Material Culture Theme Week

This week over on Activehistory.ca we are sharing the Material Culture Theme week I had the joy of editing. This week brings together folks who work with material culture both inside and outside academia.

The week is filled with posts on textiles, learning with material culture, family connections to making, and cultural meaning attached to objects. Go check it out.

A huge thank you to all the contributors and folks who made this week come together. You are awesome.

Crafting Communities Workshop

art studio supplies on shelves

Prior to the world going to hell, I participated in a wonderful six days of professional development put on by Thinking Rock Community Arts and Jumblies Theatre. Titled “Crafting Communities” this workshop was based on Jumblies well-known Artfare Essentials training which is focused on skill building connected to community arts facilitation.

“Crafting Communities” focused on creative facilitation approaches to community arts, with a focus on textile art/craft. The workshop covered the a range of topics including: the basics of what community arts are, different styles of arts based facilitation, how to plan a community arts project, common challenges associated with community arts projects, and potential funding for community arts.

Personally, I loved that much of this content was delivered through active art making and engagement. Instead of simply talking about facilitation techniques we participated in facilitated activities and had conversations while making art.

I also really enjoyed that this workshop helped develop a community of practitioners. It brought together fiber and textile practitioners, folks engaged in music as community arts, and others working on dance, movement, drama, and art based community projects. We had the opportunity to connect with practitioners who live in work in Northern Ontario as well as community arts folks from the Toronto region. This mixture of geographic backgrounds helped fill the workshop with a range of perspectives and experiences.

The next phase of the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall project includes more of an art and participatory focus. It also includes the development of hands-on workshops for visitors to the site, allowing them to learn about colonization, decolonization, and Residential Schools in a more engaged manner. I’m looking forward to trying and testing out some of the facilitation techniques learned during this workshop in the Reclaiming Shingwauk space.

Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

Finding Memories in Textiles

Close up photo of fabric patches

Another textile post. I know, I know. But I am finding a lot of joy in thinking about the ways in textiles intersect with history.

I’m working on a project that has me re-purposing old fabrics. This has included working with everything from old shirts to off cuts from sewing projects to found fabric household fabric from the 1980s. As I handle, snip, and sew this fabric I’ve been thinking about the memories it holds both physically and metaphorically.

Fabric holds smells. Fabric can smell musty, it can smell like a home, it can smell like the person who wore it last. These smells are all memories of moments or individuals. I have an afghan blanket that my Grandma made me and after she passed away I struggled with the need to wash it. The blanket still smelt like her, I could wrap it around me and revisit her house and shared experiences. As I washed it the smell faded and so did that visceral memory trigger.

Fabric holds its shape. Long folded fabric gets creases and lines. Folded up linens stuck on a shelf at the back of the closet remember how they were folded and gain lines from long storage. Lines in old fabric can speak to use. Was the fabric folded over something for years? Has it discolored evenly? What can the shape of it tell us about how it has been cared for, used, and stored.

Fabric witnesses. Fabric falls victim to stains and spots and grows threadbare from overuse. That pair of jeans that I don’t want to give up, even though they have holes from bonfires past. Those jeans tells a story, even if I’m the only one who can hear it. That coffee stained quilt that you scrubbed but couldn’t quite clean. It tells a story too. Threadbare woven mats show where people walked, where furniture was placed, and those spots no one ever walked.

Touching, witnessing, and examining textiles connect us to personal, family, and societal histories. Textiles can remember how they are treated and used. They bare signs of their makers and owners. They can bring comfort, tears, and joy. What textile memories do you carry with you?

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Preserving and Listening to Soundscapes

Closeup of a sound board

The BBC recently ran a podcast series called Forest 404. The podcast is set in a futuristic 24th Century, in a time after a massive data crash and in a era in which forests and much of the natural world no longer exist.

I initially started listening to Forest 404 because the protagonist is voiced by Pearl Mackie, who I loved in Doctor Who. The entire podcast is framed around archived soundscapes from the 21st century (know affectionately as the ‘Old World’ in the podcast).

The main character Pan is essentially a digital archivist who makes decisions about what sounds are worth keeping and which sounds get destroyed from the archive and the world’s memory.

The fact that this entire podcast intersects with climate, archiving, and science fiction make it worth listening to. For me, this podcast also made me think about broader archival efforts to document sounds and soundscapes.

Continue reading Preserving and Listening to Soundscapes

Tri-University Annual History Conference Keynote

Title slide for talk

I am delighted to share that I was the keynote at the Tri-University Annual History Conference on March 9, 2019 in Guelph.  The theme for this year’s conference was “In Small and Large Things Remembered’: Material Culture and History.” Continue reading Tri-University Annual History Conference Keynote

Celebrating the Accomplishments of Women and Non-Binary Historians in 2018

Celebrating Women and Non-Binary Historians on yellow background

In 2017, archaeologist Steph Halmhofer issued a call for submission for the first “Celebration of Women and Non-Binary Archaeologists.” The call was a response to the lack of women and non-binary representation in year-end archaeology roundups, as well as problems with representation in the media and public discourse. We have noticed many of the same problems in the field of History.

