As museums and historical institutions have increased their web presence, so too have we seen the rise of the digital exhibit. For public history graduate students, it’s almost impossible to escape a program without designing one of your own. Below, several past and current students of the Public History Program at Loyola University Chicago unpack the good and the bad of digital exhibits while adding some constructive suggestions along the way.
It is obvious that entering a digital exhibit is different from crossing the threshold of a physical exhibit space. What makes this difference important to us as public historians is how people react to what is being presented. In contrast to entering a designed physical space, the “threshold” one crosses when entering a digital exhibit on a computer screen has the same sensory experience as buying books or looking up pictures of cats. It is just another “click” in a long line of “clicks.”
by Pamela Johnson, Masters Student in Modern European History at Loyola University Chicago. Crossposted from The Scholarly Wife.
This past semester, I wrote a paper on historian Natalie Zemon Davis entitled, “Encounters and Crossings: The Life and Work of Natalie Zemon Davis.” Known for her charming writing style and impressive archival research, Davis has gravitated towards “exposing and bringing to life the histories of those groups often suppressed in traditional historical narratives.” She is a historian of early modern France, but more recently her work has taken her outside of Europe. Her life as both a woman and a Jew has been a story of encounters and crossings, a desire to be in the center, while challenging from the periphery. In reminiscing on her time in grade school, she once remarked, “I was very eager to be a good student and to be popular and do all the other things you were supposed to do, but I was Jewish.” She went on to say, “I was certainly an outsider.” The contradictions of center and periphery have guided Davis throughout her historical career.
There are striking similarities between Davis’ life and my own. She struggled with her Jewish identity in her younger days and I have wrestled with what it means to be African American. The complexities of African American identity sometimes astound me. It’s interesting that no matter how old you get, you still never fully grasp or understand it…for the identity is a paradox in itself. It is ambiguous because it attempts to be both African and American, while simultaneously, it is neither. You’re no longer found in the motherland, abandoned instead on strange soil. Yet this is your home…but here you are often rejected, often despised, often misunderstood. You feel an unspoken separation from both localities. So, in the end, where do you stand?
Okay so, I had a super fun find while refoldering and adding admiralty cases to the database a few weeks ago. Admiralty cases, remember, are those relating to the Great Lakes and are heard in federal court, specifically the Northern district of Ohio, Eastern division (Cleveland).
Anyway, the first case I opened on Tuesday morning after I got to work was number 3206, “In the Matter of the effects of Frank Holmes, deceased seaman, late a member of the crew, A. W. Osborne.” Evidently, Mr. Holmes drowned on July 30, 1934 (sad). His effects stayed with the case because his family (if he had one in the states) was never located. The master of the steamer, W. G. Coles, sent a statement and Holmes’ personal effects to Vance & Joys Company, a vessel agent for the Wilson Transit Company, on December 23, 1934. In his personal effects were several neat objects: A pocket watch, an envelope from the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York containing discharge slips from the various ships of which he was a crew member, a blue membership book to the International Seamen’s Union of America, and a leather US Army Honorable Discharge folder containing his discharge papers (duh) AND his certificate of naturalization (OMG)!
For the 9th Annual Loyola History Graduate Student Conference, the LUC Public History Committee will host a roundtable on “Revisionist Public History.” This is a post that introduces a case study on the topic. The Committee welcomes participation both online and at the conference. If you have an example of “Revisionist” Public History, please feel free to mention it as a comment on the blog, or contact the blog editors to request the opportunity to author a guest post. For more information on the Conference and the Roundtable–to be held November 3 at Loyola’s downtown Water Tower Campus–click here.
This post comes from Dr. Sarah Doherty, a recent graduate of Loyola’s Public History/US History joint PhD program.
This past summer I spent a week in Salt Lake City as an AP World History grader. I had ample opportunity to visit local cultural institutions, but I was most interested in taking a look around Temple Square which is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The ten acre Temple Square compound was filled with pairs of helpful young women tour guides from around the world on their mission year. They cheerfully provided visitors with information about Temple Square, history of Mormons in Utah and if you stood still for too long read you scripture from copies of the Book of Mormon they all carried.
In the North Visitors Center, guests to Temple Square are greeted with a history of the universe as told by the LDS. On my first visit I was accompanied by a group of other world history teachers who all had running commentary below their breaths about the “history” that was presented. I went back alone to revisit one exhibit that particularly piqued my interest. As seen in the above photo, a hippie looking Jesus spent some time hanging out with indigenous peoples of the New World. The exhibit label was titled “Jesus Christ Visited Ancient America.” I am not well-versed in biblical history or archaeology, but I am quite certain that the vast majority of scholars in these fields would agree with me that the widely accepted Christian cannon and historical record does not support Jesus traveling to the Americas. I stepped back from the exhibit as a tour group with a bunch of young children approached. The young female tour guide asked the children if they knew what Jesus did in the New World. The children, in their excited voices, all chimed in that Jesus taught the Aztec and Maya how to read and write. The tour guide affirmed their answer and all the parents of the children nodded in agreement. As a teacher of Native American history I found the entire lesson and historical interpretation of the exhibit troubling.
In thinking about revisionist history, how do we evaluate historical interpretations that do no support the established historical record? Do we simply dismiss the Mormons, one of the fastest growing modern religions, as crazy folk on society’s fringes? Or, must we give serious consideration to world and biblical history as presented by the LDS?
What do public history grad students do with their summers? Learn about the exciting internships and projects that students are undertaking across the country. And check back in the fall for students’ reflection on their summer work. Continue reading →