Monday, January 9, 2012

Making History Come to Life with Social Media

There's a great little article by Nick DeSantis today over at the Wired Campus blog that showcases how Donnelyn Curtis, director of research collections and services at at University of Nevada at Reno, is using Facebook to portray the life of two historical figures.

Using archives and permission from family members, she generated a Facebook profile for Joe McDonnel and Leola Lewis, two former college students who graduated in 1913 and were married not long after.  The profiles include photographs of the two attending college events together, like the "sophonore hop," and status updates reflecting their favorite activities and the realities of early 20th century college life.  
This historical "role playing" with Facebook is a creative way to melt history into our students' contemporary technological landscape.  And I think this is a terrific idea to keep in mind for learning activities too.

Blogging About Dead People
In my History of Photography class, my students each have their own blog in our private class Ning network.  Most weeks they write a blog post in response to one of two prompts I assign them.  I like to give options, as students respond more favorably to assignments when they have a choice and I really like to contrast the prompts too.  While they both will align with the weekly learning objectives, I like offering one creative writing option and one that is more objective.

In an early unit focused on The Popularization and Socialization of the Daguerreotype (1840s), students are pointed to the Daguerreobase website which provides them with a collection of digitized daguerreotypes.  They are expected to select one from the database that is either a traditional portrait of one or more people or a death portrait, representing the popular genre of post-mortem portraiture.  In their blog post they role play either one of the people sitting for the portrait or the family of the deceased person, usually a child, represented in the post-mortem portrait.  Clearly, not all students get intrigued about the idea of writing about a photograph of a dead child but some students are really intrigued about how this phenomenon was considered "normal" in the 19th century; which, of course, is a big part of the "point" of the assignment -- to get students to grasp that the way we value and respond to particular types of phtotographic images is socially constructed.  Both posts require students to include factual information about the daguerreotype process, including the studio experience, the exposure time, how it felt wearing mechanical devices that were used to hold a person still during the long exposure time, and the magical feeling of seeing the photographic image unveiled before them.

In our 1880s-90s: Birth of Kodak and the Rise of Snapshots unit, students are given the option to locate two early Kodak ads and analyze them or to locate a historical 'snapshot' and write a blog post that fictitiously  role plays the experiences of the person who took to photograph.  Both posts require students to include important contextual details, from our learning unit, but each allows students to draw upon their particular styles.  Some students l-o-v-e the creative writing options and others feel more comfortable moving into the analytical writing assignment.  By sharing their work on their blogs, they have the opportunity to reach out and read what each other has written, increasing their exposure to unique ideas.  It's fun to see them comment with encouraging insights the next week.

I have shared both of these blog post activities with Creative Commons licenses and you may view them on the History of Photography page of my blog.

I love engaging students in history through role playing and hope these examples inspire you think about a unique way to use social media to make history come alive for your own students.

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