Portfolio Post 7/13

I certainly learned a great deal watching the interviews and examples of student projects from previous semesters. I’ve always believed that the best way to inspire creativity is to show, when possible, a range of examples or models of good work. I particularly enjoyed: Historical Thinking and Writing (to create Digital Projects)
and Erin Bush: Women and Crime.

These two projects were quite different but equally admirable in their scope, purpose, sources, and pedagogy/lesson plan(s). I actually plan to pass along the Historical Thinking project to our librarians and information specialists. In addition, I could see myself using the Women and Crime project in my own US history class.

Other projects that I also found helpful were more specific: Campus Disorder: 1969 and Lighthouse history teachers’ guide. In many ways, these projects mirror my Power of Persuasion project because of a more limited thematic range of sources. However, my project has more components and is designed to be used in history and English classes.

The student examples have changed my thinking about my own final project. I think that I have done an adequate job with the big picture and selecting particular primary sources. But I need to work on more clearly articulating and writing the related assignments and how they will be assessed. I also realized in watching the interviews that good projects can be designed in a relatively short period of time, but great project need continued tweaking, revisions, and additions based on student learning and user feedback.

I will work to finalize my project on Friday and Saturday before heading to visit Michigan State University’s LEADR facility and staff (Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research). I am excited to see a well established digital humanities program in action and to meet with its staff and faculty members.


Portfolio Post

James W. Loewen‘s Lies My Teacher Told Me was first published in 1995, and I had just graduated from high school. I read the book my freshman year of college. In thinking about the malleability of the past, I first think of this book — my first ah-ha moment when realizing that much of the history content I had learned and the narrative in which it was presented was not the iron-clad truth. I learned that history was messy, and yes, malleable. The digital world has both complicated and clarified historical thinking, historiography, and history classrooms.

The digital age has complicated our work as educators because we can not longer rely on a singular authoritative text. This is not a bad thing, but it does make lesson plans and class preps more challenging for teachers. How do we choose which primary sources and secondary sources to use in our classrooms? Are we providing students with the freedom to draw their own conclusions or are we giving the illusion of choice? When I first began teaching in 2000, my school system emphasized having an “essential question” for each lesson. The digital world, with its seemingly infinite resources make the “essential question” exercise even more essential. Students need to know what they are trying to find, and have the intellectual training to recognize and achieve learning objectives. Likewise, teachers need to be able to articulate learning objectives and outcomes.

With digital resources at our fingertips, students and teachers can share in the fluid and ongoing process of historical and critical thinking. In this way, learning in the digital age has clarified the ways in which we learn history. I had to read Loewen’s book to realize that the past was malleable and motivated/shaped by many forces. Students today come in with this knowledge and with the understanding that there are often multiple versions of “truth.” Often while teaching a student will ask a question, or I will pose a question to the class, and before I can say, “I’m not sure.” or “What do you think?” — students check facts, dates, and answer questions in real-time.  They can enter class never having heard of Mother Ann Lee or Henry Clay or Sally Hemmings or Peggy Eaton or Joseph McCarthy, and by the end of class find themselves deep in a rabbit-hole of intellectual intrigue. This is made possible by the devices they hold in their hands or balance on their laps.

Web 2.0 open sources and social media platforms have enabled, and frankly demand, that students ingest information differently and at a different pace than generations before. With this speed and efficiency also comes great responsibility. Teaching students what to do and how to process the malleable past in the digital age — that responsibility is up to us. We, as historians and history educators, are more important that ever.



HIST689 Project Proposal

I am still unable to speak with specificity about my final project because it involves working with other teachers in other disciplines and those meetings are scheduled for next week. However, I do plan to create two projects with a Latin teacher that overlap with history. The first is a project that involves ORBIS and also makes use of several historical primary sources including Diocletian’s Price Edict. This project will be designed with an interdisciplinary focus that includes economics, Latin, and history. The second project involves the use of open-source programs such as Voyant, Knot, and Palladio.

The other group I am working with includes US History teachers (both AP and non-AP), English literature teachers, and AP English language teachers. I also envision designing a project with them that use Voyant, Knot, and Palladio using primary sources that service both disciplines. However, I would also like to create a crowdsourcing project, perhaps using oral interviews uploaded and marked using the University of Kentucky’s OHMS database. The details of this project should emerge more next week.

1. How will digital media and/or digital tools be important to teaching my target audience one of the essential lessons I’ll be focusing on in my project?

All of these projects will involve students as both consumers and producers in terms of digital media and digital tools.

2. What, specifically, about the digital environment will influence what you do and why?

I intend to use the digital environment to give create student-teacher learning whereby there are general outcomes but the mode, manner, and method will be shaped by a process of discovery. I would like to follow both Wineburg and Caldor’s models of empathy and uncoverage. I will also need to make sure that the digital tools used in these projects enhance and enrich the curriculum rather than diminishing or detracting from it.


Final Project Ideas for HIST689

I have several ideas about the final project for this course but they are a bit “outside the box.” I understand that the goal is to create a student web-based project with learning opportunities and goals for students and stated desired outcomes.

