Outreach, Performance, and Introversion

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach work recently. For example, this week I’m running education sessions for over 180 high school students.  In most cases the students are visiting in groups of 40-50 to learn about residential schools and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site. In instances I’m co-teaching these sessions with a residential school survivor and in other cases I’m running these sessions solo.  I’m also teaching a public history course this term which has caused me to think a lot more about instruction styles and engagement.

Recently Myron Groover wrote a series of tweets that discussed the idea of teaching as performance.  I’ve embedded a few of Myron’s tweets below but I would encourage folks to read the whole thread.

The idea of teaching as performance really resonated with me. I enjoy teaching and I enjoy outreach work. But to be honest I often find it outright exhausting. I’m an introvert and having to constantly be ‘on’ while doing outreach can be really draining.  When I do K-to-12 outreach programming it’s often delivering a variation of a lesson I’ve done hundreds of times, however just interacting with students for extended periods of times can be tiring.

One of the challenges of doing outreach work with K-12 and post-secondary students is the limited amount of time you’re spending with them.  What material students know prior to me talking with them varies greatly and I often tailor my plan for a session based on the first 10-15 minutes with the students.  Reading and getting to know my audience is particularly important in the situations where I’m talking about residential schools.  The material that we’re covering can be triggering and sensitive in nature and I want to make sure I’m providing a supportive space for students to learn in – while being aware of the need to shift gears depending on how students are reacting to the material.

Over the years I’ve developed personal practices to help with the performative nature of instruction sessions.  These include:

  • Whenever possible I’m trying to not book more than one school group a day.  Wrangling a bunch of students who are on a field trip can be hard and scheduling more than one group in a day means the second group ends up getting a tired version of me that isn’t quite on my best game. I realize I’m extremely lucky in that I get to set my own outreach schedule and that this is a luxury that might not be possible for many people.
  • I also try to schedule time immediately prior to and after the instruction session for me to decompress.  I use the time before to do any last minute prep and room setup and the time afterwards to reorient myself.
  • If I have high school students for more than one hour I need to incorporate hands-on activities. This is in addition to audio-visual materials and guided discussion.
  • If I have an elementary school group for any length of time I incorporate hands-on activities.
  • I have a roster of backup activities to turn to just in case a) the group is particularly restless, b) I’m sick/need to give myself a break c) The group works through the planned activities quicker than anticipated.

What techniques do you use to help cope with the performative nature of teaching and outreach?

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Best New Articles from September 2017

Andrea Eidinger over at Unwritten Histories has released her list of “Best New Articles from September 2017.” I’ve overjoyed by the fact that my “Archival Photographs in Perspective: Indian Residential School Images of Health” article is included on the best new articles list.  Go check out the rest of Andrea’s article recommendations for the past month, there are a number of really interesting and must read Canadian history articles on the list.

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Hacking History: Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons as Public Engagement

Women yelling "[Edit] Cdnhist on green and purple background

Edit Canadian History on Wikipedia

Jessica Knapp of Canada’s History and I are organizing a Canada wide Wikipedia edit-a-thon with a focus on editing Canadian History content.  Join us on October 18, 2017 at a regional site or virtually to improve Canadian History content on Wikipedia!

Want to know more? Check out our “Hacking Histories” blog post on Unwritten Histories.  The post explains the details of the event, how you can participate, and answers some of the common Wikipedia questions.

A huge thank you to Andrea Eidinger for her willingness to host this post and for her support of this event.

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Open Access and Community Engaged Research

If you follow me on Twitter you know I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of paywalls on community engaged research.  My recent article, “Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health” that is now out in the British Journal of Canadian Studies (volume 30, issue 2) is currently behind a paywall.  So is every other article in this journal issue.  At least one other author has spoken out about the problematic nature of pay-walling this content

During the publication process I did manage to negotiate a shorter OA embargo period for this article – I’m extremely happy about this and very glad I took the time (and built up the internal courage) to ask about the possibilities.  However, the more I think about my work and the community focused nature of it the more I’m questioning the need for it to be available to community based folks.

It was completely my decision to publish in this special issue and not having asking about the OA conditions prior to writing the article is totally on my shoulders.  I agreed to write this article 3-4 years ago, which speaks volumes to the lengthy nature of the academic publishing cycle but also on how my opinions around community research have developed in that time.  This experience has been a good reminder to me about the importance of knowing all the details of a journal before submitting. It has also made me take a serious look at my publishing goals and reconsider where I’m looking to publish in the future.

If I am engaged in community based work – especially work that is with a marginalized community – that work should be immediately accessible to the community I’m writing about.  In a time where archives, public history professionals, and post-secondary institutions are talking more and more about decolonization we need to take a serious look at making our work accessible to the Indigenous communities we are working with.  People working outside of the academy should not be placed on a second tier and should have the same access to information as everyone else.