Inspired by Halmhofer, we invite all women and non-binary folk who consider themselves to be historians to celebrate their personal and professional accomplishments from 2018. To so do, please fill out the Google questionnaire by December 31st.  We welcome submissions from all forms of historians and your accomplishment can be anything you want to celebrate in your personal or professional life from 2018.  Blog posts, articles, podcasts, interviews, self-care, etc. all count as accomplishments!

Accomplishments will be shared on Unwritten Histories in a special blog post in early January. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on Twitter at @andreaeidinger or @kristamccracken, or by emailing us at unwrittenhistories [at] gmail [dot] com.

You folks are awesome, and congratulations!

– Andrea Eidinger and Krista McCracken

* Special thanks to Steph Halmhofer for her support for this project. To find out about her celebration of women and non-binary archaeologists, go here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc9mZqzJEcmbyvK_Ryg5kt_5cQrsyWYksD6lqj93JTp7MW09g/viewform

Year In Review: 2018

"2018" written with a sparkler

It’s December! That means it is annual year end reflection time. As in previous years I’m going to use this post remind myself of all the things I did over the past year.  A year is a long time and accomplishments tend to be immediately celebrated and then forgotten in the hustle of the day-to-day chaos.  I encourage other folks to take the time to reflect on all the small and big things they have been a part of in 2018.

Writing Things

  • In August Danielle Robichaud and I published “Doing the work: Editing Wikipedia as an act of reconciliation.”  I am still thrilled about having something published via On Archivy and I’m super happy that we able to develop our AAO presentation from April 2017 into a longer form piece.  Plus, Danielle is an awesome colleague and working with her was a joy, as always.
  • Skylee-Storm Hogan and I have submitted two book chapters – one related to the Residential Schools Land Memory Mapping Project and one about archives as contested space.
  • I had an article accepted to the Canadian Historical Review, it will be appearing in the 2019 summer issue of CHR.
  • Andrea Eidinger and I wrote an academic article together!  Publication details are still forthcoming, but working with Andrea on this was a fantastic experience and it highlighted the value of cross-discipline collaboration.
  • I’ve continued to work as part of the Active History editorial collective. In 2018 Andrea Eidinger and I launched the Beyond the Lecture series.  This series is focused on exploring best practices in teaching Canadian history and seeks to expand perspectives related to history education.  The series is still open to submissions, so hit us up with your ideas!

Talks and Presentations

  • In April 2018 I was part of a fantastic National Council on Public History roundtable, titled “Sharing the Power: The Role of Public History in Reconciling Indigenous-Settler Narratives.” It was an honour to be part of this panel that featured Indigenous, settler, Canadian, and US perspectives on public history work.
  • I also had the privilege of being part of the “Diversifying Narratives: Intersections of Public and Digital History in the 21st Century” roundtable at the Canadian Historical Association Annual meeting in May 2019.  This session brought together Andrea Eidinger, Jessica Knapp, Jessica DeWitt, and I to talk about digital history and public history.  I love collaborating with these folks and this roundtable was no exception.
  • In 2018 I also provided a number of nuts and bolts style workshops on archival practice, digital publishing, and local history.
  • I’ve also continued to do a lot of outreach and presentation work as part of my job – I’ve spoken with over 5,000 students and professional groups about Residential Schools and the history of the Shingwauk site.  As part of this work I’ve had the chance to work closely with some great folks including Skylee-Storm Hogan, Mike Cachagee, Madison Bifano, and Elizabeth Edgar-Webkamigad.  These folks are constant sources of inspiration and I’m lucky to work with them.

Collaborations

  • Jessica Knapp and I ran year two of the Canada-wide Wikipedia edit-a-thon event.  I am very happy to see this Wikpedia work continuing.
  • I was part of the group that helped organize the National Council on Public History (NCPH) “(Re)Active Public History” Twitter mini-con.  I am thrilled with how this event turned out and especially pleased with the number of great presentations that were part of the event.  If you missed it, you can check out all of the presentations as Twitter moments.
  • I was nominated to the NCPH Board of Directors and as part of that role I’ve been able to collaborate with some great NCPH folks and continue to learn more about all of the moving parts that make NCPH such a great organization.
  • The Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition space opened in August 2018.  This space is representative of so much community collaboration and I can’t adequately express how happy I am to see this space being used for education and the ongoing work to honour Survivors of the Shingwauk Residential School.

