Teaching & Learning History in the Digital Age: Introductory Post

It’s a little hard to believe that this is the last course in the digital public humanities certificate (it’s been a long, but good, academic year for me for various reasons). In addition to being a certificate student, I’m a collections, research, and instruction librarian for African American studies, American history, American studies, European history, medieval studies, music, and women’s and gender studies at Georgetown University. This means I spend a good chunk of my time teaching primarily undergraduate students but also graduate students how to use library resources (and the omnipresent Google) to conduct research. Unofficially, I also spend a good chunk of my time talking with students about how to develop a research topic (especially when they’re not familiar with the subject matter), how to read and use primary sources as evidence, what counts as evidence in different disciplines (most of my subject areas overlap to some degree, but I also provide general reference help), how to integrate secondary sources effectively (no plopping in quotations where they fit!), what their professor means by scholarly books or peer-reviewed journals or academic press, and other things that I can’t recall at the moment (the semester just ended and we’re all burnt out). Many of the faculty I work with do cover these types of issues in class, but many otherwise lovely people assign “research papers” without describing what that looks like, even in general education courses filled with non-majors.

In this regard, I expect this course to be incredibly useful in reflecting on and revising how I talk to students about historical research. I have done some reading and thinking about this, and even worked with a faculty member on revamping her general education course and its assignments using the insights from Decoding the Disciplines, but I haven’t formally studied and worked on this. I have researched and written on critical library pedagogy and am also interested in how what I learn in this course will play into that, in terms of both research and practice. This includes working with the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy (my professional organization’s non-standard standards), which I both love and hate. I am also interested in thinking more about digital tools and the role they play in historical research, teaching, and learning, since these are the primary focus on my teaching and I constantly rethink how I talk about digital tools; the students I work with need to know how to use them, but I also want them to think critically about them and feel empowered in their use of these tools (de-naturalizing and historicizing technology is also something I have researched and written about). I do think digital projects (like those I did in the previous courses) can play some role in this, and I have a good sense as to the different project options I can talk with faculty about (since I don’t assign anything). The other aspect I am interested in exploring – some of my previous blog posts point to this – is how to get learners to think about uncomfortable or unpleasant topics, including histories they might be personally invested or implicated in. In “Righting Wrongs,” Gayatri Spivak has this great quote about teaching being the non-coercive rearrangment of desires and I would like to think through the tension/process more in this course.

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