In terms of learning more I would point folks toward to the First Nation principals of OCAP when thinking about information relating to Indigenous communities. OCAP speaks to the Ownership, Control, Access and Possession of information and data relating to Indigenous communities.  I would also encourage people to reread the TRC Calls to Action around research and heritage and familiarize themselves with UNDRIP principles which relate to their work.

There are also a ton of fantastic folks doing work on OA publishing and promoting OA within the library, archives, and public history fields.  If you’re looking for additional reading or information I’d suggest:

  • Follow Ali Versluis on Twitter.  Seriously. Go follow her now. She is awesome and frequently writes about OA, publishing, and access.
  • Need a primer on the basics of open access? Check out the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) page on open access.
  • Tri-Agency Open Access Policy.  As of May 2015 any work funded under SSHRC, NSERC, or CIHR grants must be made open access.  For example, any grant recipients that write a peer-reviewed journal article based on their grant work are required to ensure that the research is freely available within 12 months of publication.
  • Check with your university library – there is a good chance they have resources on open access publishing.
  • Check to see if your institution has an open access institutional repository.
  • Open access week is October 23 – 29, 2017.  Check out the website for resources, local events and more information.
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Rivers Speak Community Play

Rivers Speak Logo reads "The Rivers Speak, Gigdoowag Ziibiik, Les Riveres Parlent"

Rivers Speak Logo

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Gigidoowag Ziibiik (Rivers Speak) Community Play.  This fantastic project was the culminating event of Thinking Rock Community Arts‘ efforts to engage community members in story telling and art making.  Since 2013 Thinking Rock has involved over 1500 individuals in hands-on making and storytelling with an emphasis on reflecting on local rivers and waterways.  This initiative also worked to create spaces for cross-cultural conversations and involve both Indigenous and settler communities. 

The Rivers Speak play included over 30 cast members of all ages and was held on the traditional pow wow grounds of Misswezhaging (Mississaugi First Nation).  This community art project was a joy to see come to fruition.  The play was based on the stories, oral histories, and memories collected by Thinking Rock since 2013.

The play intertwined settler and Indigenous perspectives on water, community, and family — it followed Marie (settler) and Ira (Indigenous) community members who lived locally but passed away within recent years. The play was guided by two local elders and the narration was a mixture of English and Ojibway.  It also included audience participation components – for example the audience walked through an outdoor living stage and were invited to participate in a round dance at the end of the play.

It was an extremely powerful experience to participate in as an audience member and it was beautiful to see such a nuanced story come together based on community narratives and memories.  The work undertaken by Thinking Rock is a great example of community engaged history, community arts and participatory story building. I’m looking forward to seeing what projects Thinking Rock tackles in the future.

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Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health

My latest article, “Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health” is now out in the British Journal of Canadian Studies (volume 30, issue 2).  This article is part of a special issue edited by Evan J. Habkirk and Janice Forsyth focusing on health and the body at Canadian residential schools. Many thanks to Evan and Janice for all their work on this issue and for all of their assistance getting this article published. 

My article examines the use of archival photographs to supplement the historical narrative with an emphasis on using photographs of sport and recreation as a lens for examining student life, health and power dynamics within the residential school system.  This article draws on the idea of archival silence and critically evaluates present day usage of residential school images.  The article is based on my work with the Rev. Father William Maurice fonds held at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  Within this fonds I examined photographs from the Spanish Indian Residential School series which is comprised of photographs of the residential schools located in Spanish, Ontario.  This series is a mixture of photographs taken by staff/administrators and photographs taken by students at the School.  The contrast of student and staff generated photographs provides an insight in the power dynamics present in archival photographs and the context behind residential schools images.

If you would like to read a copy of the article but are hitting a paywall please contact me.

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Reflecting on Camping and the Parks System

Group of women carrying a canoe overhead

Unidentified group of women carrying a canoe, Winnipeg, 1940s. Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 4328425

I’ve went camping twice this summer and stayed at three Provincial Parks in Ontario as part of that experience.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the complicated nature behind the parks system, the dispossession of Indigenous people from parks and the lack of acknowledgement of the traditional usage of the land by Parks.  None of the parks I visited this year had signage about the history of the park or about the park’s relationship to the local Indigenous communities.

Last year I visited Pukaskwa Nation Park.  It is the only Park I’ve visited to date that is actively working with the local First Nation community to reinterpret the site and to include a discussion of the community’s history on the land. Pukaskwa’s staff included an Indigenous Cultural Interpreter – who was from Pic River First Nation, the local First Nation community that was impacted by the creation of Pukaskwa.  The were also in the process of creating an Anishinaabe Camp for cultural programming and the “Bimose Kinoomagewanan” trail signage was created by local elders and youth from Pic River.

