Scotland Travels 2016: History, Hiking, and Heritage; Pt. 2: Glasgow Edition

After such fabulous adventures in Edinburgh, we headed the next day to Glasgow. What can I say about Glasgow… not as much as I’d like, for reasons you will soon discover.

img_20160512_135053115-01Upon our arrival, we walked to our AirBnB along the River Clyde.  Our trip coincided with the best weather Scotland had seen in a while, and the normally genial Glaswegians were in a particularly rare good mood brought on by the sun and warmth after a long, wet, grey winter. Spring had sprung!

img_20160512_151521We explored the city, and ended up walking to the Kelvingrove Museum, which is a delightful mix of natural history and taxidermy (my favorite!), local history, and world history, with a bit of art thrown in as well.  And the building is beautiful!! We saw a haggis in its natural habitat, a mummy, and some nice creepy floaty heads. After exploring to our hearts content, we headed to the cafe and had a perfect afternoon tea. By this time, the museum was closing, so we headed back along the river for pizza and beer by our flat.

Next day, we were up and ready to explore.  The weather was slightly grayer today, but the people remained the most hospitable I’ve met.  Troublingly so. This day was for Charles’ museums, so we spent the morning and early afternoon scouring art galleries, with the afternoon set aside for me to trace some family history, and maybe see the cemetery and cathedral.

img_20160513_121746226-01We went to the Glasgow Museum of Contemporary Art, home of a beautiful ceiling, and the CCA as well.  The art museums are largely a blur, other than the ceiling pictures I continued to collect, and with the exception of one exhibit at the Glasgow Center for Contemporary Arts that I randomly thought of the other day. Pilvi Takala’s exhibit captivated me for a while, and I could have watched the videos in the exhibit all day.  For some reason, this one about a boarding school in particular stuck with me.

After exploring, we did a bit of shopping and stopped in a pub for a quick snack (all the chips and vinegar, please!!).  In this pub we happened to be seated next to Joe and his girlfriend. Joe really liked Charles’ beard. Joe was a typical friendly and welcoming Glaswegian.  Joe and his girlfriend found out we were on our honeymoon.  And proceeded to buy us ALL the pints and ALL the whiskeys in honor of our trip.  After escaping the hospitable clutches of our new best friend Joe, it was late, we were tired, and we knew we would have sore heads in the morning. img_20160513_161752152


As such, we did not make it to see the address where my Great Grandma Greta spent her first five years. It was across the river from where we were staying, but as we had to catch a train into the highlands the next day, we didn’t quite make it there.

Great Grandma Greta and her family at their cabin in Alaska.

Great Grandma Greta and her family at their cabin in Alaska.

That face!

That face!

Here is a good opportunity to talk about my familial “spirit animal” if you will. I wish I knew more about her, and I really need to talk to family about her before I lose that opportunity.  For whatever reason, I feel a special connection to my paternal maternal great grandmother (got that? Dad’s Mom’s Mom).

I know she was born in Glasgow, came to America, married my Great Grandfather, and took up residence as a full-time badass.  She lived in a lighthouse on Dumplin Rock in MA, moved her family including 3 children to the wilderness of Alaska to live in a log cabin as homesteaders pre-WWII, and in photos she always looked like she was happy, funny, and up to something sneaky. She also sewed my grandmother’s wedding dress, which became my wedding dress.  From I learned that she was born in Glasgow around 1910, and at age 5 she immigrated to the US.  The records on ancestry even showed me an address for her aunt who lived in Glasgow. As I said, we didn’t make it to her actual address, but it was amazing to be in the city one part of family had connections to. screen-shot-2016-04-08-at-10-56-28-am

The next day, we woke up to another beautiful, sunny day, and we boarded the train to the highlands…

Scotland Travels 2016: History, Hiking, and Heritage; Pt. 1

And now for something completely different from the most recent series. Travel. Travel that involves history and hiking. Living the dream.

Cemetery times!

Cemetery times!

