My internship this semester is with the Education Division of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason. I’m working with Jennifer Rosenfeld and Nate Sleeter on an addition to the Hidden in Plain Sight online course. This course presents object-centered history modules for K-12 teachers to explore for recertification credits. I feel so fortunate to have learned about the course, to be participating in it, and to be working with my mentors.
During my first meeting with Jennifer, we introduced ourselves and discussed possible projects for the semester. The Hidden in Plain Sight course was very interesting to me, as I am a professor with a background in American Studies and material culture.
To familiarize me with the way that the modules work, Jennifer and Nate set me up with an account on the Hidden in Plain Sight course site. Later, they also gave me access to the Teaching Hidden History course site. I loved working through a few of the modules, both because the main objects and related objects were intriguing and because I started to get a feel for what I would be doing.
Next, I spent a week or so contemplating what kind of object I would like to do. Lots of ideas came to mind, and I researched all of them in a variety of places, but I finally decided to work with a stereograph card. I inherited a collection of these from my great-grandparents’ house, and I used them as part of one of the assignments for Dr. Kelly’s Teaching and Learning History in the Digital Age course. If they did not know about stereograph cards, I thought that the teachers would enjoy learning about them and sharing cards with their students. The Library of Congress has a fabulous collection, and I knew that there would be stereograph cards available to fit a lot of teaching units.
While I was working through the modules in Hidden in Plain Sight, I realized that part of the goal was to find objects which could relate to broader themes in American history. As I browsed through the collection from the Library of Congress, I found one of President Roosevelt on the Mayflower, ready to receive the Naval officers, Jamestown Exposition. I was very excited about working with this card because it tied to so many broad topics. Before my next meeting, I searched for primary source materials which could be the related materials for this stereograph card. That was my working object at the time. In addition, I decided to copy and paste the envelope module from Teaching Hidden History into a Word document so that I could use it as a structural model for my own module.
As I continued to research the Underwood & Underwood firm, the publishers of the stereograph card, I realized that their stereograph collection had several cards tied to President Roosevelt. One, “The prerequisites of success – hard work, keen intelligence, unflinching will” – President Roosevelt, Providence, R.I., really struck me. Why had Underwood & Underwood wanted to use this quote on its stereograph card? What was this speech about? Searching for Roosevelt and Providence in the LC collection, I found The great crowd intently listening to President Roosevelt’s now famous “Trust” speech, Providence, R.I.
Knowing the year, I found more articles about the speech on Chronicling America. I thought that I could use those, an image that I found of the Providence City Hall, the idea of shaping a common cultural identity, and a variety of other objects and ideas for my module. It really intrigued me that the quote about success was on the image of Roosevelt from the speech, while mention of the “Trust” speech was on the card about the crowd from that day. I began to work on a very rough draft of a module, filling in the objects that I had found.
When I next spoke with Jennifer and Nate, we discussed strategies of starting with a theme and finding the objects vs. starting with the objects and finding a theme. Being an inductive thinker, I tend to go the latter route. Jennifer and Nate were very supportive of my ideas. Nate also presented the idea of having a stereoscope, the viewer for the stereograph cards, as the object itself. He also suggested looking for scholarship on the topic. Jennifer asked what I would be doing for the next week, and I mentioned that I would be working to structure my project.
During the next week, I decided to go with the stereoscope idea. I scoured the Library of Congress stereograph collection, the Smithsonian collection, DPLA, Wright’s American Fiction, Making of America Cornell and Michigan, eBay, WorldCat, scholarly databases, and my own book collection for items and articles related to stereoscopes and stereographs. Focusing on Underwood & Underwood stereoscopes, stereograph cards, and related materials made the most sense to me for the project.
Starting a new module, using the valuable envelope module model, I worked to bring some order to the project. I created thirteen points to discuss, based on the items and articles that I had selected, but I knew that twelve was the maximum number. Eventually, I omitted the idea of discussing the end of the era of the stereoscopes, since I wanted to have room for a discussion about teaching history and social studies during this time period.
Ironically, when I spoke with Jennifer and Nate, one of them mentioned the end of the stereoscopes as a possible discussion point. I decided to make that the last one and to save my other idea for the Connections essay. They seemed pleased with the stereoscope and stereograph card related objects that I had found. While an illustration of someone using an Underwood stereoscope, which I found in a book published by them, was my idea for the stereoscope image, Nate and Jennifer wanted me to try to find an image of a single stereoscope. I had seen some on eBay, but I decided to continue to look.
Over the next week, I looked for images of stereoscopes and continued to research. Answering Jennifer and Nate’s questions relating to the history of stereoscopes and stereograph cards was a top priority. I also worked on my rough draft of the module, starting over again with a clean copy and paste of the envelope module model. As I did so, I ended up adding to, deleting from, and combining my earlier module items and ideas. Originally, I had thought that I could design and complete a module quickly. However, I’m now quite aware of how challenging and time consuming it is to create a module. I’ve been teaching for quite a few years, and I have curated exhibitions, but I’ve never tried a project like this. I’m very grateful for my opportunity to learn about this type of scholarship and to have such insightful mentors.
During my latest meeting with Jennifer and Nate, we discussed my working draft. They were very enthusiastic and helpful, and they had several suggestions. I had found an image of an Underwood & Underwood stereoscope, but I wasn’t sure about the copyright issue related to it. We discussed the image and the copyright question, and Nate sent me a sample letter for contacting the creator about using the object. As he mentioned in his email to me, knowing how to write these letters is a good digital history skill to have. Jennifer gave me some technical pointers about adding images to the draft, since getting the images into the module had caused me some problems over the week. We discussed the issue of the best voice to use for this audience, since I was not sure if some of my ideas and phrases were too academic. Nate suggested that I write the modules as I want to, then I can edit later on as I need to. Since I have a variety of images to use for my related images, and I’m not sure which from this rich assortment to choose, Jennifer noted that I should include all that I want to for each, and that we can select from those next time.
My plan for the long weekend is to devote many hours to getting a strong draft ready for next Wednesday’s meeting.
One of the questions that Dr. Brennan suggested for this blog post was:
Did you use a specific methodology or skill you learned from your digital public humanities coursework?
The answer to that question is yes! First of all, without what Dr. Robertson taught me about copyright, I wouldn’t have known to be careful about the copyright issues related to the materials that I am using. Dr. Leon highlighted focusing on our audiences, and I have been very conscious of my audience of teachers. Finally, I find myself so grateful for Dr. Kelly’s course. What he taught me about historical thinking comes to mind every time that I work on this project. As I have been exploring the use of Underwood & Underwood stereoscopes, stereograph cards, and books, and I have been considering my interpretation of them, I have turned to one article from Dr. Kelly’s course. Fortunately for me, Robert Orrill and Linn Shapiro’s piece, “From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: The Discipline of History and History Education,” discusses history and social studies teaching during the time period of the stereoscopes and stereograph cards. The efforts of the AHA Committee of Seven, historians who were shaping the history curriculum, as well as those of their sometime foes, the people who supported social studies education, tie in very well with the stereoscope/stereograph card story. Without having read that article, I wouldn’t have had the context to be able to interpret the stereoscopes and stereograph cards as I can now. I’m still trying to decide exactly where to discuss this piece in my module, but I will figure that out over the next week or two.
I look forward to the rest of my internship at the Education Division.
Orrill, Robert and Linn Shapiro. “From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: The Discipline of History and History Education.” The American Historical Review, Volume 110, Issue 3, 1 June 2005, Pages 727–751.