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Inventing the Future

Local Collections and Liberal Education in History (Tomasek, Benson, Chambliss)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Title: Local Collections and Liberal Education in History

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Authors: Kathryn Tomasek, Associate Professor of History, Wheaton College; Lloyd Benson, Walter Kenneth Mattison Professor of History, Furman University; Julian Chambliss, Associate Professor of History, Rollins College

Permalink for this paragraph 0 View Presentation Materials: Lloyd Benson
View Presentation Materials: Julian Chambliss 

Permalink for this paragraph 0 When eminent scholars in your field have put their lectures online, what opportunities does that open up for you and your students in the classroom?  Lecture capture is only one instance of ways in which digital alternatives to the site-specific liberal education offered by residential liberal arts colleges challenge old models.  For historians, moving away from the podium and using local collections to introduce students to research practices offers opportunities to demonstrate the continuing value of face-to-face pedagogies.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In the NITLE co-sponsored pilot program that opened the History Engine to participants outside the University of Virginia in 2006, the presenters asked students to situate stories from local collections in larger historical narratives.  The collaboration challenged us to re-imagine the way undergraduate research and writing functioned in traditional history courses, often in ways that we did not anticipate.  Subsequently, each participant has developed new projects that seek to connect the local, unique, and particular to larger scholarly themes, textbook narratives, and cross-disciplinary perspectives.  These projects raise question about balancing coherent narrative and diverse perspectives in teaching history.

Crowdsourcing the Civil War

Permalink for this paragraph 0 At Furman University, Benson incorporates streaming lectures from Yale historian David Blight with student research and writing for the History Engine when he teaches the U.S. Civil War.  His students’ experiences writing History Engine episodes based on battle reports from mid-level officers helped them to understand more fully historians’ preference for a “social history of combat” over conventional top-down “chess-piece” battle narratives of the sort common in textbooks and classroom lectures.  Thus students leave his course with a fuller understanding of how cultural traditions, individual psychology, home front conflicts, political identifications, perceptions of leadership legitimacy, and such environmental factors as weather and disease all guided and complicated the actions and decisions of individual soldiers and combat units.

Project Mosaic

Permalink for this paragraph 0 At Rollins College, Chambliss led a project that used community-based research to promote faculty dialogue and enhance student learning. Using former Rollins College faculty member Zora Neale Hurston as an orienting subject, this project brought multiple departments together under the banner of the Africa and African-American Studies (AAAS) Program to examine local history and culture. The project facilitated the inclusion of African-American content into participating classes using details of Hurston’s work as author, anthropologist, and her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, as a vehicle to delve deeper into the disciplinary focus of each the participating class. Culminating in an online repository of material, this project leveraged technology, archival research, and community resources to promote greater engagement.

Workshopping the Past

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Tomasek’s students transcribe, mark up, and write about primary sources from the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections in a variety of courses.  Whilst students come to us more and more comfortable with using digital devices, they also continue to arrive in our classrooms more accustomed to passive consumption of lecture material than to active learning. Combining consumption of information—from print or electronic texts, online lectures or other visual media—with creating new knowledge still takes students outside their comfort zones and redefines their expectations.  Site-specific liberal arts education offers students opportunities to challenge themselves to take control of their roles in the digital marketplace both during and after their undergraduate education.

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