History Harvest: Community Collectives

New York TimesThe January 2013 issue of the Perspectives on History highlighted a project of the students and faculty of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln called History Harvest.  The article called to me about a way to collect the information that is most often lost- that of the community in which we all live.  Everyone has those personal historical documents tucked away in a closet, attic, or basement that we think about rarely (or sometimes often).  These documents have a personal value, but also a historical value regarding culture and social of our given communities.  It’s a shame to let those documents sit, forgotten, tucked away when they could be digitized for use by historians and students.

The co-directors William G. Thomas and Patrick D. Jones started this project “to create a popular movement to democratize and open American history by utilizing digital technologies to share the experiences and artifacts of everyday people and local historical institutions.”  People from the community are invited to these harvest gatherings with their personal items and histories to have them digitized with photographs and digital stories.  Local organizations, museums, and others are also welcome to bring items to be digitized.

Students are heavily involved, creating, planning, and advertising for their harvest.  Its an excellent hands on experience for the students to learn what history means to people in their community and how everyone can contribute in some way.  It’s a fascinating project that begs for duplication in communities across the United States and the world.

Needless to say, I would be highly interested in starting my own “History Harvest” in my community with students.  If you would be too, you can contact the co-directors via the links on their names above or contacting them through their website at: http://historyharvest.unl.edu/


Posthumous Freedom

A petition of freedom from 20 slaves who were fighting in the Revolutionary War to the New Hampshire General Assembly was unearthed 30 years ago in the state archives of New Hampshire by Valerie Cunningham, a historian and preservationist from Portsmouth.  The argument and irony of the petition has become well known to historians of the era and up to the Civil War that the colonists were fighting so hard for their own freedom from Great Britian yet were unable to see the plight of their slaves who wanted their own.  Their petition was ignored as it was deemed not the right time to free them.  Later, only 6 slaves were granted their freedom.

Now, 233 years later, it appears that the 14 slaves who were never granted freedom may receive it from the New Hampshire government.  It is a symbolic decision, obviously.  State Senator Martha Fuller Clarke is sponsoring the Senate bill, which has already passed through the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and is now headed for the full Senate vote.  Governor Maggie Hassan has already agreed to sign the bill upon approval by the full Legislature.

It calls attention to efforts of community organizations to protect and preserve the African burial grounds, culture, and contributions of the people.  The African Burying Ground Committee in Portsmouth has been working for the past ten years to build a memorial park in an African-American burial ground in downtown.  The funds are just not available, however, their hope is to break ground this summer with their design, including granite engravings with passages from the petition.

What do you think?  Is it too little, too late?  Or a needed gesture?

If you’d like to see more about the African Burying Ground Committee, the cause, and possibly make a donation, you can visit their website at http://www.africanburyinggroundnh.org/ .

You can read more about this petition here at the Boston Globe and see more about the memorial here at the City of Portsmouth.

I won’t touch this election with a 10 foot pole

So I’m not even close to being a political historian. I am a social historian at best, a cultural historian secondary with a few other opinions thrown in, but by no means do I exactly study politics. My interest in this current election goes just as far as the average voter, though I did look up the local candidates prior to voting via absentee ballot. However, my friends, who are mostly biologists or physics people (they just followed me home, I swear!), do not understand why I cannot answer specific questions about each and every piece of the election process, prior candidates and prior elections. Its frustrating and enlightening. Please allow me to demonstrate via SomeEcards.

