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Thinking About Historical Thinking

For my history major in undergrad, I had to take a Historiography course. Everyone complained about this course, saying that it was boring, difficult, and that depending on the professor teaching it, hellish. I took the course with one of my favorite professors and although it was a difficult class, I learned so much about myself as a student of history.

Now, as a graduate student who hopes to one day teach in higher education,  I yearn for historiographical discussions and arguments. So I really enjoyed this week’s readings. These readings were incredibly insightful and I feel as though I learned a lot about teaching history through them. While reading these articles, a few questions came to mind. Hopefully this course will help answer these questions for me.

Why study history? Why teach history?

This question comes to mind often for me. Why do I study this topic? What do I hope to gain from it? Why do I feel that teaching history is crucial/necessary/important? I don’t think I will ever accept one answer to this question. My goal is to continuously ask myself this question, to remind myself to always think critically about what I am doing and why I am doing it. Ultimately, I do believe that we can learn from our past. But I also think history, and the learning of history, connects us to our identity and our memory and also unites us as communities and as a world. The purpose of history lies here. It is our identity that informs the decisions we make in our current world. In this way, history can inform our decisions, so long as we can understand it.

To teach is different than to study for oneself. But just as it important for myself to learn about history, I feel that it is important for others to do so as well. Hopefully, as a teacher, I could enable students to work with the past in order to better understand our present.

What are the best methods for teaching history?

This week’s readings were fascinating in many ways, but I particularly enjoyed them for the methodology. Calder’s article showed a unique way of structuring introductory level history courses to best teach students how to do history. Something that really stood out to me was the notion that most students don’t know what history is, so how can we expect them to do history? I think this is a key. I hope to discover new ways to teach students what the study of history is, in order to then teach them the skills necessary to do history.

How can I best integrate digital tools to teach history?

The readings didn’t talk about this much, but it is something that I’m sure future readings in this course will discuss. I think that digital technologies and tools could help students learn history and do history. 

Edited 6/9/2017:

This week, we read our professor’s article on The History Curriculum in 2023. This article discussed ways in which history curriculum should be expanded so that the discipline of history does not falter with the advent of digital technologies. Our professor discusses this through using the 4 M’s: Making, Mining, Marking, and Mashing. Each are valuable to teach our students in the digital age and will help students create more viable historical work. Ultimately, I think it is key for us to incorporate “new” ways of doing history, whether its using 3D printing to create material culture from the past for a dialogue on historical thought or creating a mashup of historical clips, while still basing our process in historical thinking. Whatever new work we do as historians, we should continuously ask ourselves the same questions that historians have always asked. As long as we are still completing the historical thinking that has grounded the historical discipline for over a century, we should feel free to expand the bounds of the discipline. However, we do have to be careful not to stray too far from the bounds of history. Teachers and professors should be continuously brainstorming new methods of teaching history.  Digital tools should be incorporated into the study of history and the teaching of history to ensure that the discipline stays viable in the modern world of technology.

HIST689: Introductory Post

This week, I am starting my third class in the Digital Public Humanities graduate certificate program. It’s hard to believe that I have already completed two out of three of the courses for this certificate! This post will serve as an introduction to myself for this new course.

My name is Alison Curry. I am twenty three years old and I live in Gaithersburg, MD. In May 2016, I graduated with my BA in Anthropology and History from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Now, I am a full-time graduate student, attempting to complete two graduate programs concurrently. Besides working on this certificate program, I am enrolled in a Masters degree program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies through Gratz College.

I decided to enroll in this certificate program because I yearned to expand my skills and knowledge of digital technology. For my senior thesis, I had hopes to map a portion of my data. However, with only one GIS class under my belt and a lack of time, I ended up finishing my thesis without a map component. Luckily, I was able to complete this part of my research project in the first course of this certificate.

My research interests surround Polish-Jewish history and Jewish material culture. More specifically, I am fascinated by how Polish citizens today are remembering the Jewish past of Poland. It is this question that I love to research. I am very happy to have been able to complete two projects for this certificate that focus on my research interests in some way.

