Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Restructuring History Education, at All Levels

Screeds warning students about the impracticality of graduate education in the humanities are a dime a dozen. But maybe it's not the education itself that is the problem, but instead the way that said education is structured. For a long time, leading professional organizations like the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Historical Association (AHA) have watched profound changes in the academy take place, yet they have not done anything substantial to revise what graduate education looks like.

A character sketch from the 1943 College Night Production Materials, which are housed in the Annie E. Crawford Milner Archives. This item was digitized by Taylor Kerr in HIST 411 Digital History.

Finally, it seems, that's not the case anymore. As was discussed on the most recent episode of the Digital Campus podcast, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the AHA a $1.6 million grant to assist four prominent history departments as they restructure their doctoral programs. The AHA has recognized that the process of educating people to conduct research and teach in universities across the country is not sustainable. The problem isn't just that people who study history aren't getting jobs. It's much greater than that. Instead, the technological developments and rise in digital culture has transformed the acts of producing and consuming history (for more on this, see N. Katherine Hayles's How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis). Now, "producing history" requires a vastly expanded array of digital literacies and information seeking skills.

This is why the Mellon Foundation awarded the grant to the AHA, which will in turn fund four programs: UCLA, Columbia University, University of Chicago, and University of New Mexico. According to James Grossman, executive director of the AHA, the grant will help create curricula that train doctoral students to find employment in business, government, and the nonprofit world, thus "widening the presence and influence of humanistic thinking" outside of academe.

So what would such revised curricula look like? Examples include:
  • New "clinic" courses to examine how history intersects with public organizations
  • Training with digital tools for work in archives, libraries, and museums
  • Project development that is policy-oriented and reaches out to the public
  • Work with presentation strategies that are more common outside of higher education
At the University of Montevallo, we believe that this revised educational model should begin at the undergraduate level. In the past year, several history classes have developed with national trends in mind and have begin to implement digital history methods into the classroom experience. Robert Barone has facilitated successful archive projects on The History of Ireland and Medieval European History. John Bawden has taught an upper-level course in producing digital history. That class worked on a digital archive that produced collections associated with our archives. Similarly, Carey Heatherly is in the process of teaching a class on Oral History in which students interview members of the campus community and create digital records of those interviews.

We hope that students will gain skills that transfer to many contexts, not just graduate school in the humanities. Further, we hope that their work will lead to an increased body of knowledge produced by the university. Take some time today to visit the library for our History Day event, and while you're here, check out some of these digital projects.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reflection on Archiving Irish History

This semester, students in Robert Barone's HIST 411/511 seminar have been studying the History of Ireland and have created a digital archive of items pertaining to Ireland's history. The final result is an Omeka site, The History of Ireland, which features pictures, videos, primary source documents, and other items related to the political and social life of Ireland.

Students from the class will present their digital exhibits in the J.A. Brown Room in the Carmichael library tomorrow, April 15 from 6-7 PM. The presentation will also include a roundtable discussion on the process of digitizing historical objects and creating digital history exhibits with Omeka. Some of the questions we'll consider include:
  • What is the value of doing Digital History as opposed to doing traditional forms of historical research? 
  • What kind of research did you do to create items on the Omeka archive? How did it compare to the historical research you've done? 
  • What are some difficulties you had with completing the Omeka project? What do you wish we could've done differently? 
  • What other or future uses do you see a tool like Omeka serving? Can you think of any examples on campus? 
 If you're interested in digital history methods and and would like to know more about this process, please join us for the discussion. Anyone is welcome to attend. Light refreshments served.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Resources on Finding and Growing Local Food

Photo by Stephanie Lamphere. Creative Commons license.

Spring is now here and with it, the opportunity to grow your own food or to buy foods that are produced in your own community. The last few years have seen a sharp increase of interest in locally grown food and in the development of community gardens. The Community Garden Coalition for Birmingham lists over 30 community, church-, and school-affiliated gardens. Separately, the state Farmers Market Authority counts eight farmers markets in Shelby County, including one in Montevallo.

Montevallo boasts two community gardens, both founded in 2010. Montevallo Seed to Table offers educational programs on growing healthy food. The university's Organic Community Garden was founded as a project of the UM Environmental Club and produces thousands of pounds of food annually. Much of this produce is donated to Shelby Emergency Assistance.

Last year, I endeavored to collect my own list of area farms and community gardens. Since so many of these have a presence in Facebook, I used the social network's Interest List feature to collect them in one place. You can get to my List here: Birmingham Area Local Food and Produce.

In addition to supporting community gardening, the university's Summer Harvest course is an interdisciplinary offering designed to teach students about the basic issues of food insecurity, food distribution, and food equality. You can learn more about this course at the university's Environmental Studies course page.

Carmichael Library holds several books and videos on producing local food. You can view a sample of them here: Resources on Finding and Growing Local Food. In addition to information on growing food in your backyard, this list includes some coverage of the food industry and the debate on organic versus genetically-modified foods.

Lastly, the Carmichael Library has supported classroom learning on a variety of topics in the environmental sciences. One example of our efforts is our Environmental Studies Research Guide.

Are you planning a food garden this spring? Let us know in the comments and keep in touch. We'd love to know what you're growing and what works for you!