With the advent of social media, such as blogs like this, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and a zillion other things I will never get a grasp of, more people are able to reach a broader audience for both relevant and completely irrelevant opinions and “facts” on the candidates. I’ve been watching the arguments on Facebook and the varying opinions that just amaze me. I have successfully kept out of the arguments even though many attempts have been made to pull me in. To what extent are these rants and raves and sometimes blatantly wrong “facts” swaying potential voters? I have no idea. My hope is that people are intelligent enough to do their own research. However, everyone is entitled to their opinion and now with the social media outlets:

On the other hand, enabling people to post to Facebook and Twitter and all these electronic outlets and interact with others could potentially be dragging in those who would not ever be involved in a political conversation or willing to vote. This engagement would hopefully be making them think more in depth about who they’re going to vote for or why they would vote for them. And then they share their thought process on Facebook/Twitter… repeatedly…

Now these presidential debates… I watch them to keep up with the news, but quite honestly, I’d rather do without them. At this point, they feed my theory that elections are becoming the new sitcom. What a better way to get the average person involved right?! Make it entertaining for them to watch, throw in a few jokes, polarize the candidates so much and make sure you have someone of each demographic (Mormon, anti-abortion, anti-women’s reproductive rights, African American, Rockstar mentality, wealthy, etc) so you don’t leave out anyone that you can piss off. As a result of some of this action, I have heard people say that they don’t really care who wins as long as its not (insert name here). So in effect, they’re voting against someone rather than for a candidate that they really feel strongly about.

Mudslinging and angry retorts have gone back and forth against each other in every election since the beginning of elections. (For a fun read about past candidate shenanigans, I recommend reading J. Cummins Anything for a Vote.) Yet you hear constantly about how this is the dirtiest election in the history of the United States (no it’s not) and about how the candidates are the most polarizing in our history (no they’re not) and how health care and immigration is going to pull this nation apart (see New Deal and early twentieth century immigration policies- so no they’re not). I love the discussions about how great this depression is and how its comparable to The Great Depression, which it may be. As a historian I can tell you that to say that definitively right at this moment is next to impossible. That is something that can only be discerned through study post-depression. Yes, right now its rough, but is it as bad as it was in the 1930s? Certainly our true unemployment rate is not 1/3 of the country. Let’s talk about this again in a few years. However, look back through history. Depressions are common place. Every 100 years or so, the nation goes through a major economic depression. Every ten to twenty years we have a minor depression. Its the natural ebb and flow of market economy. I don’t mean to downplay this by any means so please do not take my words to heart, but look at it from a broader concept that a narrow view of the immediate moment. I can say this to you for certain, based on our history it will get better but there will also be another depression in our future. Watch your personal spending and create a savings account if you can.

Another thing I find interesting is exactly how much power that people perceive the president has exactly. Don’t get me wrong, he certainly has a significant amount of power, but the power truly lies with the Senate and House of Representatives. “The amount of presidential influence on the legislative process is often exaggerated by extravagantly choreographed bill-signing ceremonies. Although the Congress is generally responsible for almost all of the hard work on the bills it passes, it is the President that is generally in the spotlight, claiming credit for the legislation he signs.” (ThisNation.com) It is equally important who you vote into the Senate and the House of Representatives as it is who you vote into Presidency. People may argue with me on this point, but you cannot deny the constitutional power they have over the law of the land. So what the candidates are promising and the fabulous things they are saying to us through these debates, political ads, and other media outlets may or may not happen and it may or may not be their fault.

The moral of my story is that yes, my friends, I do have many opinions on the election as a historian and no they are not “you should vote Obama” or “you should vote Romney” because there are so many other factors that go into running this nation. My recommendation to you for this election and all future elections is to look at the broader picture of the history of our nation and foreign relations at the moment. Make sure you have a general understanding of what is going on in the world and how we could impact that. The New York Times, Time magazine, and The Economist are an excellent place to start. If you can’t do that, then research the backgrounds of people who you are voting into office, not just for the presidency but for every single office. From Top Dog to Soil and Conservation Representative. There’s a reason why you’re voting for them and it truly is a privilege to vote.  There are many other things about this election in particular, such as the voter fraud issue (is it myth or truth?), and elections in general but I think those could be their own blog.  So maybe one day I will sit down and write those blogs.  Until then…

How ever you decide to vote, please vote responsibly.

