It is with great pleasure that I welcome my new students to my online world. I too, am new at Northwest Missouri State University and am eager to see what this new year will hold for us all.
You can find more information about the things I am passionate about (Digital History, railroads, the academic experience) here at my blog. For more information on Zotero, visit the site at www.zotero.org You can find what I have written about Zotero here and here.
Dale Runyon has made a significant contribution to undergraduate historical work by writing two clever resources for undergraduate history students. His “How to Read for History” debuted in 2008 and is still quite valuable (although we all might tweak the specifics). His most recent addition, “How to Discuss a Book for History” is just as valuable for history students stuck with an assignment and they are unsure how to proceed. These are great and simple articles that should help many of our students.
This is a very personal post. Over the last 8 months, this blog remained silent which I hated personally but knew professionally could be beneficial. Long story short: found a McJob, in the mean time worked insanely hard to finish my PhD, hired to tenure track at great school, defended dissertation, edited, moved, and started at Northwest Missouri State University. I was unable to write about my great job opportunities in light of trying to keep my job that was paying the bills.
I am proud to say that I finished my PhD and started a tenure track position immediately afterwards. I know that I am very fortunate to not have had to adjunct at length before securing this position. I will continue this webpage to explore the history I am interested in writing and hopefully expanding my digital research.
Please read Mark Byrnes’ take on Thomas Friedman’s embrace of the MOOC as the future of learning. As much as I want to write about this, Byrnes does it way better.
I look back every once in a while at this blog to recall some of the issues that I have faced throughout the grad school experience. I have had lots of encouraging experiences with awesome historians at conferences and in the classroom. I have benefited from an incredible advisor who is willing to invest in a non-traditional grad student. I have also however had to face the difficulties of writing on a topic that has been unfamiliar to begin with. I also have had a family to provide for during grad school.
Providing for a family is challenging enough, but during grad school it has meant significant changes in our lives. We go with less, but God has provided more than what we need.
This semester however, has proved the most challenging. As the economy has improved, less students are enrolled in school. This means conversely that there is less work for adjuncts. I was faced with the reality of not teaching any classes at the beginning of January. I could not rely on Nebraska Wesleyan University to help us get by. UNL has been great, but they too could not give me a position. I went from three classes to none. I was forced to look for a “real job.”
Fortunately, I have been able to work for a great small business that is using my computer and customer service skills. I haven’t done some of this for a while, but I am getting used to it.
I also know that there will be big changes in the future. I wish I could talk about them, but I can’t yet. We’ll see how God continues to provide for us through the realities of the end of the dissertation and grad school.
I find myself using digital tools in the classroom as much as I formerly used other resources to bolster my teaching and presentations. Just in this semester, I have used two different varieties of collaboration through digital methods within my undergraduate classrooms. When I have run these options, I instantly recognized that using digital tools in the class are tricky since there are limits to what I can do in a single period without enhancing the project to be unwieldy.
The first iteration came within the the first several weeks of History 101, Western Civilizations. I found myself droning on about explorers and the class (which is at 6 pm) was clearly not engaged in the material as I presented it. I reached into my teaching experience to have the class develop a list of explorers on a Google Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was shared access with the class and editable by them. They had several minutes to collaborate and develop some cursory answers for who the explorers/conquistadors were and what they meant. The limitations to this exercise were severe, but it allowed groups of students to experience collaboration, sharing efforts, and for the class to collectively assess the value of the explorations.
The second iteration came with discussing the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers writ large, including those associated with the scientific revolution, reads as a long list, but when groups of three are told to assess the value of several thinkers and list their contributions, it becomes a learning experience through developing and sharing information. The second component of this exercise was to map the primary locations of each of these thinkers. With a quick overview, we could see that many thinkers lived in similar areas and it is clear the opportunities for collaboration and shared ideas. Inspiration drives inspiration – at least at a cursory overview. You can view the document here.
Digital history can be more than the long-lasting, architecture-intense, behemoths that can tax individual and university resources. Digital history can be short and intense and still yield positive results.
Actor Network Theory. The much discussed and often thrown around sociological conception of the interaction of people within societies proposed by Bruno Latour, John Law, and others is the most nuanced and conceptualized structure that the people and technology within the Indian Territory fits into. Native Americans were not just acted on by outside forces until they caved in and accepted railroads into the Indian Territory. Individuals like Peter Pitchlynn, a former Choctaw chief proposed railroads should come into the Choctaw region (and pay the Choctaw for the access). Others like Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee with wide social influence worked with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad to ensure his farm would be adjacent to the track – and have access to the markets outside of Indian Territory. These and other Native Americans were not victims of railroad managers’ advances, but rather acted out of other motives and for their own reasons. Too often Native American history portrays them as victims as a whole. I propose that Native American agency needs to be restored, especially in an era of Plains Indians Wars and fighting; when whites spoke of the “Red Man” as if they were all the same.
Similarly, not all railroads acted the same way. Some railroads clearly endeavored to work with Native Americans and recognized their self-proclaimed rights to manage their own affairs. Other railroads completely ignored the will of Native Americans in the hope of future promises of land and other benefits.
Working to theorize the social and technological situation within the Indian Territory during the last 1/3 of the 19th century proves daunting. There is not a stark power relationship between the haves and the have-nots. There is not an equal structure of power-sharing either. Instead there is a series of changing relationships between people, technology, outsiders, and the land, only summed up by engaging Latour’s Actor Network Theory.