Grants

  • This year was full of grant writing and grant based projects.  Some highlights include:
    • Successful application to the National Heritage Digitization Strategy call for funding for the “Healing and Reconciliation Through Digital Access” project.
    • Being part of the SSHRC funded “Documenting Early Residential Schools” project with Tom Peace and the Woodland Cultural Centre.  This funding allowed a group of Huron students to spend a few days up at Algoma/Shingwauk site – which was a fantastic experience.
    • Skylee-Storm Hogan and I were awarded a $10,000 ChangeUp grant through the Inspirit Foundation.  This project has focused on youth education around Residential Schools and has allowed us to pay some awesome Indigenous youth for their work.
    • 2018 also saw the continued funding of the “Realizing Healing and Reconciliation through Education” by the Heritage Canada Museum Assistance Program.  This current funding will allow the SRSC to expand the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition to include an artifact driven exhibition space.
    • I’ve also continued to be part of the SSHRC funded “Residential Schools Land Memory Mapping Project

Odds and Sods

  • I’ve continued to produce and record episodes of the Historical Reminiscents Podcast on a regular basis. With November marking the one year anniversary of this podcast!
  • This year I taught an “Introduction to Archival Studies” course at AlgomaU in the fall term.  This is the first time an archives studies course has been offered at AU, so I’m super happy about that development.
  • I have an energetic and empathetic four year old who inspires me to do better.
  • I started embroidering things! Photos can be seen on my Instagram account (@kris_tlon).

Despite the horrid news cycle that has characterized 2018, I had many good experiences over this past year.  I am fortunate to work with kind and generous collaborators who are an inspiration.  I’m looking forward to 2019 being filled with more of the same.

Photo credit: NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Art + Feminism in the Soo

Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit A Thon written in blue of yellow background. Poster.

Last week I helped organize an Art+Feminism edit-a-thon in Sault Ste. Marie, OntarioArt+Feminism is a “campaign improving coverage of cis and transgender women, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia.” This year marks the fifth year of the Art+Feminism initiative and since 2014 edit-a-thons have taken place around the world, improving over 11,000 articles in the process.

The event organized in the Soo was focused on increasing content on Wikipedia related to Indigenous folks and Northern Ontario artists.  We had a small but enthusiastic group who spent the day editing, laughing, and talking gender.  I was inspired by the effort everyone put in to learning new skills and improving Wikipedia.  Our work even garnered some media attention – local journalist David Helwig covered our work and the new articles created as part of our day.

I love the spirit of community that can be fostered during edit-a-thons.  Many of the participants were folks who I had edited Wikipedia with before and it was great see their progress as editors. We also used this Art+Feminism event to celebrate the successes of our community – the majority of the edits and new pages created were about people we knew, had met, and admired. Two of the new pages were about Algoma University alumni and two new pages were about artists who had worked with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

This locally driven page creation reminded me of why I love Wikipedia – it has the power to shape narratives, uplift voices, and can be a collaborative/community work space.  Editing Wikipedia also has the power to act as an education tool – teaching folks about collaboration, clear writing, citations, and narrative building.  The more I engage in editing Wikipedia with students and community members the more I am encouraged by the results. Editing Wikipedia combines a huge range of skill sets and can change the way we think about the past and community success.

Reflections on an Undergraduate Public History Course

Ryan Gosling Sitting at a bar. Words written "Hey Girl, Combining my image with theory is an outstanding exercise in Public History praxis"

This fall I had the opportunity to teach “Select Topics in Community-Based Public History”, a third-year history course at Algoma University.  This was my first time designing and being the sole instructor for a course.  Now that the dust has settled and all my marks are in I thought I would use this post to reflect on how the course went.

As some background, I approached this course with the desire to provide students with a grounding in collaborative practice and community engagement, while introducing them to the range of possibilities within the public history field. This was only the second time this course has been offered at AlgomaU. I also had a really small class of under ten students.  The class was a mixture of history majors and folks who were taking this as an elective.  The class met twice a week for 1.5 hours each session in a standard classroom space on campus.  Some of the activities and approaches I took would likely have to be adjusted for a larger class size.

Planning the Course

When I found out that I was the selected as the instructor for this course I had a whole lot of squee and excitement (I may have actually jumped up and down). Once that initial excitement dulled I immediately dove into research mode. I looked at the syllabus from the 2015 iteration of this course and scoured the internet for undergraduate level public history syllabi. I also reached out to a couple of folks who I knew were teaching public history at the undergraduate level in Canada.  My goal was to see how other folks had structured their classes, while looking for Canadian specific public history content to create a syllabus around. I also wanted to use open access readings and avoid assigning a textbook.