For more information on elections:

League of Women Voters

President Obama’s Election website

Governor Romney’s website

You can also Google local elections. Go to www.google.com and search “(local county name here), (state) elections 2012” and information should come up. If you have any questions or would like more help finding information on local officials, please let me know and I’d be more than happy to help you.

And no I will not tell you how I voted.


OAH 2012: Thursday Review

Good evening from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the OAH conference!  Woke up this morning and was reminded of exactly where I am.  It was in the 30s this morning and only got into the 40s today. This Florida girl was cold!The registration this morning was busy but efficient!  The bags they always given away are appreciated.  Since my interests lay in teaching, naturally I am following along with the teaching track.  Thus, the first session I attended was:

Session 1: Reading and Writing Like Historians: Literacy in History Teaching

Chair: Bob Bain from the University of Michigan

Ben Hoffman, University of Maryland

Chauncey Monte-Sano, University of Maryland

Abby Reisman, Stanford University

This was an excellent session with very dedicated professionals with a deep interest in both education and history, but especially the combination or synthesizing of the two professions.  Dr. Bain opened the session discussing how “doing” history teaching is on an entirely different level than “doing” history.  What exactly are the tools that can be implemented to help teachers help student learn how to do history and historical thinking?  How do we teach the necessary critical thinking skill and assess it?

Dr. Monte-Sano and Ben Hoffman discussed their 3 year project on preparing 8th grade teachers to teach historical writing.  Their project revolved around implementing a three step process into document analysis associated with separate teacher coaching and education to help them understand the process themselves and how to teach it.  Monte-Sano and Hoffman wanted students to not only be able to pull the main idea out of a document, but to be able to form an opinion based on knowledge from the classroom and use these historical documents to support their opinion in a well-formed essay.  Definitely a higher level of critical thinking and organization for an 8th grade student.  Their project schools consisted of between 1200 – 1400 students, most of which were 2 grade levels below in literacy.  Their results were fascinating.  They shared essays that students had written after 3 “sessions” and then after 6 “sessions.”  The basic level readers had significant gains in their writing ability, including paragraph structure, documenting naming and use.  Monte-Sano and Hoffman presented two tools that they had the teachers use to coach their students: IREAD and “How to Write Your Essay.”

Next, Abby Reisman presented on teaching students to read history.  Her enthusiasm for her subject and work are unparalleled.  She challenged the audience to consider what are the precise things that we’re looking for the students to understand/gain and what do we want the end result to look like?  She discussed the evolution of school systems turning to the Common Core Standards (which 45 states have already adopted) and their positives and negatives for the history teacher.  One of the negatives is the deemphasis of the literacy in the historical/social studies sense.  They are essentially making it seem similar to general reading when in reality, we as historians and history teacher asks our students to look at different aspects such as the source and contextualization.

Dr. Reisman also challenged us to consider the documents we pick to teach with and offer to students.  Why are we picking that particular document?  What do I want the students to do with it/get from it/know at the end of the lesson?  It can be used as assessment or instructional.  What else would the student need to know to fully understand this document in a strictly knowledge sense?

She presented three types of comprehension in historical assessment: background knowledge, reading comprehension, and historical reasoning.  These three pieces come together to form a true historical analysis.  We can use texts as a way to analyze arguments because everything someone writes has some sort of argument.  What argument is the author making?  What type of supporting evidence did they use?  Is there anything they left out?  What point of view did they leave out?  What would you have written differently or added in?  We should not forget about using historical fiction as a possible teaching tool.  To get an oral component into the works, consider adding a debate at the end of a unit after analyzing numerous primary documents and potentially an essay have the students take sides.  Possibly rewrite their essay with information that they learned during the debate.

It is important to consider what the students themselves bring to the table in the classroom.  A major shift has occurred and is still occurring in some places to student-centered learning.  The students should always be at the center of lesson planning and not the other way around.

After an hour and a half lunch, it was on to Session 2: Teaching Ideas, Beliefs, and Culture in the Revised AP US History Course.  Presenters were Lawrence Charap from the College Board, Emma Lapsansky-Werner from Haverford College, and Ted Dickson from Providence Day School.

