Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This Semester: Pennsylvania History

Yesterday I met for the first time with the students in my Pennsylvania History class at Messiah College.  This is not only my inaugural run with this course, but it is also my initial attempt to bring digital and public history into the classroom.  As I told my colleague David Pettegrew (who is teaching a new course on digital history this semester), it feels like we are embarking on the wild, wild, west of academic history.  It should be fun.

We will be reading the following books:

Randall Miller and William Pencak, Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth.  I love this book. It not only covers Pennsylvania history from the colonial period to the present, but it also has chapters on doing Pennsylvania history through oral history, archaeology, literature, art, geography, genealogy, folklore, photography, and architecture.  My only gripe is that it is big and heavy. (And I am using the paperback edition).

Donald Ritchie, Doing Oral History.  Students will use Ritchie as a guide for a small oral history project.  They will interview a person of their choice and write a paper connecting the story of the interviewee with a larger development in the history of the Commonwealth.

Carol Kammen, On Doing Local History.  Kammen's book is a classic guide to working with sources in local communities.

I am hoping that students will find Kammen's book useful as they work on a digital history exhibit using a collection in one of several archives in the vicinity of Messiah College.  Over the past month I have located collections in several local repositories, including the Pennsylvania State Archives (Harrisburg), the Dauphin County Historical Society (Harrisburg), the Messiah College Archives (Grantham), the Brethren-in-Christ Church Archives (Grantham), and the Ye Olde Sulphur Spa Historical Society (York Springs)  By Thursday, I also hope to have identified collections at the Northern York County Historical and Preservation Society (Dillsburg) and the Cumberland County Historical Society (Carlisle).  Stay tuned.

It has taken some work to identify and examine close to thirty collections, but I have actually enjoyed the process.   I have met or become reacquainted with local historians and archivists and this will only bode well in the future for the work of the Messiah College History Department and our new and improved Public History concentration.

There is a lot to learn in this class.  We will devote one class to an "Oral History Workshop," another to a lecture on how to use an archive, and a third class on how to use Omeka software for digital exhibits.

I will try to keep you posted on how things progress.