I am very excited for this course, Teaching and Learning History in the Digital Age. I hope one day to be an educator in some way and I hope to be able to apply the digital technology skills I’m learning in this program to any teaching I do in the future. I have only taken one other education-focused class, but I really enjoyed it. I think this course will expand my knowledge and interest in education and the tools that can be used to best present history.

Reflection on this Semester

This semester was a tough one: I was incredibly busy with all three classes I took this semester, as well as in my personal life. However, I felt as though I learned a lot this semester and am excited with how my final project turned out.

First, I loved the topic of this course. Public history has always been an interest of mine. The school I went to for undergrad sat on a historic area of Maryland, on which there is a public history institution today. As an archaeology student, I ended up doing a lot of public history work at digs and field schools, showing and teaching the public about archaeology. It was really wonderful to take this course, as it reinforced a lot of my own knowledge about public  history. I was also introduced to public history projects that I was previously unfamiliar with. Getting introduced to new projects and tools used for public history helps me gain an understanding of the scope of this discipline. It also helped me formulate ideas for my project.

I was really unsure what I wanted to do more project. This was mostly because I had a hard time visualizing what I could do and what possibilities I had. I had never made a digital public history project before! And I am still fairly unfamiliar with digital tools, making websites, etc. Of course, I wanted to make a project on something I’m interested in and something I’m passionate about.

Eventually, with the help of Professor Leon, I came up with a few ideas. My favorite idea came from some of my travels to Poland. I have been fascinated with the idea of memory about the Jewish past in Poland. Particularly the city of Warsaw, which once had one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, fascinates me. The city was nearly completely destroyed during World War II, along with its Jewish population. When I visit Warsaw, I am struck by how little of the Jewish town is left, and by how the main way to remember Jewish history in Warsaw is through monuments and memorials.

Jewish Warsaw became my project for this semester. I used Omeka to store items, in this case the locations of Jewish history in Warsaw. From Omeka, I was able to design a website to showcase these sites. The hope of Jewish Warsaw is that people interested in Jewish history, or people interested in traveling to Warsaw, would have a guide to the Jewish history of the town. I also wanted to add a map to the project. I ended up using the Geolocation plugin through Omeka to link my sites with a map of Warsaw. I would have preferred to use something like Curatescape, but I didn’t have enough time to learn how to use it. Hopefully I could learn how to use Curatescape in the future. For now, Geolocation gets the job done and is really easy to use.

I realized that it is an incredibly tedious process to create a digital project. I only ended up having around 12 items (there are so few Jewish sites left in Warsaw) and yet it took months of editing, adding, and re-editing to make it better and better. I realized that this type of project could, in essence, never be “finished.” It is a constant work in progress, and could be edited and fixed forever. This is frustrating, but its also exciting. I could essentially keep adding and working on this project for years.

Ultimately, I am happy with project. I think the topic is fascinating and I love seeing all the components of my research come together. While I think my project could look better, for my first time ever creating a website, I think I did pretty well. I am excited to have a finished project and one that I would be excited to share with others.

Project Update: 4/18/17

It’s been a fairly tumultuous week, as my soon-to-be brother-in-law had serious complications from a surgery. We’ve been in and out of hospitals all week. As I write, I’m sitting in The Johns Hopkins Hospital ICU waiting room.

Needless to say, I’ve been attempting to make progress on my project but it’s been slow going. I’m still trying to go back and edit the items in Omeka and make sure I did the metadata correctly. Also, I am editing them to give better descriptive information.

I am also currently trying to decide which method I want to take in order to get a geospatial component to my project. My professor has given me a few options: Curatescape, Neatline, and the Geolocation plugin.

While I would love to do a Curatescape project, it seems like a lot of work. And it would be the type of work that I would not know how to do.

As of right now, I think I’m going to try to use the Geolocation app. I want to attempt to add it to my project and then see how it would turn out. If I am unhappy with it, I will try Curatescape.

I’m concerned about timing and having enough time to really work on this project. But I am trying. We will see how Geolocation works!