Lawrence opened the session by talking about the upcoming publication of the revised curriculum and framework for the AP exam.  The new curriculum will give teachers the flexibility to be able to go more in depth on topics of their choice while still keeping on track.  It will also be more focused on historical thinking skills- a bonus for any historian.

The new revised curriculum has 6 goals:

  • Maintain college credit and placement
  • Emphasize skills over memorization
  • Ease coverage pressure
  • Improve teacher flexibility
  • Include recent scholarship
  • Develop student thinking proficiency

The curriculum will focus on developing 5 historical thinking skills:

  • Crafting historical arguments from evidence
  • Chronological reasoning
  • Historical causation
  • Comparison and contextualization
  • Historical interpretation and synthesis

Not only will it focus on thinking skills, but also will revolve around 7 course themes that are easy to incorporate into any unit.

  • Work, Exchange, and Technology
  • Peopling
  • Ideas, Belief, and Culture
  • Politics and Power
  • America in the World
  • Environment and Geography
  • Identity

The College Board is also coming out with state alignment guides to align the AP curriculum/course with state standards and also a Common Core guide eventually.  For more information, please visit advancesinap.collegeboard.org/history

In addition to Lawrence’s talk, Drs. Lapsansky & Dickson presented a booklet of information and ideas to help integrate art, music, poems, and literature into the history curriculum to enhance the teaching of culture/belief and ideas.  Major ideas in teaching through art of all forms revolve around bias and context as well as the intended audience.  These are all aspects of “thinking historically” that ties so wonderfully back to the first session.  I will post more information on this in a later blog where I will look deeper into the Document Based Question (DBQ), analyzing images & historical documents, and teaching students how to do so.

The third session was a Roundtable: The Warfare State since the Vietnam War.

Unfortunately the moderator, Corey Robin from Brooklyn College & City College of New York Graduate School could not make it to the conference, but the three presenters, Michael Allen from Northwestern, Beth Bailey from Temple, and Fredrik Logevall from Cornell, introduced each other and survived the session beautifully.  They presented varying perspectives on the Vietnam War and its impact on the current government and opinion of war.

Tomorrow I will be attending the 8:30am session about Teaching with Objects.  Then I will be hitting up the 10:00am walking tour of Historic Milwaukee (expect pictures!) and a trip to the Public Museum to see the Cleopatra exhibit.  Then at 5pm we have the graduate student pub tour!  Busy day tomorrow!

If you want any more information on anything that I talked about here, let me know and I’ll get you what I can!

What are you doing for the humanities?

So its now 2012.  Ok, its been 2012, I’m just a little late on the bandwagon.  Welcome to my slice of internet to keep me on track and hopefully inspire you, make you laugh a little (or maybe a lot), and expand your mind a slight bit.  I am currently one year out from graduation with a Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree in American History from Florida State University.  I work full time at another department utilizing my undergraduate degrees in Child Development and Psychology- and I discovered that this is so not what I want to do with the rest of my life.  However, now I am stuck between two worlds- one that I came from and one that I’m attempting to transition into.  There is no happy medium.  They both want you full time and there’s only so much of yourself that you can give.

Thus, this year I asked myself, what can I do better to be a better graduate student and historian?  I’m going to be released into this world soon to find a job in a market that does not look favorable and I need the knowledge to show for it.  I had no answer for this.  Thus, it took me nearly two months to figure out something to do that could keep me on track in my head and help me do something that I love to do – help and teach others.  The plans that I have for this space include updates in the field that I’m made aware of through the University and other memberships, nerdy history facts that I get excited over, fun classroom ideas & activities, random bits of information and updates from the field, updates from the conferences that I attend, and photos and information from my travels that I do constantly to awesome places because “history is made everyday” (thanks History Channel lol).

Comment at will – positively, negatively, or randomly.  On the side I have the blogs and websites I follow as well as other little fun tidbits about me.  Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter as well!