Paul B. Weinstein’s class assignment about having his students review films as part of his history course is a brilliant idea. One of my own undergraduate professors did a similar exercise, and it does help students to question what they see in these types of films. It allows them to start thinking about topics historically, and how they are also a product of the time period it was made just as much as the material being described.
Since I design for exhibits rather than a classroom, my approach to using film has to be slightly different. People going through an exhibit do not have the time to sit and watch a 2 hour movie, so I will need to select specific scenes from the movie to play on monitors. Copyright issues are also an issue with a public exhibit, further complicating which films I could use, so selecting the right film to use is critical. I would play the clips alongside key questions about them. The rest of the exhibit will need to fill in the gaps that are cut from the overall film, but the goal of the clips is to show how the topics in the film have been discussed at different times.
The audience for my project includes people who play board games, video games, or both. It may also include those who are interested in the subject, like myself, and are looking for more information. I am not designing it for a specific course or grade level, so theoretically it can be used anywhere.
After discussing my idea with Dr. Kelly, I have decided to expand my project into some of the precursors for video games. The direct predecessor was pinball, in that the games were the first widely successful coin-operated games, and the pinball arcades were the first place video games were widely used. My main concern in choosing pinball games as a subject is that they are currently nowhere near as popular as video games, so making the project relevant to more people would be difficult.
My other thought is to see if there is any research into card and board games that have an electronic version that is popular. The best example I have of this is with gambling – video poker – but I want to focus on games that are played for fun rather than money. I have played a version of Scrabble through Facebook, so I know they exist. My main issue is whether I should focus on this transition as the project, or the earlier physical games and use the electronic version as the ‘why is this important today’ part. Once I figure this part out, I can then decide on how I would teach the topic.
There are a few elements that have remained constant in the teaching of history stemming from the late 19th century. The most established is that of ‘Historical Thinking,’ where the act of doing history is more than reciting a list of facts and dates, it is the telling the story of what happened. One of the issues with teaching this concept is that teachers of history already know how to do this, and struggle with showing all the bits and pieces that go into creating the story (the types of sources, where to find them, creating the story from the pieces, etc.).
The main thing that has changed over the last century is access to sources and information. The World Wide Web has allowed information to come out of the back rooms of libraries and museums and into people’s homes and office. The act of finding a primary source has become infinitely easier, and historians are now able to use those sources in brand new ways. The creation of online exhibits, using 3D printers to make replicas of historical objects, creating videos and uploading them to YouTube, the list continues to grow. These types of activities provide opportunities for teachers of history to break out of the mold of simply reciting facts, and to have history become an active part of the learners’ experience.
My project for the last course centered around a brief history of video games paired with a forum for people to share their experiences. For this course I would like to delve into the history aspect of that project. The main difference is that the previous project was a superficial look into the past highlighting the major developers and games, whereas now I want to ask why arcades and home gaming has become such a huge industry. The nature of this type of research is not solely a historical one, in that it also involves some sociological research and is a modern subject that is still evolving, but the roots of this industry goes back into the 1950s.
My main problem in teaching this to students is that the subject is only really interesting to those who are a part of the video games circle, and making this history relevant to those outside the gaming community will be difficult. It is also relatively unknown to them as well. One of the things I can highlight within the project is that modern games and companies are branching out, most notably Blizzard making a Warcraft film based on its MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game.
The ask of teaching history has a few issues that need to be addressed in order to be effective. The first is how to get the students to think about history as something other than a series of randoms facts and events. One of the ways I can think of to do this is to highlight that history is more about the story of what happened, rather than this thing happened then and was followed by this.
Another key question has to do with the design aspect of teaching: how to go about telling this story. In my work in the Digital Humanities this has two parts, how to structure the content and what technology will be used. Most of my work to this point has been in using Omeka, which brings in a wide range of metadata for an item and presents it in an exhibit alongside content. Other examples I’ve seen are network analyses that show the connections between people, places, and events.
One main question about teaching history is how to get the students engaged in learning history. This goes hand-in-hand with my first question, but it also highlights how they are still learning how to do history. One of the things I personally include in my projects is to have a wide range of media: photos, videos, text, etc. I do this because as a student of history myself, having too much text based material (especially in an online setting) can become cumbersome.
I am currently enrolled in the MA in History program alongside the DH Certificate at George Mason University, and just completed my first year. I have also completed an advanced degree in Educational Multimedia, and one of my goals for this particular class is to see how I can use the knowledge from that coursework within the realm of history. I ultimately plan to work in a library or museum setting dealing with their digital projects, whether it’s digitizing their collection or creating online exhibits. I currently work with this at Fenwick Library, as the Digital Humanities Graduate Research Assistant. I feel that this course will blend my interests in education and history in an exciting way.
The process of building my Gaming site was a fun one. While I had little experience designing a public history project, I was able to pull in my personal experience as a hobby into the project. My main issue was with finding historical sources, as much of the academic writing has been about psychological or social issues of the people playing the games. One of the thing I like about Omeka is that I can use a wide range of media, and without that element my project would not be as strong. Gaming is based in the audio-visual world, and without seeing and hearing the game, visitors would have a harder time grasping the draw of them. I had experience using Omeka, but that instance was to use the exhibit as a teaching tool one-on-one rather than presenting information to the public. The modules of the course showed me the types of things I can include to help facilitate the discussion, particularly with oral history. If I decide to continue with the topic of gaming this will come in handy, as I can record people’s experience in their own words and then include them in the overall project.
One of the things with my project I am curious about is how the forum would be used. That is outside the scope of the course, but I am curious about what people would say and what sort of suggestions they would have for my exhibit.
I’ve been drafting my text for the exhibits this past week. I’m almost ready to start importing the text into Omeka, as well as add the items that I have yet to upload into it that I was unsure if I would end up using. I have a session with people who work with Digital Humanities tonight, where I will ask about the forum software they have used. Once I decide on this, I can add it onto my server and post the initial discussion boards.
The advent of smartphones and mobile internet allowed for the creation of projects that can be used in the physical spaces they inhabit. There are several aspects that have been created using this idea. Some, like PhillyHistory.org, allows users to see the past around them on their smartphone as they walk around the city. Some institutions have created companion applications for smartphones that visitors can use as they walk through established exhibits in a museum, as this exhibit has shown. This type of history has the potential to be groundbreaking, as seen with the Histories of the National Mall, where the information is sent in a way that does not require downloading an app beforehand. By running the project over Internet protocols, this type of project is not limited by changing smartphone capabilities.