Scotland 2016: Folklore, Legends, and the Highlands

img_20160520_125507229_hdrAfter the tragedy in Invermoriston there was to be no more hiking in our futures.  We were unable to finish hiking the Great Glen Way all the way to Inverness, but we still had accommodations along the way.  We took cabs instead, and still got to experience the beauty and history of the highlands without the hiking aspects.  The good news is, we have an excuse to go back!!

From Invermoriston we took a cab up to Drumnadrochit, where were told, the villagers had already heard all about the man with the sore leg.  Not to be totally hobbled by his accident and to his credit, Charles managed to limp around town to attractions and sites, and we had a whole day to explore the traditional home of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

Castle Urqhart from the vessel Nessie Hunter

Castle Urqhart from the vessel Nessie Hunter

We started our time in Drumnadrochit with a ride around Loch Ness on Nessie Hunter. Our guide himself claims to have seen something unexplained in the water, and we also got to learn about the history of the area, the geography and geology, and folklore surrounding Nessie.  The guide also pleasingly sounded just like Sean Connery. Back on dry land we headed to the shops to stock up on Nessie gear.

Perfect rainy day with Tony Robinson and Time Team

Perfect rainy day with Tony Robinson and Time Team

In addition to the exploring and good food, we also had a lot of time to experience the awesomeness that is British television.  From the shocking (to our US sensibilities) Embarrassing Bodies, to vet shows, to cop shows, and the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Richard III and my favorite, Time Team, we had plenty of telly time.  Our second day in Drumnadrochit was rainy and perfect for TV times and snacks and hot chocolate and leg recuperation.

img_20160522_114943The next day was our final leg (ahahahahaha) of the Great Glen Way, and we arrived in Inverness not in a triumph having completed the 70+mile hike but instead limping out of a cab.  We still took a picture with the Great Glen Way sign, because one way or another, we traveled it all.

I got a Cafe Nero fix, and we explored the town as best we could.  Our last B&B on the trip, Inverglen Guest House, was a delight, and I’m still thinking about the chai muffins we had for breakfast there, Susan.

Our last full day in the Highlands, I booked a day trip to the Isle of Skye, since everyone we know who had been to Scotland said we couldn’t miss it.  As I was reading the description of the tour the night before, I noticed we would make a stop in Invermoriston to see the Telford bridge and falls.  Charles was not as please, but I was thrilled to have a chance to revisit the scene of the crime and get some more photos.img_20160523_100814123

From Invermoriston (again), we headed west to the Isles of the Highlands. What a simply breathtaking area.  All of our friends were right.  We stopped at Eilean Donan castle by Kyle of Lochalsh, which is one of the most picturesque and most photographed castles in Scotland.  Along the road to the Isle of Skye we saw Wild Goats, which if you know anything about me, completely made my trip. A tour around the island, a stop in Portree for snacks and souvenirs, and before we knew it we were back on the road to Inverness.

img_20160523_113410819-01On our last morning, we explored Inverness one last time, and found the famous Leakey’s Bookshop and a few charity shops.  At a shopping centre I came across a music store and impulse bought a practice chanter so I can learn to someday play the bagpipe.  Or just stick to the chanter to the delight of my dog and cat who LOVE to sing along… so far I can play the Skye Boat Song (Outlander Theme), a few Christmas songs, and the Olympic Theme (which I played at every opportunity last summer.  Everyone loved it).

That Isle of Skye tho

That Isle of Skye tho

After a few hours on the train we were back in Edinburgh where we had a chance to explore more of New Town since our previous visit had confined us to Old Town and the Royal Mile.  A Sainsbury’s run for tea and Mars Bars and Toffee Crisps, one last tea experience, last souvenirs bought, and it was back on a plane to the US before we knew it.

Bye, Edinburgh! Until 2017!

Bye, Edinburgh! Until 2017!

It was a fantastic trip and everything we could have imagined.  The leg injury turned out to be a boon; because of it, I’ve managed to convince Charles that his mistake was going to cost him (us) another trip!  Next week we head back to Scotland, with a side tour in Ireland, to wrap up the Great Glen Way.  From Fort Augustus to Inverness, we will do the last half of the hike and truly earn our GGW hiking patch and certificate. Bon voyage!