Mobile Digital Public History

Explore Baltimore Heritage Mobile Application

For this class, I discovered the Explore Baltimore Heritage application, a mobile phone app that allows you to explore pieces of Baltimore history through your phone. The creator of the site is Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit historic and architectural preservation organization that aims to “preserve and promote” Baltimore’s history.

There are four main components to the application. First, you can view the “Stories” page, which seems to show specific historic sites viewable through the app. When you click on the site, you can find descriptive information about it.

Another main page on the application is the “Tours” page. Here, you can find walking tours laid out by themes. The “Tours” section of this application is probably the most useful part. I decided to try out the “Jewish East Baltimore” tour while I was in Baltimore one day recently. While it is one of the shorter tours (only 6 sites, compared to other tours which have around 20 sites), the sites were somewhat spread out in East Baltimore. While it is not entirely clear where to start and the application does not give you precise directions from one site to another, it does provide you with a map of the sites. You can also view each site from the tour page and find specific photos and information on each site. Overall, I really enjoyed this tour and I would absolutely go back and do other tours using this app!

Another page of this site is the map. The map provides a map of Baltimore with “pins” of the historic sites that Baltimore Heritage has provided information on. The user of the application can then click on each pin to see specific historic information and pictures of the sites. I was in Baltimore on a different day than my tour of Jewish East Baltimore and decided to pull the application up while there.  While in the Harbor East neighborhood, through the map, I was able to find historic sites in that area.

It seems that a goal of this type of public history is provide an immediate and direct connection with history to the public. It is one thing to view a website about a location’s history when you are sitting at home in your living room. It is entirely different when you are standing at the site of history, viewing on your cell phone information on what makes that place historic and seeing pictures or videos of that site in history. It allows for a more genuine connection with history that is also specifically for the public.

Project Update: 4/7/2017

I still feel a bit behind on my project. This semester has been insanely busy and so I’m trying to piece together this project little, by little…

So far, I have six sites on my website. I have had to re-work much of the metadata (since I did it incorrectly at the beginning of the project). Now that I have fixed it, I am ready to add more sites to my project.

Besides adding more sites to the project, I want to go back through the sites already uploaded to the project and add more descriptive information to their pages. When I first worked on the site, I wanted to get the sites uploaded, so I put basic, general descriptions of the site on the page. Now, I need to go back and add more information, so that this could truly be an educational and informative project.

I have also recently downloaded the Exhibit Builder and have added an exhibit to my project on “Warsaw Holocaust Sites.” Once I have added more sites to my project, I will be able to expand this exhibit as well as add other exhibits.

I want there to be other components, like a map component, to my project. So my next steps will be to figure out what other plug-ins I can install on Omeka that will expand the usability of my project.

Doing Local History

Doing local history can be challenging in many ways. While focusing on one area, region, or town, it may seem easier to do this type of historical work. In a local history project, any information one might need to complete a history project will most likely be located within one area. This makes a historians job easier: less travel and less searching endless archives for information.

However, there are many challenges to doing local history work. Often the historical work is focused on nostalgia and memory. While these topics are important, it can be difficult to complete historical work with a local population because of their memory of specific events. Often local history projects might have to defer to the local community. This could make expansion of the project more difficult.

Digital history provides a platform for local history projects. The goal of digital local history is to share the history of a town, region, area, or people, with a greater audience. Since digital platforms allow for greater expansion of history projects, it can be difficult for a digital local history project to stay within the bounds of “local.”

This module’s readings helped me when thinking about my own project, as my project is a digital local history project. After going through this module, I want my project to:

  • Stay within the bounds of Warsaw history
  • Be as encompassing as possible with Warsaw history, without going outside of the project’s goals
  • Have balance in terms of resources and data and the ways they are interpreted
  • Engage in some way with the current Warsaw community


Setting Up a Digital Project

In Modules 4 and 5, we have read about the importance of planning. I have learned from the past few weeks that planning for a digital project is a crucial step in the process of building the site.

Content mapping and building a map for your digital project are important, early steps to take. When I first read about the content mapping and site planning, I thought that it was something I would not be able to accomplish at this early stage. I thought, “how can I draw out a map of my project if I’m not even sure what my project will turn out to be like?” But it turns out that this step is crucial.