Creating an individual project based on a topic or unit for a class I teach would be fine, but I’ve been recently named coordinator for a Digital Humanities initiative at Harpeth Hall School (my day job in addition to one adjunct class per semester at Belmont). One of my tasks for the summer is to work with two teacher groups to design  projects that incorporate DH methods and online tools. I am working with a 1) Latin teacher and 2) a larger group that includes all junior-level English and history teachers. Aside from my DH goals, I am also a junior-level AP US history teacher giving me a dual role in that group whereby I would be creating a project for a class I teach. Another goal for my DH coordinator summer work is to design a digital infrastructure where these and other projects can be hosted as part of a larger digital portfolio. The goal is to produce something along the lines of the LEADR lab at Michigan State University:

For this class I would love to work on these two separate but connected projects. I recognize that this would change the typical questions and important historical issues that the HIST689 project is designed to spark, but I am hoping that with Dr. Kelly’s approval I can find a way to approach the project requirements with a little creative license. There are still difficult questions and issues for students to make sense of– just not necessarily and solely tied to history or a course that I teach.  My goal would be more along the lines of Lévesque’s argument to move (or combine) substantive content with procedural content using practices, tools, skills and methods related to DH.



Teaching History Today

This module forced me to rethink the what, who, how, and why of my own teaching. I have never read any of the authors/historians given for this module (other than a little Wineburg), and I appreciated the holistic approach each provided while simultaneously offering a slightly different view on how best to teach history or rather how best to teach students to study history as a living, fluid, complex discipline. From reading about and reflecting on  “threshold concepts” to “decoding the discipline” to “uncoverage” it is more apparent to me than ever that teaching history has changed little over the past century. In my own research of educational trends during the Progressive Era: elective courses, practical majors (as opposed to purely philosophical or classical majors), extracurricular opportunities, and professors as experts are still core elements of teaching history and other mainstream subject areas. I have argued that a paradigmatic shift is long overdue and we are in the midst of just such a transition. Incidentally, it’s one reason that I joined the DH Certificate Program at GMU.

In teaching a course last fall in the Honors Program at Belmont University, we held an event featuring Dr. Joel Harrington, author of The Faithful Executioner (a book the class read) and department chair for the Vanderbilt’s History Department. Before he began he asked the fifty-five members of the Honors Program in attendance to introduce themselves and share their major. After they finished I had my own epiphany. There was not one history major, no English or Political Science majors, no foreign language majors, no economic majors, not even a single sociology or anthropology major. Instead the majors were all interdisciplinary, skills-based, or broadly categorized. Examples included: global leadership studies, nursing, publishing, music business, and sports science. I realized in this moment that I needed to reinvent my teaching and my discipline if I were to stay relevant (not to mention history as a subject). That includes both what I teach and how I teach. The readings and activities associated with this module only reinforce this conclusion, although there are three questions that will inform the way I actualize and implement my approach to teaching history today:

  1. How do I make history relevant to students?

I think the answer to this question starts with using current events, social media, and role play to generate empathy in an effort to “humanize history.”  I made one attempt to do so using Twitter and allowing students to choose a figure of study from the Early Modern European period (the course’s title and scope). It worked great and culminated in a “Meeting of the Minds” in-class debate where the students channeled their historical figure to debate current issues. It was also a great deal of fun.

2. How do I make teaching history interdisciplinary?

I also strive to do this but have fallen short of a true course redesign. My greatest success is allowing students to complete a capstone project that takes the heart of our topic (in this class “Making the Modern City”) and apply it to Nashville. You can see from the student projects that their topics were wide-ranging and truly interdisciplinary. Their shared capstones were/are part of my own final project for HIST680 with Dr. Robertson.–present–future–downtow

3. Why do I teach history, and should the method matter?

The first part is easy. I love it. The most consistent feedback I get on evaluations, going back 15 years, is that I am passionate about what I teach. In watching Caldor’s interview I realize that I already employ aspects of “Uncoverage.” But I have much to learn to help students “decode the discipline” and get past “threshold concepts.” I also need to move more toward experiential learning and away from the  text-driven/teacher-driven  model. The method does matter, i.e. digital learning and projects help with the first two questions. But also important, my passion for the subject matters too. Because I love history I need to dissect and reexamine my methods as I continue to teach.


Dr. Kelly’s article “The History Curriculum in 2023” was music to my ears and I agree wholeheartedly with his view of teaching history and of the state of our history curriculum as it stands now. As an addendum to this post I believe his article has pushed me further toward a total course redesign for undergraduate and 9-12 history courses. At the high school where I teach they unveiled and made a substantial financial investment into a maker space that they named “Design Den.” And while it is open to all classes, it is not geared toward history or the humanities. We need history “lab” spaces and we need to better investigate ways to use 3-D printers and the like in our curriculum. As historians we cannot simply remain vessels of knowledge or even master teachers, we must also figure out how to harness new technologies to engage students actively and as participants while not abandoning basic skills of research, writing, and critical thinking. It is and will remain a challenge but one we must accept if we hope to stay relevant in a drastically changing landscape in higher education, and more important, skills that translate into the professional world.