Teaching: Select Topics in Community-Based Public History

This fall I’ll be teaching HIST 3296: Select Topics in Community-Based Public History at AlgomaU. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and excited to be able to share my love of public history with students.

From the course calendar: The course will introduce students to the theory and practice of community-based public history, with reference to local and regional examples. Students will explore the history and relevance of community-based efforts to make the past visible and comprehensible to the public. The social functions of museums, libraries, archives, and monuments, as well as web-based sites of historical commemoration, will be critically assessed. Contrasts between history, heritage, social memory, and tools such as oral history will be examined.

I’m still working on the planning of the course but in the meantime I’m using this as a reason to enjoy some public history focused books that I have been on my to-read list for ages.  So far my reading has looked at Parks Canada, commemoration in Canada, participatory heritage, museum writing, and exhibit design.  If nothing else this reading has filled my head with a lot of great ideas and also reminded me about the diversity of public history.  So much of my work is archives focused theses days. I do engage in a lot of educational programming, community outreach, and the occasional exhibit design – however it is all through an archival lens.  It’s been nice to take a step back from that really focused form of public history and to look at broader social trends, work that is going on in my local community, and interesting projects occurring across Canada. Onwards!

Introduction to Archives

As my last post indicated I’ve been thinking a lot about archival instruction and introducing students and other new users to archives.  As part of this process I’ve been gathering resources that explain how archives are organized, introduce the basic of archival processing, and explain different aspects of archival theory.

Some of the best resources I’ve come across so far include:

  • How do Archivists Organize Collections?” by Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA). A clearly written introduction to how archives are organized.  This post touches on physical processing, the concept of fonds, and how archives are different from libraries.  PAMA has also written excellent posts on what archivists do and on what it’s like to visit the archives.
  • Archives Association of British Columbia Archivist’s Toolkit. The toolkit provides resources for archivists on a range of archival topics including basic archival principals, uses of archives, and a range of outreach topics.
  • Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology created by the Society of American Archivists. The glossary contains more than 2,000 entries on a wide range of archival terms.  I’ve used this resource when creating presentations to help explain terminology specific to archives.
  • About records, archives and the profession” by the International Council on Archives.  A primer on archives and archivists.  My favourite line of this piece is “archives are for life and for living.”
  • Animating the Archives video series by Tate Gallery.  The series explores the different facets and uses of archives. A number of the videos explore art based archives and the relevancy of archives to artistic and research practices.
  • Archives Association of Ontario Introduction to Archives Youtube series. Includes presentations on using archives, describing archives, arranging archives, and wikipedia for archivists.

What resources do you turn to when teaching about archives?

Bringing the Legacy of Residential Schools into the Classroom

My latest post, “Bringing the Legacy of Residential Schools into the Classroom” can be seen over on Active History.  The post focuses on resources that can help teachers integrate residential schools into their lessons. I look a handful of education tools which can be accessed digitally and are good starting points for teaching the history of residential schools.

Active Learning and History Education

In September I talked about the online records management course I’m currently taking.  As the course has progressed I have thought a lot about content delivery and methods of active engagement.  One of the mandatory course features is participating in at least one online chat session.  The idea being that chats can provide a real time chance for discussion amongst course participants. 

The idea of fostering active discussion is great.  But without proper facilitation discussion can easily fall flat.  Discussion can turn into monologues, question/answer session, and conversations that fail to inspire further depth to class topics.  Thus far I’ve attended two of the chat sessions and both times was left with a feeling of wanting more.  Neither of the chats actually fostered any substantial discussions.  Rather, students peppered the instructor with questions for 45minutes without connecting thoughts or engaging each other. This situation isn’t unique to online delivery — poor facilitation can occur in the classroom just as easily as online.  It is also possible that in this case, Q&A is what the instructor saw as being valuable to students than a discussion based meeting.

Perhaps, my desire for meaningful discussion is somewhat inspired by time spent in classes where the core element of the course was discussion. Many upper year and graduate history courses I took focused on student interpretation and moved away from a teacher telling students all ‘the facts.’ Personally, I found this style of education more conducive to my learning style than large lecture classes where I will admit to doodling or snoozing away more than a few classes.  

So, is discussion a necessary element in a learning environment? I’m not sure it is essential in absolutely every situation, but students and teachers/facilitators find it beneficial. Of course, lecture style presentation does also have a place in education and can work well alongside discussions.   Discussion allows for a different form of learning and creates a level of personal engagement that is often not included in more formal lecture style approaches.  Some of my most worthwhile and memorable education experiences occurred outside of a classroom.  I have little memory of what my first year Russian history professor lectured on, but I can tell you all about the discussions my Historical Approaches class had during a prof’s office hours which were held once a month in the campus pub. 

Small workshops, group tours, and hands-on-learning are all methods of facilitation which can encourage discussion amongst participants.  Many heritage organizations and public history practitioners see history education as a dialogue that tries to actively include the audience in the learning process.  With a topic such as history, that many people associate with boring elementary school lessons, I think active approaches to content delivery are key.   Heritage organizations that see regular visits from the public are in a unique position to reach audiences that may never open a history book.

What have been some of your best education experiences?  Has a museum or heritage site visit inspired you to look at history differently? 

Photo credit: My Silent Side