As soon as our final grades were submitted at the end of our first academic year at Coastal, my husband and I finally left the country on our honeymoon.  #ClaryWeeHighlandHoneymoon2016 was an amazing success. Walked/hiked: over 115 Miles. Spotted: a million sheep and bebe lambs, 1 Elton John twin, a handful of coo, a couple dozen deer and stags, 2 wild goats, 1 Prince, and a hundred black slugs. Gained: 3 stitches and a highland battle scar, as well as a bruise that goes on for days, lotsa tweed, a fancy sporran, one bruised ego, a bagpipe chanter, and lovely memories to last a lifetime. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We started our trip in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Soon after we landed in Auld Reekie we set out on the town to see Greyfriar’s Kirk and cemetery and a quick jaunt up Arthur’s Seat. After a delicious dinner at our hotel (which used to be the old Edinburgh Bedlam Asylum – perfect!) and a fried Mars bar, we rested up for a full day of exploring.

img_20160511_115410160Our second day in Edinburgh, we headed to the National Library of Scotland where we had noticed the day before they had an exhibit on about Plague! Very fortuitous that all my favorite things were happening while we were there.  The exhibit was a great display of documents and records, books, related sources, maps, and a lot of wet specimens the library had for whatever reason (that I highly approve of).  The exhibit cases were especially impressive, as they were coffins you opened to see the info inside!  Marketing for the exhibit, which caught our eye the day before, was also brilliant, as you followed rat stickers up the steps to the exhibit. Perfection.

img_20160511_160324A bit of meandering and lunch at the library, and we were off again.  We caught all the main sites: Edinburgh Castle, the most amazing vintage store ever, Armstrong and Sons in Grassmarket, Elephant House where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and the Tartan weaving exhibition that explained how kilts are made. We also stopped in the oldest pub in Edinburgh, which became a theme of the trip (oldest pubs in towns, not just pubs in general, though, that, too).

Gorgeous National Museum of Scotland

Gorgeous National Museum of Scotland

Next, we stopped in the National Museum of Scotland, but we only had a short amount of time, as they were closing in one hour.  We did a quick tour of the natural history, saw some Robert the Bruce and William Wallace swords, played with the interactive, and headed on out as the docents closed things down.

After shopping and wandering, we decided to give Mary King’s Close a shot.  I was a bit wary of the set-up, since I’d heard it was a bit cheesy and silly, but I also didn’t want to pass up the chance to see a set-up of a reconstructed close.  The close in Edinburgh was a staple of life for people in the overcrowded city, and still is today to an extent.  Closes today are no longer (usually) cesspools of disease crammed with tenement housing, though if you head off the Royal Mile you may see one.

img_20160512_002531Heading into Mary King’s Close to purchase tickets, we noticed a crowd outside St. Giles Cathedral.  We asked a policeman what was going on, and by the saints, THE PRINCE was inside.  Not Prince William or Prince Harry… and the Queen and Kate Middleton were no where in site… but Charles, Prince of Wales, future king of England (unless EII outlives us all).  We had already purchased timed tickets, so I resigned myself to not getting to see royalty on this trip and headed into eh undersides of Edinburgh.

The Mary Kings Close attraction was actually a delight.  We had a fantastic guide (Thanks Chris. T!!) and the site made good use of personal stories, creepy mannequins, and technologies.  We even got a photo with Chris T. as a souvenir.

The Prince!!

The Prince!!

We left Mary King’s Close to head back to the asylum, er hotel, and lo and behold – the Prince was still at the cathedral.  A very nice officer allowed us to stand with him to watch for the royal to leave.  And I had the absolute best possible view as he drove by and on to Holyrood.  I finally got to see a royal.  He may not have been my 1st, 2nd, or 6th choice, but he was a royal and it made my day.  History!!!

Next day, on to Glasgow, home of my ancestral spirit animal, Great Grandma Greta. Coming up next….

Reflecting on Influences: Adapting Courses Over the Years

I’m currently thinking about how I can adapt my HIST101: Foundations of European Civilizations Part 1 course when my university’s new Core Curriculum plan rolls out in the fall.  As I think about the projects that have worked, or not had the outcomes that I wanted, I looked back to my first year of teaching this course for inspiration.