Scotland 2016: The Tragedy, the NHS, and the kindness of Highlanders.

img_20160519_133805358_hdr-01Invermoriston is a darling village with some beautiful historic bridges, a hotel with restaurant, a couple B&Bs, a public restroom, a tiny shop, and a crafts shop.  And that’s about it.  It is perfect.  We grabbed lunch (and a sticky toffee pudding!) at the hotel, dropped our bags at the best B&B in the Highlands, Craik Na Dav, and headed down to visit the craft shop and see the beautiful waterfalls.

This is where things went bad.  If you are squeamish at all, turn and run. Hide. Don’t read on.

img_20160519_165324610_hdr-01We enjoyed the beautiful falls and woodlands trails, and along the way back I lost the small trail and stepped in some mud.  I made my way through to get some shots of the historic bridges, and called back to my husband to be sure to stick to the trail so he didn’t get muddy.  He didn’t hear me.  Rather than going through the mud, he decided to do something he’d done a thousand times – hop a fence. Only, fences in the UK are much older than the fences here. When he hopped this auld, stone fence, the stones came with him.  I saw him falling, and figured he would be embarrassed. He was. But when I called to ask if he was ok, he tried to stand up. He pulled his pant leg up to check the damage, and from across the street, I could literally see his shin bone [tibia?] (sorry, I told you this was graphic).

Charles and his shame.

Charles and his shame.

Once I made sure he wasn’t bleeding to death, I ran up to the little shop. I said something along the lines of “My husband fell and he’s bleeding, but he’s not dying or anything, so who do we call?  It’s not like a 999 emergency or anything, but we’re also hiking, and American.” They were so nice.  Of course, because this is Scotland where the people will totally judge you and laugh at you, but be so helpful and nice while doing it.  We went back to the injury site, where a few cars had stopped along the road to help. A medic lived across the street, and he came out and diagnosed Charles a need for some stitches. It was decided that we didn’t need the hospital in Inverness, and a local GP was willing to treat this ridiculous accident-prone American. We got him back up to the shop where we waited on a non-emergency ambulance to pick us up and take us to a doctor.

Good ole NHS healthcare.

Good ole NHS healthcare.

Everyone was so nice.  I know the NHS has it’s problems, but everyone was so great. They ambulanced us to Dr. Jill back in Fort Augustus who stitched Charles right back up. After she looked at the wound and realized it wasn’t going to bleed out, she turned to me, Charles, and the ambulance drivers and said, “ok, well, who wants tea?” Perfect!! After 3 stitches, we took our ambulance back up to Invermoriston just in time for our dinner reservations at the hotel (the only place to eat in town).

img_20160519_192151267Small towns, man.  They are the best.  And the smallest.  The lady in the shop had called the sisters who run the (amazing) B&B we were staying in to let them know what happened.  They, or someone, in turn called the (amazing) Mac’s Adventure company who called repeatedly to check on us.  The hotel/restaurant got wind of the accident and canceled our reservation thinking we wouldn’t be back in time to make it. Charles was officially known as (and probably is still known as) “the poor man with the sore leg.”  Luckily, there was room in the bar for us to eat (more steak and ale pie!) and we bought a round for the ambulance drivers once they got off shift as well.

We hobbled up to our B&B where Lindsey and Manda took the best possible care of us.  Nurses themselves, they had a look at the sore leg to assuage any of Charles’ worries, and they also left a few drams of whiskey in the room for us, as well. My favorite quote from Invermoriston was when Charles’ constant apologies and self-deprecation were met with replies of, “well, it was dumb. but these things happen.” or something along those lines.  My thoughts exactly!  They also accused us of vandalizing the village. Thanks, Charles. Now we’ll be banned for life.


Right before the tragedy

Charles went to bed thinking he’d be fine for the hike to Drumnadrochit the next day. Turns out he was so wrong. He limped around on that leg for a good month after we got back, and I’m pretty sure that bone was cracked or fractured at least a little. He has a glorious scar and can now tell when it will rain via shin injury. After a great breakfast at Craik na Dav, the sisters were so kind to call us a cab to Drum, since there was no way we were scaling highland hills.

