13 Revolutions +1

Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, "Portrait of America," 1934

Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, “Portrait of America,” 1934

When John Adams looked back on the American Revolution (something he liked to do), he reflected that, “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.” The colonists’ drive to independence marked a new era of American history, Adams thought, when “Thirteen Clocks were made to Strike together; a perfection of Mechanism which no Artist had ever before effected.” Scholars have struggled to frame the experience of the Revolution in picture and on the page. How can we use digital tools to curate collections of revolutionary culture and #vastearlyamerica for use in the classroom?

Today, The Junto chats with Darren Milligan, Senior Digital Strategist at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, about the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which encourages us to make, use, and share new galleries of history.  Continue reading

Guest Post: The Value of Storytelling

We’re thrilled to welcome as our latest guest poster, Casey Schmitt. Casey is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law under the supervision of Brett Rushforth. Casey holds an MA in history from the University of Utah, where she wrote an excellent thesis on the British Asiento, illicit trade, and the limits of empire in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Her teaching and research interests center on the inter-imperial nature of the early modern Americas.

As a newly-minted ABD embarking on my first stab at teaching the early American history survey, I find myself buried beneath my own excitement for the material. No one warned me that the biggest obstacle to designing a course would be curbing my own unrelenting enthusiasm. Perhaps no part of that enthusiasm has proven more damaging to my syllabus than my passion for storytelling. Specifically, I approached teaching the early America survey with a litany of historical works of fiction and non-fiction that I wanted to familiarize undergraduates with: 12 Years a Slave, Benito Cereno, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Letters From an American Farmer, among many, many other titles. Before too long I was looking at a weekly reading word count over 150 pages. Yikes. Continue reading

Up to Code

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Today, The Junto chats with David Riordan, Product Manager of NYPL Labs, about Building Inspector, a crowdsourced digital project that invites citizen cartographers to “help unlock New York City’s past by identifying buildings and other details on beautiful old maps.” Read on about the Vectorizor, how you can contribute to The New York City Space/Time Directory, and how NYPL is making the “Google Maps of the past.”
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Edutainment and the Boston Tea Party

In recent years, the museum world has become inundated with edutainment sites and exhibits that hope to entice younger, more tech-savvy visitors, as well as people who do not tend to frequent museums, with all the bells and whistles of electronics and media. Videos, audio recordings, touch screens, and smart phone apps attempt to make history relevant to modern-day audiences by drawing them in with high-resolution graphics and multi-sensory experiences. At a time when funding for cultural institutions often takes a back seat, and when technology is everywhere and impossible to ignore, this push to increase revenue, visitation, and visitor interaction is unavoidable and understandable.

I recently ventured to the Boston Tea Party MuseumHistoric Tours of America’s updated and expanded building (to the tune of $28 million) along the Boston waterfront, and one of the most extreme examples of edutainment that I’ve seen. My visit got me thinking about the ways in which history museums use technology and media to attract visitors, and the ways in which this technology can both clarify and obscure the historical information that is presented to the public. After touring the Boston Tea Party Museum I couldn’t help but wonder, when does a museum stop being a museum and become something else entirely?  Continue reading