Roundtable: Teaching and Learning Historical Skills through a Crowdsourced Women’s History Project

AHA Session 282
Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Laura R. Prieto, Simmons College
Networking as a Research Skill
Anna Faherty, Simmons College
The Promise and Peril of Collaboration
Lily-Gre Hitchen, Saint Anselm College
Graduate Experience Working with Undergraduates
Flannery LaGrua, Simmons College
Writing Women Back into History
Kathleen Melendy, Simmons College
Recruitment, Retention, and Filling the Seats
Beth Salerno, Saint Anselm College
Beth Salerno, Saint Anselm College

Session Abstract

This panel is a roundtable focused on sharing the on-the-ground experience of faculty and students in a spring 2016 “crowd-sourced” women’s history project. Saint Anselm College undergraduates from 11 majors and Simmons College history graduate students as well as undergraduate students from a variety of majors researched 32 female suffragists from a database constructed from National Association of Women’s Suffrage publications for the Women and Social Movements (WASM) digital archive. These women were largely unknown to previous researchers, forcing students to confront internet silences and archival absences. To construct biographical sketches, students confronted problems central to historical research, including source gaps, conflicting data, and the need to interpret findings, as well as problems more specific to women’s history, including gendered biases in sources, and how to follow women across multiple marital name changes. Because many students worked in pairs, they learned difficult collaborative skills highly valued by employers. Because the biographical sketches and research notes will be published in the WASM digital archive, the students felt their research mattered and they became far more invested than in traditional course projects. Despite the high level of work involved, many students indicated this was the best course project they had ever done, primarily because they could see themselves as active creators of the historical record.

The faculty presenters at the roundtable will describe the suffrage crowdsourcing project overall, stressing the pedagogical goals and approaches taken in developing the course assignments, and the value of their faculty-level collaboration in the project. They will also outline the dual intellectual and pragmatic values of the project, in terms of honing historical research and reasoning skills and demonstrating the value of history courses and skills. The students will speak on the most salient aspects of their experience with the project, including research, collaboration, critical thinking, and networking skills, as well as the personal and intellectual growth nurtured by the projects.

The roundtable overall will illustrate how this type of project can work particularly well at those institutions trying to integrate historical reasoning across a curriculum, or stress the practical and vocational value of a history degree. For this reason we conclude with a discussion of the real and potential impact of the project (or ones like it) on recruitment, retention, marketing, campus culture, and enrollments. We have presented this roundtable at the NEHA annual conference and the short, but diverse, student perspectives were noted by the attendees as an important aspect. Thus we have more than the recommended 4 persons on the panel (we are also prepared for 1 or 2 students to be unable to attend pending scheduling or funding issues, though we are already working on both). Our tight control of speaking time will allow ample time for questions and comments from the audience to enable a lively and productive discussion.

See more of: AHA Sessions