Here is what I thought, back in 2012, as I participated in my Ph.D. residency colloquium and taught my first college course, World Civilizations: “Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts[1] was the most influential and interesting book that I read not only during my residency year but probably in my entire academic career.”  Wow!  Big claims.  I need to revisit Wineburg’s book soon and see how this holds up. As a resident in the program, I had no intentions to teach full-time, and instead I planned to enter the public history field on the ground, which I did.  Now, however, I’m back in academia, teaching 101, public history courses, and even a graduate course.

What else did I think about Wineburg?  Let us see…

The author approaches several questions I have wondered about both in my studies and in the beginning of my residency such as why people study history at all, what history can teach us not just about the past but about humanity and ourselves, how history should be taught, and what exactly history’s place is outside of the classroom. Wineburg’s analysis of how people learn, and how history has been taught in the past is enthralling.  Additionally, the questions he asks, such as why to study history and what students should learn from their history classes, were intriguing and thought-provoking, I taught my first class in a “traditional” classroom.  I wish that I had read this book a lot sooner, as both an educator in museums and historical sites, and as a new teacher of college-level survey history.

In planning for my own World Civilizations I course, I wanted to introduce my students to the global culture through the class and stories that can be found throughout ancient and classical history. I wanted to focus on the connections of cultures through themes to humanize the people and civilizations we talk about.  Additionally, critical thinking and questioning are ground stones for my course structure.  Explaining to my students that the people in the past are foreign to us and some of the things they did were strange is not difficult; students often bring that up in class and claim that they find something about ancient cultures “weird.”  I often tried to relate the actions and values of people from the past to my students here in the present.

Wineburg claims that “strange” history that excludes people and does not engage others.[2]  I keenly felt this with World Civilizations which many people find to be foreign.  However many people have an inexplicable love for Ancient Egypt as evidenced in popular culture, museum exhibitions, Halloween costumes, and countless other venues.  Perhaps in the case of Egypt the strangeness is what is appealing.  In my class I tried to appeal to the interesting “strangeness” of each culture or group that were studied in an effort to engage  students in conversation and thinking about these people, or even to get them to remember any little detail about these people from the past.  In class we asked such questions as, what will people in the future think about our civilization?  Will we be considered strange by people looking back to the past in which we live?

I love looking back at my old work (even though sometimes it is cringe-worthy), and I can’t wait to re-read Wineburg.  I hope time hasn’t spoiled him for me!


Tenement Museum: Technology, History, & Contemporary Issues @ Shop Life

In March I had the opportunity to visit New York City again, and, as is usually the case, booked a space in the (arguably best neighborhood in the city) Lower East Side. There are a lot of things that make the LES the best, including food, architecture, and the relatively quiet streets, but one of the best attributes the LES can boast is the LowerEast Side Tenement Museum.

Reflections: Our wee group outside the Tenement

The Tenement Museum was a staple of my graduate education discussion groups, in part for their innovative interpretation and programs.  As I continued my education as a PhD student, the ground-breaking efforts to include people with disabilities in a (somewhat problematic) space became a focus of my research, and I’ve written about their efforts in previous blogs.

On this most recent trip, I met up with some fellow museum professionals in the city, and we booked tickets for the Shop Life tour.  This is the newest tour at the museum, and also the only tour within the actual historic building that is accessible for people with mobility issues.  The museum website describes the tour: “.. visitors explore the immigrant businesses once located at 97 Orchard Street, where communities worked, shopped, celebrated and struggled for more than a century. The exhibit features a re-created 1870’s German beer saloon once run by John and Caroline Schneider, as well as an interactive “sales counter” where visitors select audio and visual media clips to explore the stories of turn-of-the-century kosher butchers Israel and Goldie Lustgarten, 1930s auctioneer Max Marcus, and 1970s undergarment discounters Frances & Sidney Meda.”

Photo from the Tenement Museum website.

The tour started in the German bar set-up from the 1870s.  Our group was not a particularly lively group of tourists, but our tour guide made the most of it with interactive aspects of the tour as well as inquiry-based learning.  From the story of the Schneiders’ business, we went through the building to see rooms that are in various states of preservation or excavation.

