Jessica and I spent our first rotation at CHNM in the Education division. We had the opportunity to help out with a number of projects, including Understanding Sacrifice, Through the Doors of Stratford: Desegregating Arlington Public Schools (an online course for Arlington Public Schools), Eagle Eye Citizen, and Hidden in Plain Sight.
Understanding Sacrifice is a professional development program for teachers to research a service member buried in one of the American Battle Monuments Commission’s cemeteries and create a lesson plan using resources from ABMC. For Understanding Sacrifice, we started out transcribing YouTube videos of teachers giving eulogies for the fallen heroes they had researched. I had not created subtitles for YouTube videos before, but it was easy to catch on, making it a nice task for easing into the division. I ended up learning a smattering of army terminology as I did the research to make sure that what I thought I heard were real words. We moved on to proofreading the fallen hero profiles, which was also an informative experience. As a bonus, I had the chance to brush up on my basic HTML skills (for italics, superscript, etc.). Along with several others who work in Education, we also proofread lesson plans, paying special attention to ensuring consistent formatting, particularly between the online versions and the pdf versions. I enjoyed putting to use my eye for detail, but the process really showed me just how important it is to pay attention to the little things in digital work. All of those small details add up to a polished product, making it especially useful to get multiple eyes on something before it goes live.
One of the projects that we spent the most time on was Eagle Eye Citizen, a free website for middle and high schoolers to learn civics and historical thinking by solving and creating challenges about primary sources from the Library of Congress. Because it is still being built, we had the opportunity to help with the content. Our first task was gathering links to Library of Congress resources (like online exhibitions, digital collections, and primary source guides) that connect to the topics covered in Eagle Eye Citizen (for example, topics under the theme of elections include campaigns, voting, third parties, political beliefs, etc.). This was challenging partly because of the shortage of relevant resources for certain topics and partly because of the difficulty of navigating the Library of Congress’ website. The process of learning to navigate the site was a great way to learn about all of the content available from the Library of Congress, and I know I will apply this knowledge to my own research in the future. We also had the chance to come up with questions about different images that students will get to choose from when making their own challenges. Needing to put myself in the mindset of a middle or high school student showed me the importance of thinking about audience and the need to create content that is challenging without being inscrutable. Our work with Eagle Eye Citizen wrapped up in an exciting way. We spent a day operating an Eagle Eye Citizen booth at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference, giving away stress balls shaped like the U.S. Capitol and signing people up for a mailing list. Everyone loved the stress balls, and the response from teachers about the website was just as enthusiastic. They especially loved that it’s free, that it can be used in civics curriculum, and that it combines primary sources with digital learning. Getting to interact with potential users of a project that I had worked on was a great experience; it really demonstrated to me the usefulness and significance of our work at the Center.
Our other big project was creating modules for Hidden in Plain Sight, an online course for teachers to earn recertification credit by learning to teach history through objects. Each module presents a seemingly ordinary object that actually helps tell an important historical narrative when put into context and connected to primary sources. Inspired by the work of historian Daniel Usner, I created a module on Chitimacha basketry. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Chitimacha Nation worked with the heiresses of the Tabasco Pepper Sauce company to sell their baskets to a growing network of collectors, activists, and anthropologists. Selling baskets not only helped the Chitimachas economically but also helped them form important alliances that enabled them to secure federal recognition. I connect this story to larger narratives of dispossession, assimilation and resistance, the limits of white activism, world’s fairs and the politics of display, termination policy, and survivance. In creating our modules, we had to consider what historical subjects weren’t covered by the other modules, but we also had to consider what kinds of sources weren’t represented well enough. I noticed the need for more government documents, and, as it turned out, my research uncovered a lot of interesting ones to use. The hardest part of the module was finding primary sources to use that were not only easily accessible but permissible to include on the Hidden in Plain Sight website. Never having had to worry about copyright and permissions in the context of historical research before, this was a really great learning opportunity. I also appreciated having the opportunity to choose my own topic and work on something that I am interested in and familiar with, something that is not always possible when working on projects at a center. Overall, the first rotation was productive and informative. Next up, we start our work in the Research division.
Originally posted on the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Digital History Fellows blog.