Exhibiting the Historical: Using Digital Exhibitions in the Graduate Classroom

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:40 AM
Room 203 (Hynes Convention Center)
David Jaffee , Bard Graduate Center, New York, NY
The digital turn in the humanities has increased the visibility of material culture, a vital primary source, in recent years.  The growing proliferation of online museum collections makes available, at least in a virtual form, more and more of these materials for use in the history classroom.  Too often, these wonderful objects are introduced in the classroom or even introduced into the scholarly monograph as mere illustrations rather than to derive insights and understandings that might not be available from the textual record alone

How do we take advantage of those possibilities while also advancing our goal of furthering historical understanding?  How do we promote a critical use of these kinds of visual evidence as primary sources, having students apply the same set (as well as new ones) of critical skills and rich contextualization as other kinds of documents?

This presentation will discuss how the Bard Graduate Center’s creation of a Digital Media Lab in 2009 integrated the teaching of students (and faculty) to use a variety of multimedia software to create course projects that integrated the use of visual evidence to teach about material and culture in a historically contextual way.  I will focus on my Material Culture of Nineteenth-Century New York City course where students had the option of pursuing a digital exhibition in lieu of a final paper.  We chose the digital exhibition tool Omeka, developed by George Mason’s Center for History and New Media, that provides teachers with a tool to enable students to “curate” virtual exhibitions of artifacts. I will discuss what sorts of historical understanding students achieved in this course.  What are some of the differences along with the similarities of material artifacts as opposed to visual materials or compared to more “traditional” sources?

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