Pukaskwa serves as one example of parks addressing their problematic past.  I would be interested in knowing of any other examples out there.  As visitors what can settlers do to encourage more critical interpretation? As a first step speaking with the folks staffing the visitors centre and interpreters to ask them about what they know about the park’s history can help.  If they don’t mention the traditional Indigenous territory of the land ask why. Ask them why there is no discussion of the land prior to the park being established and if there is any plans to change that.  Talk with the people you are camping with – have those important conversations about land and history – even if it makes you or them uncomfortable.

For additional context I would suggest reading Anne Janhunen’s The Holiday Spirit Will Prevail’: Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Erasure in Ontario’s ‘Cottage Country‘ presentation and Robert Jago’s “Canada’s National Parks are Colonial Crime Scenes.”

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Nine Years of Blogging

"Ask More Questions" sign on a white wall between two clocks.

“Ask More Questions” Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

I know I’ve written about my personal blogging anniversaries before, but I still think it’s worth nothing that September 2017 marks nine years since I started this blog as part of a course requirement for a digital history class I took as part of my MA in Public History.  I know some folks have argued that the blog is a dying or irrelevant medium at this point however I still believe of its value within the archival and public history field as a form of scholarship and engagement.  Of course, I’ll also admit I love a timely tweet storm and have a soft spot for cat pictures on Instagram.

I have – gulp – written over 600 posts at this point.  I’ve also noticed in the past couple of years that this blog has evolved to have a more solid connection to my work in the archives field. I still talk public history and still come at archives from a public historian perspective — but there’s way more archives content then there was nine years ago.

Rather than recounting some of my favourite or most viewed posts I decided that instead this year I would highlight some of my favourite blogs.  These blogs are ones that I follow consistently and that inspire me to write my own blog posts.

  • Unwritten Histories by Andrea Eidinger.  This one’s a bit of an easy mark – Andrea’s blog is a must read for anyone interested in Canadian history and I love her sarcasm.
  • Things I’m Fonds Of by Emily Lonie.  There’s a pun in the title – thus it has to be great! Seriously, though this is a wonderful blog that consistently highlights innovate archival practices and collaborative projects.
  • History@Work, a multi-authored blog on the National Council for Public History website.  History@Work covers a great mix of public history topics and has a lot of great discussion based posts around current interpretation of historical events.
  • Nursing Clio, another great multi-authored blog.  If you’re interested at all in gender or medicine this is the history blog for you.  This peer-reviewed blog offers timely historically grounded posts on present-day issues.  Their tag line is “the personal is historical” and many of their posts connect to person or community narratives of history.
  • Claire Kreuger’s blog pulls directly from her thesis work.  I’m in love with her alphabet series.  Some of her hard hitting posts tackle reconciliation, settler narratives, and how to be an ally.
  • Uncatalogued Museum by Linda Norris.  This is a blog I’ve been following for years and that I keep coming back to for it’s insightful takes on museum exhibits and content design.
  • Allana Mayer’s tumblr account for her takes on archives, tech and labour.  Allana has also posted a number of great summary posts which compile resources on specific topics – her “Resources on Archives and Indigenous issues” post from 2016 is still a great source for information. I’d also suggest following Allana on Twitter.

What are your favourite archives and public history blogs? 

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Beyond 150 Twitter Conference Update

beyond 150 logoRemember that thing that Andrea Eidinger and I are organizing in partnership with Canada’s History Society, Active History, and the Wilson Institute?  The schedule for the Beyond 150: Telling Our Stories Twitter Conference is now live.  #Beyond150CA is the first-ever Canadian History Twitter Conference and it is happening on Twitter August 24-25, 2017.

The conference  is designed to encourage collaboration, public engagement, and spark discussion about Canada’s history in a way that is accessible to everyone. It also aims to uplift diverse perspectives, unrepresented histories, and support the work of early-career and emerging scholars.  There were a ton of great submissions to the CFP and I’m really excited about the range of presentations that will be part of this conference.

And if you’re not presenting you can still participate! Use the hashtag #Beyond150CA to follow the conversation.  Additionally each 30 minute presentation slot includes 15 minutes for questions and discussions – so get on twitter, ask those burning questions, and engage with the presenters.

Not sure what a Twitter Conference is? Check out the conference FAQ page.

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Webinar: Editing Wikipedia Part Two

The recording of the final webinar of the “Wikipedia as Outreach and Activism for Canadian History” series I hosted with Jessica Knapp from Canada’s History Society is now available. I was the main presenter in this webinar  which focused on “Diving Into Wikipedia Editing Basics” and included an introduction and technical walk through of basic editing skills.  It included how to make basic edits to fix content, how to add citations and references, and how to use the article wizard to create your first article.

It was wonderful to work with Jessica on this webinar series and I love that it gave me an excuse to work on some of the Wikipedia projects that have been languishing on my to-do list.

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