Even at this early stage of my project, building a map of my project helped me visualize the steps I would need to take to physically build the website. It helped to piece together the data I had and how they could interact in my project.

Now, as I work through building exhibits, and the rest of my project, I have a plan and goal in mind for this project because I have already created a map for and designed my project.

Project Proposal

The Jewish history of Poland is often hidden within the Polish landscape. Nazi destruction of Jewish sites, World War II and its destruction of Poland, post-war anti-Semitic destruction, have all contributed to a lack of pre-war Jewish sites remaining in Poland. Another reason for the lack of Jewish sites in Poland today, is the Polish collective memory about the Jewish population and the Holocaust. Though many Jewish sites in Poland were destroyed, the Jewish history in Poland remains. Visitors to Poland will most likely interact with Polish-Jewish history through monuments and memorials than physical historical sites in their travels. And most of the Jewish history still standing in Poland are remnants of the Holocaust: concentration camps, ghetto walls, and death camps.

This project, with the help of the digital world, will aim to make Polish-Jewish history more visible. This project will focus on the capital of Poland, Warsaw, and its Jewish past. In its end, it will be an interactive map of Jewish locations within Warsaw. The user can visit this site to use the map and discover images and more information about these Jewish sites. Users will engage with this project in order to learn more about the Jewish past in Poland. Images of the Jewish sites will show the changes that have occurred to Warsaw and users will witness how the landscape has changed. Information from images will give users information about the changing landscape. Hopefully, this project will bring up the following questions:

  1. How have Jewish sites in Warsaw changed over time?
  2. Why have Jewish sites in Warsaw changed in such a way?
  3. What types of Jewish sites exist in Warsaw today? And why?
  4. How would travelling to Warsaw be different than experiencing it through this site?
  5. Without this digital tool, how would people experience Warsaw?
  6. Is Jewish history in Warsaw remembered? If so, how is it being remembered?

In order to complete this project, various digital technologies will be used. First, Omeka will be used as a base site through which the project will function. Omeka will contain the digital collection, images (and their subsequent) information. From there, I will use various plugins, such as Curatescape, in order to create a mapping template for the site.

The goal of this project is to engage with the public about the Jewish history of Poland. The hope is that users will utilize this project to either help them do research or aide them when visiting Poland. The target audience for this project is anyone in the public who is interested in Polish-Jewish history. Many of those that will use this project will have family that were Polish-Jews. This project is also geared towards anyone interested in travel, especially travel to Poland. While this project is specifically focused on Poland’s history, it aims to help the public to not travel “blindly,” to ascertain knowledge and questions about a place’s history before visiting.

Personas Updated

Name: David
Demographic: 20s, academic (graduate school), middle class, white, Jewish
Descriptive Title: Traveling Academic
End Goals: Fulfilling a graduate degree. Discovering unbiased information. Genuine travel experiences.
Quote: “I want to understand as much as I can about life and human behavior – to do that, I need to understand the past.
A Day in a Life Narrative: My name is David and I am currently a graduate student at Duke University. A normal day for me consists of reading and writing, graduate school is my life. I want to know as much as possible in my field and I do so by researching and traveling. I don’t trust everything I read or hear, and I am critical of much information presented to me, particularly on the internet. That is why I love to travel, I can see and understand the world for myself, rather than learning about it through someone else.
End Goals: Fulfilling a graduate degree. Discovering unbiased information. Genuine travel experiences.
Name: Sue
Demographic: 60s, Event designer, upper-middle class, Jewish, white
Descriptive Title: Inquisitive Professional
Quote: “My life is wonderful – but I yearn to learn more about my past.”
A Day in a Life Narrative: My name is Sue and I have been an event designer for almost twenty years now. I am very passionate about my job, but my family comes first. I have a great husband and wonderful children. But ever since my mother’s death, I have wanted to know more about my family history. Recently, I have been considering traveling in order to discover information about my past, but I have realized that it might be too hard on me to travel. I am looking into other ways to discover information on my family’s past. I am fairly technology-literate, although I do not know how to use technology and the internet to its fullest.
End Goals: Discover information on family’s past. Learn how to better use technology.