My apologies for being away so long but I’m back with new content! With graduation on the horizon (roughly 4 months away), currently I’m enrolled in a public history and “new media” course. Honestly, the term “new media” is…well…new to me. I was not familiar with the term till a few months ago. New media is beyond radio, magazines, or television programs. It is what encompasses much of what is happening in contemporary American today; video games, websites, and everything in between. New media seems to be everywhere and has been praised and critiqued for what it means for psychology, sociology, politics, education, and history.
What I’m interested in here is what new media has to do with the practice of public history. In particular, I have a personal interest in its meaning in museum education because I hope to be that field in the future. In New Media, 1740-1915, editor Lisa Gitelman makes the argument that all media was new at some point and the articles that follow her introduction demonstrate that old media used to bring up similar issues to the ones we face in the present-day.
The third chapter, Children of Media, Children as Media: Optical Telegraphs, Indian Pupils, and Joseph Lancaster’s System for Cultural Replication (a hefty title) written by Patricia Crain explores a nineteenth century educational media. In the mid to late 1800s, Joseph Lancaster, a former Englishmen turned American, changed his pedagogy designed for the London poor into missionary-style system for educating Native Americans. His pedagogy, influenced by a Eurocentric colonialism, provided American schools with a manual to mass educate while at the same time supporting acculturation in Indian boarding schools. His methods were highly visual and the teacher was merely there to dictate repetitious and standardized tasks for students. Lancaster’s pedagogy also called for the use of the optical telegraph.
The optical telegraph is not actually a telegraph it is a set of mechanized signs to alert people to do a task, it usually a flags or something similar. The telegraph was used to alert students to their scheduled task through the visual signaling system. The factory like setting of mass classroom with a rigid schedule that encouraged mimicking and decreased privacy had a modern feel not so unlike computers. Public historians and educators alike have begun to use computerized learning. In my opinion, the Lancasterian system, which also rewarded students with tokens for gifts, is not that unlike video game. Furthermore, Lancaster was not particularly interested in books for classroom learning but the use of over-sized posters. While education outside of books has its appealing aspects you could hardly say that Lancaster’s system was beneficial to the majority of students, particularly non-Western people like Native American children with a very different understanding of identity and knowledge. Perhaps the newest media can help present-day children and the larger public in a way that Lancaster couldn’t — on an individual level with cultural sensitivity.