I also started scoping out what topics I needed to know more about in order to effectively teach them in the classroom.  I had strong ideas about what I wanted to include in relation to archives, digital history, museums and oral history.  But, I was much less certain in how I would present material relating to Parks Canada, commemoration, and built heritage. One of the best parts of preparing for this class was that I got to embark on a public history reading binge.

For me public history is all about collaboration and community outreach. In each week I underpinned our discussion in relationship to public outreach, accessibility, and community facilitation. This meant that though we might be talking about archives one week and built heritage the next week there were underlying themes which were woven into the entire the course. For most classes I lectured for approximately 45 minutes and the remainder of the class was spent on either discussion or hands-on learning activities.  One of my goals of this class was to provide skill building opportunities for the students. This meant thinking creatively about how to engage students in activities where they could practice what they were learning.

Building Assignments

I included a couple of assignments that allowed students the opportunity to explore formats that weren’t a traditional essay.  The inclusion of these assignments went back to the idea that I wanted students to come away from the class with some hands-on skills and to have had the opportunity to think about public history critically. The short written assignment for this class focused on interpreting a local heritage plaque.  Students were required to pick a plaque from an approved list of Ontario Heritage Trust and Canadian Heritage Site plaques.  They were then required to analyze the plaque and come up with alternate wording for the plaque text.  The catch – they had to keep the plaque within 5 words of its current number.  This was a 2-4 double spaced assignment and I was impressed with the work the students put into developing new plaque language and researching the historical significance of their chosen marker.

The final assignment for the class allowed students the option of completing either a traditional research paper or creating a digital history exhibit.  The students were evenly split – with half of them deciding to do a paper and half opting to create an exhibit. I warned students that though the exhibit might seem like the easier of the options, the exhibit assignment actually required the use of a number of skillets including historical research, concise writing, digital history tools, and exhibit curation. The exhibit assignment required them to develop a historical narrative/argument, pick 10-15 images to illustrate their exhibit, and develop fulsome captions based on their research to accompany the images.  I was impressed by the creativity, research, and narrative building of the students who picked the exhibit option.  Many of the students picked Tumblr as their exhibit platform.  This worked okay but there are definitely other platforms that would have worked better for this project. If I was using this assignment again I might spend more time in class exposing students to open source CMS and exhibit software such as OMEKA. I might also consider moving the classes on digital history into a computer lab space so there could be more hands-on learning activities while walking through examples.

Collaboration in Practice

Most classes involved group work either in the form of small group discussions or working in pairs to complete a hands-on task.  Since collaboration is such an important part of public history work I wanted to make sure my students had multiple opportunities to build teamwork skills and work in groups, something that isn’t always emphasized in humanities education.  In addition to in-class activities students worked in small groups for a presentation assignment and our participation in the Canada-wide Wikipedia edit-a-thon helped foster a communal spirit.

I also took a collaborative approach to teaching the class.  I reached out to a number of local heritage professionals and invited them to collaborate on the course.  In some instances that involved us visiting their heritage space and working on a reflective activity there. See my Active History post for details on how we used Anarchist Museum tags to encourage students to critically think about heritage spaces. In other cases, professionals came into my class to speak with students or spoke to students by Skype. I had a couple of goals with this approach: I wanted students to meet local public history practitioners and expose them to some of the great work that is happening locally, I wanted to showcase the range of possibilities within the public history field, and I wanted to continue to build partnerships between AlgomaU and community organizations.

One of the best examples of how this collaboration worked out to enhance the course was when Miranda Bouchard of Thinking Rock Community Arts visited our class.  Prior to Miranda’s visit we had spent a couple of classes talking about community engagement and oral history.  During Miranda’s visit she talked about her role in the Rivers Speak Community Play, an initiative that based around gathering community memories of water and crafting them into a community created play.  Miranda’s work was an excellent example of public history skills used in practice and her work illustrated the potential of community engaged oral history practice.  We also used this opportunity to talk about some of the real struggles of community work – learning how to facilitate community dialogue, grant writing, ethics, and all the admin work.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

As with any course there were some weeks that went better than others.  There are definitely readings I would switch and a couple of lectures that missed the mark that I would approach from different angles. I talk to groups a lot as part of my day job, but getting up in front of a class on a regular basis has a different feel.  It took me a while to work my way through my feelings around the performative nature of teaching and I learned a lot about myself during this class.

If teaching this course again I would also build in a more structured participation model for the seminar portion of the course, as in many cases students desired a more concrete guidelines around how they were expected to participate in the classroom discussions. I might also consider running a workshop on how to cite sources for a public history assignment.  Many of the students in my class hasn’t cited archival photographs before. Providing in-class support or a written guide on how to do this would have been helpful when it came time to do their final assignment.

Photo Credit: Image from the Public History Ryan Gosling Project created by Rachel Boyle and Anne E. Culle.  Go check out their project. So many fantastic memes.