Will in Franklin, Tennessee, and some quality lake time.  I have plenty to write about, so keep coming back!!

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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?

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!!

 

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!