The Fight for Accurate History in the Classroom — CCU Public History Fall 2018

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

By Jessica Bradwell

My mother has been a special education teacher for students who are emotional disabled in South Carolina for almost 20 year now, a career she has always been very passionate about. Her aim is not only to uplift and encourage her students to learn, but also make sure the education they are receiving is accurate and honest. This is especially hard to do in South Carolina, which has always seemed to rank almost dead last in education in the country every single year.

A couple years ago she realized the history book assigned for that year’s curriculum was completely inaccurate and seemed to only focus on a certain point of view. She discovered this was especially noticeable in the chapter covering the Civil War. The chapter had about two paragraphs on African-American’s role during the Civil War. Along with that, it seemed to have only a brief paragraph on women’s role in the Civil War. The rest of the chapter seemed to be focused on the role of white men during the war.

After critically analyzing the book she decided that in order to fully educate her students on the subject she was not going to use the book. Instead she decided to use an alternate text that focused strictly on African-American’s role in the Civil War and another that focused on women’s roles. She wanted to her students to fully understand just how big the role of African Americans and women had in the Civil War. She would still be covering all the points in her curriculum just in a different way.

One day she was called in the principal’s office where she met with one of her student’s parents. The parent was concerned because the student had not brought home his textbook in a while. My mom explained that the book’s chapter on the Civil War was not giving well rounded overview of the war and everyone’s role. She went on to explain how the whole book was written by white males and just how biased the book seemed to be, especially in the chapter. She retrieved the book from her classroom and went on to show proof throughout the entire textbook.

The parent, who also happened to be an upper-class white female still could not grasp at the idea of this even being remotely true. She was insisting her child use the textbook. My mom continued to debate the subject but was told to come to some kind of agreement with the parent. My mom accepted the truce but still had a trick up her sleeve. She decided that her students would no longer have homework and would be doing all work in class. The students continued to do work without the textbook and the parent had no homework to complain about.

Although this was a small fight towards change in terms of race and gender bias in history books, it was a victory. Without my mom these students would not fully understand the importance that African-Americans had in this war and the important role women had as well.

via The Fight for Accurate History in the Classroom — CCU Public History Fall 2018

Fall 2017 Student Blog: Teaching History

This is the ninth 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 blog is by student Morissa Robinson about teaching history and being a history major. 

 

By Morissa Robinson As a History major I am often asked, “What are you planning to do with that, teach?” The question is usually followed by a self satisfied smirk and the occasional rolling of the eyes. I have to admit the first few times this happened, my feelings were hurt. I would mutter a […]

via To Teach or Not to Teach, That is the Question — Journey into Public History

Fall 2017: Intro to Public History in Review

I’ll get back to Scotland and Ireland very soon, especially because I had a lot of great encounters with bodies, death, and exhibits in the last half of the trip, but I want to take a moment to reflect on my Fall 2017 Intro to Public History class.

Students at the Horry County Museum, Fall 2017

This was my third time teaching this course at Coastal Carolina, and I, for one, had a blast this time around. The class was often engaged in discussion and debate, even if that meant sometimes we got a little off the scheduled topic. We went to museums, exhibits, historic districts, an archive, and more. We had guest speakers on almost every topic we covered. We discussed everything from the ownership of history and objects, legislation in regard to history, museums and exhibits, interpretation, oral histories… the list goes on.

The students described the class on their website as:

Our course deals with discussions and readings that surround public history and all that it entails, this may include defining public history, understanding different legislation that has been passed to promote the preservation of different historic landmarks in addition to visiting museums and national parks and hosting guest lectures across the state of South Carolina to inform students of certain opportunities that are available if one would like to venture further into professions that surround public history. Public history can be viewed anywhere outside of academia such as museums, national parks, and monuments. Our class also consists of wide variety of individuals, who were put into this class to express their views on history and to gain a better understanding of what public history is.

In reading student reflections on the semester, the most impactful aspect of the course seems to have been our engagement with Reacting to the Past pedagogy. I’ve been familiar with RttP, but right before the semester began CCU hosted a training workshop in which we played the Greenwich Village 1914 game. I wanted to try out a game in my class, and with all our discussion on patrimony, preservation, conservation, etc, the Bomb the Church game seemed to be our best bet.

Students Reacting to the Past

Many of my students were Reacting veterans, and already knew the drill.  The great thing about the Bomb the Church microgame is that there is no required foreknowledge of the topic and no real preparation; it just throws students in their roles and they carry it along. The students were engaged in debate and persuasive speaking, and we all had a blast.

I plan to detail the second game (and Reacting in general) in another post, because it is one that I wrote especially for this and future classes. Considering it was a new game being play tested, again, I think it was a huge success, with special thanks to my colleagues Shari Orisich and Carolyn Dillian. Keep checking back for more on that game…
Another aspect of the HIST395 course this year was a class website and blog. Dr. Robert Connolly instilled in me the importance of a web presence when students are looking for jobs or even just when they are being Googled in the professional world. The class website includes information about the class, students, guest speakers, and each student was required to write at least one blog related to public history. The website is: www.publichistory52.wordpress.com – check it out!

In the coming weeks, I plan to share blogs from their website, so be on the lookout for that.

Thanks for a great semester, HIST395 Fall 2017 public historians!!

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?

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

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

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

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

not an accurate representation of me

2. Create a profile page for this character.

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

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

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

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

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

8. Extra extra credit (1 point each):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!