Advertisement announcing the opening of Schneider’s Beer Garden in the LES

One of the coolest aspects of this tour, aside from the interpretation of a range of time periods and personal stories of the people who lived there, was the use of primary sources in the interpretation of the space. On my first tour of the museum in 2012 I noticed the commitment to the use of primary sources and photographs, and this tour was not an exception.  Advertisements, photographs, menus, announcements, and other sources all provided that tangible connection to the past that museums and interpreters seek to impart.

Perhaps the best part of the tour, however, was at the end, when we were able to engage in active learning and visitor choice using some pretty cool (and not distracting or problematic or difficult) technology.  Technology can be the bane of some museums and exhibits as it often needs updates, breaks, or is rife with user errors. We entered the interactive space, where each person was given space at a table with projected instructions.  We each chose an artifact from the shelves behind us that we wanted to know more about.  The artifacts told the stories of the people, businesses, neighborhood, and historical context who lived and worked in the space where we stood.  We could explore as much or as little about these artifacts and their associated stories before moving on to another item/time period/story.

Lately the Tenement Museum has been in the news for their activism (and the subsequent backlash against that activism) regarding immigration.  The stories of the Tenement Museum would not exist without immigrants.  At the end of our tour, the guide played a short film about a current immigrant business owner who lives and works in the neighborhood of the museum.  She encouraged us to visit his and other immigrant shops throughout the city.  This activism and the commitment to the community surrounding the museum is what museums should be all about.  Connecting the past to the present makes the experience more meaningful and impactful.  I hope to explore these themes and topics more in the future.

I can’t wait to go back and try another tour! Have you been to the Tenement Museum?  Which tours did you take, which would you recommend, and why?



More on Sneakily Teaching Public History

I’ve talked recently about the big Public History term project I do in my HIST101 foundation classes, but today I want to talk a little bit more about other ways to sneakily teach Public History in the foundations classroom.

phwordlemostlyhorizontal350Teaching as an adjunct teaching associate for the past 2 years has been a blast.  While it was hard to leave the museum world where I served as an Executive Director of a small historic house for 2 years, the opportunity to engage with undergraduates in history (and graduate students this year!) has been wonderful. I have generally taught a few sections of HIST101 – Foundations of European Civilization Part 1 with some public history and museum courses mixed in as well.  I couldn’t very well just teach a generic 101 class – I had to put my own personal spin on it.

Apart from the grant, smaller public history and museum assignments lead up to and complement the course throughout the semester.  The first assignment I generally do explores UNESCO world heritage sites in preparation for the grant.  I also spice up the class with museum ethics, cultural patrimony, human remains (eww!), and popular culture.  Here are a few notes on those projects that I rotate throughout the year:

me absolutely fan-girting with the elgin marbles

me absolutely fan-girling with the Elgin Marbles

  1. When the class is getting ready to discuss the cultures of ancient, archaic, and classical Greece, we spend one class period discussing the Elgin Marbles and cultural patrimony.  I’m always so interested to hear the analogies they come up with.  My favorite this year was a comparison of the Elgin Marbles to a child in foster care; perhaps Greece didn’t have the skills to take care of the Elgin Marbles at first, so Britain took them in.  Now Greece has a new job and safe house, but the British Museum wants to adopt and thinks the marbles are now theirs. We also take this opportunity to talk about current events with history in the Middle East, human remains, and more. I never know where the conversation will lead.
  2. The discussion on cultural patrimony is then translated into a museum artifacts assignment.  Students must explore museum collections websites and find 3 artifacts (mummies, temples, paintings, whatever) and discuss them as primary sources.  Then the students engage in a written discussion about who “owns” each artifact, if they think it should be somewhere else, and why it is important.300
  3. Some semesters I include an assignment that compares and contrasts a film and documentary about the same topic.  I have a whole 2 page spreadsheet of films and corresponding documentaries that relate to our class (300, Cleopatra, Kingdom of Heaven, Knight’s Tale, etc.).  Students watch the documentary first, then the film, and try to find inaccuracies or simplifications.  I’m always surprised at the number of students who admit they prefer the documentaries.
  4. Pop culture and history – students must identify 3 UNEXPECTED references to history in pop culture.  Examples include True Blood references to maenads, everything in Harry Potter, and a lot of things from the Hunger Games.  My all-time favorite, though, was trojan condoms.  The student astutely mentioned that knowing the history, this may not be the best example of history in advertising.
  5. One fall when I knew I would be missing class, I made up that time by having students research the origins of various Halloween-y things (zombies, black cats, witches, jack-o-lanterns).  Halloween is my favorite holiday,  and I find that students enjoyed this as well.
  6. My all-time favorite assignment that I do is an extra credit assignment based on  StoryCorps. I will save that for its own post, because it is so fantastic.