Onto Drum in the next episode.  In the meantime, enjoy these photos!

Scotland Travels 2016: History, Hiking, and Heritage; Pt. 3: Highlands

Can we move here please?

Can we move here please? Views from the train

After our adventures in the lowland cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, we hoped on a train and headed to the highlands; first stop: Fort William.

This leg of our trip was devoted to the Great Glen Way. We used the inimitable Mac’s Adventure travel group to plan and make this trip a reality, and I can not recommend them more.  The long-distance trail is about 71 miles long, through the highlands, and links Fort William to Inverness. The trail follows the major natural faultline of the Great Glen which divides Scotland from coast to coast.  We decided to do the hike over 7 days.5932-56-userimage5-500x500

We started with an extra day in Inverness, which gave us the opportunity to hike to the top of Cow Hill and enjoy the continued amazing spring weather. Before we started our hike, we went to a little shop in town and got the most delicious filled rolls. We saw sheep, a couple of dogs, and a cat, but sadly no coo. We also got to see Ben Nevis, the highest point in Britain.  Someday we hope to return and scale the mountain!

Views from Cow Hill

Views from Cow Hill

Inverlochy Castle

Inverlochy Castle

The next day we prepared to start our 71 mile hike.  We stopped in town at the West Highlands Museum to learn more about the Jacobite rebellion and life in the northern reaches of the British Isles.  At the beginning of our hike we got to stop in and explore the Old Inverlochy Castle ruins. Magical! We grabbed lunch on the sides of Neptune’s Staircase loch system, then got to the real business of the walk. The rest of the day was spent walking along the canal towpaths, a real feat of Scottish engineering. We stayed at a nice B&B in Gairlochy, and grabbed the most delicious dinner in Spean Bridge at Russell’s.  I must be hungry, because all I can think about is all these great Scottish meals we had… After dinner, we were exhausted by the first day of hiking, and looking forward to another day on the path.

img_20160518_145631The next morning, we met a great couple, Matt and Sandy, at breakfast.  They were also on the hike, and avid walkers from England. We ran into them at several of our accommodations and along the trail, and they were a delight! The most important thing they taught me was to bring a thermos on the next trip to take tea for a mid-morning hiking break.

We continued on Laggan the next day. This was a memorable day with nice weather at the beginning of the hike, lovely woods and shoreside hikes, and a nice detour into Cameron lands. Sadly the Cameron museum was closed, but we did have the opportunity to take a nice side-tour to see the Chia-aig waterfall, of Rob Roy fame. We crested the hill, greeted by sheep, and headed down the hill into Laggan.  A small town, our hosts were nice enough to drive us to a hotel for dinner (steak and ale pie with chips!!).  We spent the evening in the parlor with some British couples, and rested up for yet another day of hiking.

Charles and Nessie in Fort Augustus

Charles and Nessie in Fort Augustus

From Laggan, we moved on towards Fort Augustus, one of the larger towns in the Highlands.  Most of this day was canal paths, woods, and old train routs.  When we reached the end of the canals, we saw a new, welcome sight!  Fort Augustus is home to the end of Loch Ness, so we immediately began looking for the monster. We stayed in a neat place called Abbey Cottage, built in 1760. Little did we know we’d soon make a return journey to Fort Augustus…

img_20160519_114004242_hdr-01The next morning, the real hiking began. We were no longer on nice flat canal tow paths or gentle hills along the lochs.  We were through the woods, steep steep, up up, all the way to the top of hills just like you’ve seen in the movies.  Below us, Loch Ness, the tiny speck of Fort Augustus and the canal locks behind us, and wilderness all around.  It was perfect and beautiful, and made even better by the bacon sandwich I had saved from breakfast for the moment we crested the hills. We enjoyed the views all morning, and by the afternoon we were headed down the path into the small village of Invermoristen.

More on Invermoristen and the tragedy that occurred there next week!  Here are some photos of the way so far:


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!