During the first weeks of Teaching and Learning History in the Digital Age, I have been reading the works of several scholars. I’ve learned about Decoding the Disciplines and Threshold Concepts, videos and readings which proved useful today as I sat in a fascinating meeting with colleagues from several departments to learn how they teach their disciplines and what their students need to know to succeed in those courses. As someone with an interdisciplinary background, I loved hearing their approaches and what they needed to know from the writing professors.
I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about how I have taught and how I want to teach courses in various disciplines in the future. Reading pieces and watching videos by Sam Wineburg, Stéphane Lévesque, and Lendol Calder gave me much food for thought and encouraged me to brainstorm about ways to teach history and other subjects.
As we learned in our readings, many students come to college bored by history courses which have overwhelmed them with facts.
How can I better engage students in history courses?
I like to make history real for the students. In the past, I created a course U.S. History Through Biography which focused on people. However, students have different interests. Maybe I could ask students to write down their questions about history during the first class and work with those as I frame the course. That would be a challenge for me, but it might help them.
Students think that they know history, but they do not know how to think historically. How can I teach students to think historically?
I think that modeling does work. I have shown students an article by my mentor, Margaretta M. Lovell, to illustrate inductive writing. I may also share some of my work.
Often, college history courses are composed of students from different majors, at different years in college, with varied experience learning history. How do I best reach all of these students?
This is a question that I am not sure how to answer now, and I look forward to learning more.
What is the best way to incorporate online resources and digital humanities into history courses?
I like to utilize a lot of primary sources, and I am still figuring out the best way to include them in my next history course. I want to share digital humanities projects, and I may use those of my classmates and other DH enthusiasts as examples. I hope that students will become curious and interested in becoming producers, as well as consumers, of digital humanities.
I look forward to grappling with these questions for the rest of the semester.
p.s. During the next week of the course, we have continued our study of historians and history. One essay we read was Dr. Kelly’s “The History Curriculum in 2023,” which presents fascinating ideas and provided many ideas both for teaching and about my final project. Once again, we hear about content and procedural knowledge in teaching history, and “The History Curriculum in 2023” focuses on procedural knowledge. These ideas of Making, Mining, Marking and Mashing are rooted in the ways that historians have approached teaching history over the past century, but some add new twists.
In the Making section, Dr. Kelly discusses the idea of a history lab, a very intriguing suggestion. Historians such as Kelly, McClymer, and Wineburg have been striving to help students learn how to think historically. As Calder notes: “Survey instructors should aim to uncover history. We should be designing classroom environments that expose the very things hidden away by traditional survey instruction: the linchpin ideas of historical inquiry that are not obvious or easily comprehended; the inquiries, arguments, assumptions, and points of view that make knowledge what it is for practitioners of our discipline; the cognitive contours of history as an epistemological domain” (1363). A history lab would be a fabulous place for people to practice being historians. Omeka and Neatline would be wonderful tools for these labs, but there would be much teacher training needed before the students could learn from the teachers. I think that younger students, as well as college students, would find history so interesting if they could be more creative interpreting the past.
I agree with Dr. Kelly that we’re now in a culture of abundance, and that wise data mining is key. I did an info lit session for my history students yesterday. Since we were going to be heading over to the library for them to use the collection and databases, I decided to ask how many knew what the Library of Congress system was and how it works. Not one had a clue, so I spent a few minutes on that before showing them a variety of databases and discussing types of searches. They weren’t familiar with the databases, either, so I was glad that I had spent the time introducing five or six basic ones. When we went over to the library, at least one student did utilize the materials and the Subject Headings she had learned about. This is a Summer 1 introductory course, but I plan to introduce them to NGram, which Dr, Kelly mentions, and to show them historical sites with primary sources. In more advanced courses, I spend much more time on the primary source databases. Lévesque notes in his piece, “To this day, the problem in history education has been the failure to understand how educators can improve students’ historical thinking by introducing them to disciplinary concepts and procedures allowing for such progression in historical thinking” (31). Learning how to mine historical sources, as well as McClymer’s idea of “recursive learning ‘ (p. 9/26), helps students to learn to think like historians.
The Marking section of Dr, Kelly’s piece brought back memories of learning to code using HTML when I was in library school, circa 2005. We had to do article responses each week, and eventually the prof had us write those responses on our blogs, which involved a lot of coding. In addition, we had to create web sites for ourselves and for group projects. I think that I was dreaming about code for weeks. What a delight it was to be able to create much easier sites using WordPress and Omeka. Understanding coding has helped me while working with Omeka, but I don’t need to use it much anymore. My introduction to metadata was when I was taught how to do rare book cataloguing for the American Antiquarian’ Society’s North American Imprints Program in the late 1980s. Not only were there many fields, but each field had to have information input a certain way. Being both a producer and a consumer of AAS material has made me appreciate the importance of metadata to historians, so I was thrilled when Dr. Leon’s work with Histories of the National Mall introduced me to the Search by Metadata option for Omeka. In my project, I do plan to teach about metadata and how to both create it and search with it in Omeka. That, alone, will help students to learn about ways of asking questions and solving historical problems, key concern of Calder, Lévesque, and so many historians.
Since I had heard the term “mash-up” but had no idea what it was, the Mashing section of the essay was very helpful. I think that many of today’s students would look favorably on the option to make arguments using digital mash ups. My thirteen year old niece has videos with many followers, and she often does this sort of thing, although not with historical materials. I think that this would come naturally to her. One thing that I’ve found is that students tend to shine much more in oral and visual projects than in writing. As long as my courses required them to write, too, I’d be pleased for them to learn to make historical arguments in a way which might teach them and help them in their future careers. Finally, the digital map idea is one which I have loved learning and plan to include in my project. I still have a lot to learn about Neatline, but I think that I have learned enough to teach my students this way of historical mashing. In his 1931 piece, “Everyman His Own Historiam,” Carl Becker spoke about history in different generations. He seemed Emersonian in his comments that “the history of history is a record of the ‘new history’ that in every age rises to confound and supplant the old. It should be a relief to us to renounce omniscience, to recognize that every generation, our own included, will, must inevitably, understand the past and anticipate the future in the light of its own restricted experience, must inevitably play on the dead whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.” Mashing is a way that students of this generation, and possibly those of the future, will combine resources to make history accessible and understandable for others.
Making, Mining, Marking, and Mashing, along with techniques which will appear in the next five years, will be key to the History Curriculum in 2023. Working in an interdisciplinary manner, a point this piece argues for which I agree with, history students of the future will have the potential to teach us much about the past.