I’m always looking for new ideas and additions to these assignments – do you have any? I’m looking to totally re-vamp my curriculum for the Fall semester, and I can’t wait!


The {Ominous} Grant Project: Part 2

So back to this Grant Project that I use for my HIST101 classes.  My last post, “Sneaking Public History into General Education Classes” introduced this project, so have a look at that if you haven’t already.

grant-artLast fall I had 2 HIST101 classes of around 60 students total which provided a pretty great sample size for feedback on the project as a whole.  I collected student feedback through reflective essays at the end of the semester.  Rather than just telling you what I think about this project, here are some of the student thoughts and suggestions:

  • I very much so enjoyed this project better than a research paper, I enjoyed it because it was more real life, we got to put together our own project and really look into the lives of people who actually do this.
  • This grant project taught me a lot. I learned that there is a lot of information out there, however not all the information is right. I learned the importance of doing thorough research so that way you can provide the right information. I also learned that grant proposals are a process, so it was good that we spaced it out since the beginning of the semester.

This project allows us to express ourselves as students and hypothetical executives. I believe students will take more from this than they would an irritable final exam. Regarding the grant, my favorite part was putting together the presentation. I felt like a real life director of a real life protection group, it was cool.

  • This project challenged my academic and creative skills, which would make this project more beneficial to my growth as a student.
  • 3 things I have learned from the project as a whole come from different aspects of the project. One life lesson I learned, is to learn to give and take. Working with two other people, disagreements are inevitable. Learning to listen and add to someone’s ideas is good tactic for not just this project but future jobs too. Two things I learned about the actual criteria of this project, is that there are a lot of overlooked sites in the World that need restoration and protection, most likely because of the shortage of resources provided. Lastly, I learned to be even more grateful for the men and woman who serve in the United States army. I read a lot of primary journals of U.S. soldiers who risked their lives to protect the World’s history, and to me that is inspiring.

images-2The biggest challenges for me as the instructor:

  • Student procrastination and subsequent end of semester panic
  • Lots of information to grade, especially with so many students
  • Explaining cost-sharing and budgets in a history class
  • Trying to fit in even more to a class that is supposed to cover European civilization from the Paleolithic to 1648CE. Which is especially hard for me since it’s basically impossible to recognize “Europe” as a place in a vacuum.  [our new curriculum at CCU should make this easier, soon!!!]

If you’re interested in seeing the actual grant documents or assignment information, please feel free to contact me! Next up, other sneaky public history projects in general ed classes.

Sneaking Public History into General Education Classes

ncph-2016-mockup-1200x735Last year at the National Council on Public History conference in Baltimore, Maryland, I  attended one of the best sessions I’ve been to at a conference in a long time.  It was so relevant to my current work teaching Public History AND general education courses at CCU.  The session was all about teaching public history and using public history in the core curriculum classes.  As I listened to these ideas from colleagues around the country, I realized I was already doing this, and also that there was so much still left to learn and adapt.

As soon as I got back to South Carolina I began to work to adapt one of the coolest projects I learned about at NCPH for my own Western Civ part 1 class. One of the panelists, Nicole Hill from Valencia College, was so kind and helpful to send me her drafts of the project.  After a little bit of tweaking for my own class, I ran what I call “The Great {Ominous} Grant Project” as a pilot in my HIST101 Fall 2016 semester, courses and by (almost) all accounts, it was a success!

c73d1010498d0b62612a57862a88be46I plan to go more into detail on the student responses and outcomes from the project in the next blog, and subsequent blogs will also tackle some of the other projects I go in my 101 classes.

