This semester in History 204 each student will be assigned a graduating class from Dickinson College during the period from 1840 to 1880. Seminar participants will then spend much of the rest of the semester learning more about these students, their friends and families, and the larger context of their times, as they work toward building out a multi-media online teaching exhibit that illustrates historical thinking skills and builds from one of the stories connected to their student subjects.
The process begins with assignment day on September 6, 2016. On that day, seminar participants will randomly select their assigned class and will receive a copy of the pages from the Alumni Record: Dickinson College (1905) edited by George Leffingwell Reed, relevant to their students. These pages will include short biographical snippets about both graduates and non-graduates, usually between about two to four dozen nineteenth-century young men in total. You can view summaries of these class lists online:
Seminar participants will then be required to examine different types of historical sources in order to find out information that might be useful in crafting historically inspired insights about those students. They will describe this initial research effort in a series of four research journal posts uploaded to the course website.
In addition to the specific sources required for each research journal entry, the following are some helpful online resources for this work:
- Charles Coleman Sellers, Dickinson College: A History (1973)
- Dickinson College Encyclopedia
- Dickinson College History (Archives Guide)
- Dickinson Timeline: 1801-1850
- Dickinson Timeline: 1851-1900
- Digital Museum Timeline
After completing this initial work, participants will step back and begin reflecting more broadly about historical thinking skills through a close reading and seminar-style discussion of John Lewis Gaddis’s book, The Landscape of History (2002). They will then apply insights from Gaddis in a well-written short essay (8-10 pages) that explains how to best visualize or “map” the story of their assigned Dickinson college class (1840-1880) for a possible public presentation. Unlike the research journal entries, which focus on investigative methods, this assignment will revolve around the writing and creative skills of the participants.
In that regard, here are some History 204 projects in the past that might help provide additional resources or some inspiration for new ideas and approaches by existing Dickinson seminar participants:
- Spencer Fullerton Baird: Born Naturalist / Class of 1840 (Becca Solnit)
- Tiphen Allen Online Journal (1853-54) (Osborne History 204, Spring 2004)
- Charles Francis Himes (Class of 1855) (Robert Reeves and others)
- Horatio Collins King (Class of 1858) (Laura Dettloff)
- Digital Microcosm (From 1868) (Leah Miller)
Finally, seminar participants will build upon their previous research and writing work to create a multi-media exhibit designed for public presentation that might help bring to life some aspect of their assigned Dickinson class for a typical American high school or undergraduate classroom. The goal of this project, however, is not only to engage student audiences, but also to promote high level historical thinking skills. So seminar participants should aim for finding an angle or perspective that yields rich, thought-provoking results. In this way, the multi-media exhibits might pursue many different possibilities, from a tight focus on a single individual in the class to a broader international story that intersected in some fashion with the lives of the classmates. The purpose of the exhibit, in other words, is not to relate the full story of the assigned Dickinson class, but rather to find one compelling story inspired by the earlier research and writing efforts into that class and then to build it into something with much broader application.