Another One Bites the Dust

Approximately five days ago I realized that this would be my last week of graduate classes. It crept up on me and now its a little bittersweet. Am I really getting sentimental about what could easily be described as voluntary intellectual and emotional torment? Who knows?

Anyway, like I said this is my last week of classes and my last blog post related to my Public History and New Media class. It’s been a  journey, for sure, and an experience in quick paced learning. I can safely say that the majority of the things I learned in this class were new to me, a person who still feels sometimes like a tech novice for my age group.

Never thought I’d ever learn anything about HTML beyond my Myspace days and what do you know? I did, thanks to Dr. Roberts and Codeacademy. Dare I say I even liked it a little and I made this through my HTML skills: Image

The simple joys in life.

I learned many other skills that are important in the job market an public history world these days. I’ve been able to dabble in in Photoshop, get acquainted with Omeka (an open source system for online collections), and be bogged down by the basics of copyright law. Frankly, I might be a little lost, when it comes to newest trends in new media, if it wasn’t for this class. I didn’t even know what Creative Commons was. I even had the privilege of working with my group (Chelsea and Emily) on an artifact video for Loyola University Museum of Art that Ken Burns would be proud of. Furthermore, thanks to this class I finally gave in and created a professional Twitter and this wouldn’t be a successful blog post if i didn’t promote it here.

Web of Stories

I’ve already discussed new media and Web 2.0 a little bit here; it is the contemporary version of the internet that is more participatory and user-generated. As usually, the internet has a way of taking on older traditional means of communication and social interaction and making them digital and dynamic. This is no different when to comes to storytelling which is surely one of the oldest forms of communal entertainment. From tall tales to the “back in my day” stories, people have always been interested in each others’ experiences or imaginations.

Author Bryan Alexander’s book The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media explores what are the current relationships between new media and storytelling. In the fourth chapter of his book, “Web 2.0 Storytelling”, he discusses blogs, Twitter, wikis (which are web applications which allow for users to collaborate and create content), Facebook, and “social images” (images that might be on the image-based website like Flickr, for instance). Each of these sites or applications allow for people to create stories or narratives and for people to not only share them but perhaps comment on or adapt them. While I’m not completely sold on Alexander’s belief that Twitter can be a place of storytelling, I suppose it is possible to grasp a story from the short vain messages that make up the site. I’m more convinced by things like blogs (perhaps I am slightly textually biased) but I’m even more certain that images can tell as much of a story as a “tweet”, if not more. Of course, many images have led many people astray, and we all know the fantasy world of computer edited images.

Of course, digital storytelling can be a useful tool in the museum for exhibitions and museum education. Freeman Tilden said that interpretation is “not instruction but provocation”. Interpretation in the museum setting means sharing a narrative to demonstrate meaning, significance, and feeling. In other words, I can hand you a list of factual of historic dates or can I tell you an account from history. One historical story is told on Flickr through the creation of edited photos that are historic World War II images merged with the same location in contemporary times called Ghosts of War. I enjoy many of the images because the creator goal is to show that “history is all around us”. The creator has adapted images to tell another story of change over time while making audiences see locations in a different way. Check out this one depicting a SS recruitment office from the war era merged with a current image of a diverse Amsterdam:

Ghosts of war

The Optical Telegraph and Industrial Education

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.