Project Update

In terms of the audience for this project, I think the project will be targeted towards students. The goal of the project is to better understand how communist regimes helped shape current understandings of the past. The group that would be most interested in learning about this history would probably be students or anyone that is interested in communist regimes, and how Eastern European countries have dealt with collective trauma. This is a broad idea of an audience, but it is such a specific topic that it needs to be aimed at a broader audience (for now, at least.)

Project Update

I’ve been thinking about this project for a weeks now. After doing some research and attempting to find sources for this project, I’ve realized that I might need to narrow this project a bit.

While I still want to focus on the narrative of the Holocaust/Jewish life in Poland post-World-War-II and how the incoming communist government altered that narrative, I might have trouble finding the wide range of primary sources for this type of project (particularly since I lack access to many of them). With that being said, I have decided to focus on monuments and memorials and how they show the communist government’s implied and forced narrative of the Holocaust and of Jewish life in Poland.

I feel as though a digital project is probably the best way to discuss this topic, since most of my sources will be images of monuments and memorials. I think the digital environment can showcase these memorials and monuments in a way that a paper cannot. I hope to create a site that can portray these important sites in a unique way, that encourages thoughts on historical narrative and collective memory. Also, I want the site to be as interactive as possible, so that viewers can nearly “get their hands on” these sites.

Project Idea

My research recently is focused on how Poland remembers and understands its Jewish past.

There are two important notions about this history that are not well understood or portrayed.

First is the fact that Jews lived in Poland for nearly one-thousand years before the Holocaust. This is often forgotten. History work, stories about the Holocaust, tend to not mention that Jews were Poles. Jewish history was Polish history in this sense. But because of the Holocaust and World War II and the destruction they caused, it is difficult for us to remember those one-thousand years.

Second is what happened immediately after World War II. A communist regime came into Poland and within three years took over the government. This regime pushed a new historical narrative about the war, one that featured the Polish citizens as the true victims of Nazi Germany. The Jews, and the Holocaust, ended up hidden in this narrative. When Jan Gross published Neighbors in 2000 and even with more recent publications that expose Polish actions against Jews during the war, the Polish public and government nearly rioted. In order to understand their reactions to these publications, we must understand the role communism played in this historical narrative. Often, I feel that Americans lack an understanding of communism because of the effects of the Cold War. Eastern Europe has been hidden from American focus because of their communist roots. Students rarely learn about Eastern Europe or communism, though information on World War II and the Holocaust is widely available. It is time to change this.

For my project, I would love to make a project that could help elucidate this period post-World War II. As of right now, I’m not sure how to do this. In the past, my research has used material culture to understand this history and I’d love for this project to use material culture as well. But I also want to go beyond material culture to use other sources for knowledge on the communist narrative of the Holocaust.

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