The problem with teaching World and European Civ classes, especially as an adjunct, is that oftentimes the large classes, or sheer number of courses, make it hard to do group work or papers or other critical thinking exercises.  The idea of bringing what I did in museums and my life as a public historian to the classroom seemed like a no-brainer.  Bringing Public History to the regular history class also gives us the opportunity to get students engaged in class when they arent history students.  

Nicole had all kinds of tips and tricks to sneak in preservation, museum ethics, and more into the lecture.  By showing students what historians, archaeologists, or museum workers do in the real actual world, it helps students understand what they do as well as what problems are involved that also relate to general education SLOs.  

UNESCO World Heritage List

UNESCO World Heritage List

The way I’ve adapted and used “The Grant Project” in my courses is this; I begin the semester by explaining my background and how I got into teaching, as well the opportunities people have in history other than just being professors or teachers.  Throughout the semester we discuss real-world scenarios based on the typical curriculum of a HIST 101 course.  A great example is a case study on the Elgin Marbles and the ownership of historical artifacts; students get so into taking a side on the issue that the resulting class discussion is always entertaining.  We also do assignments throughout the semester related to museum artifacts, UNESCO world heritage sites, popular culture, and others.

holiday_2513727b-650_031815055308Once they know a little about public history and its applications, we begin the Grant Project process.  Students start by looking at the UNESCO or World Monument Funds sites and choosing 3 sites they find interesting to write a short paper about.  From those 3, the students choose 1 to focus on for the rest of the semester either in groups of up to 3 students, or on their own.  The grant itself is a 6 page document that they must fill out, a basic budget, and a couple writing portions about how they would spend a fictitious $100,000 on their chosen site, and also on the historical significance of the site. After turning in the application, students present the information for their final exam.  Students evaluate each group, and the top 3 as voted by the class receive extra credit.

Through this process they learn several things that I value most in my courses.  Among those skills are:

  • Time management and non-procrastination
  • Critical thinking and questioning
  • Persuasive writing
  • Cultural heritage awareness and importance
  • The actual cost of protecting historic sites and artifacts
  • Cultural patrimony issues
  • Historic research methods
  • Maybe a little bit a historic place or culture
  • Presenting and being comfortable speaking academically

Tall orders for a foundations/gen ed class!

This blog is getting away from me, so I’ll save the details and examples for the next blog.  Stay tuned!

International Women’s Day

Today’s regularly scheduled blog post on sneakily teaching Public History in the general education class has been rescheduled for next week in honor of International Women’s Day and the Day Without a Woman Strike.

And here are some (not at all comprehensive) links about women everyone should know about:




Behind the Scenes in Charleston

OLLI at the Museum

OLLI at the Museum

A few weeks ago I was so happy to lead a group from Coastal Carolina University Osher Life-Long Learning Institute to Charleston, South Carolina.  OLLI’s new “On the Road with a CCU Professor” program was a perfect opportunity for me to share my love for museums and public history with a new audience.  We started our day nice and early, leaving from campus, and we headed down the highway and the coast towards The Holy City.

Old Slave Mart Museum, from NPS

Old Slave Mart Museum, from NPS

Our museum visits started with a stop at the Old Slave Mart Museum, a National Parks site. The building is located on one of the last cobblestone streets in Charleston and it is the only known extant building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina. Contrary to popular belief, this building is where slave auctions were held, not the city market.  We had a very informative talk with their educator about the history of slavery in the Americas and the history of the building itself.  Comments and questions from the attendees rounded off our visit.



After lunch at Hyman’s Seafood, we went on the Charleston Museum.  At this museum we were lucky to get a Behind the Scenes curator tour, and we got to spend time in the collections storage areas talking with curators about their jobs.  We got to see fossils that were over 26 million years old, amazing textiles including shoes, an 18th century dress reminiscent of my Felicity American Girl doll, an amazingly embroidered waistcoat, and a ton of old poisonous medicinal bottles. And a sad, badly taxidermies baby buffalo, which I did not get a photo of.

It was a gorgeous, sunny, only slightly chilly day to spend in Charleston, and I hope the students all got a glimpse of why I love public history and museums so much.  Now to go volunteer at a museum an touch all the artifacts….

Next up, New York City for the Art on Paper fair! See you soon, NYC!