Sunday, September 28, 2008

Doctoral Candidate Candidate

I'm a doctoral candidate candidate and I've spent just about every free waking moment of the last month trying to the read minds of committee members I've never met who will decide my fate.

I've gone to the seminars about choosing a grad school, approaching a potential supervisor, applying for grants. I've written, rewritten and rewritten again every paragraph of my applications.

I've been warned that my project proposal should be compact, doable and specific from one group of people, and warned by another that's terrible advice and I should show broad interest in a range of ideas.

I'm a doctoral candidate candidate, and it's a lot of guess work.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Most Popular Historical Topics of Year 2100?

Everyone likes to think they're unique. But, how predictable are young historians?

What are the history students of next century going to find interesting about us? Will they look into the predictable topics? 9/11 and the sudden concern about global warming? Will they look at us at all? Or will we be considered one of those boring decades that earn little study?

Here's my guesses for most popular history essay topics for students studying our current decade. Some history professor in a hundred years can check if I'm right.

1) Terrorism
2) Global Warming
3) Rise of China in the global economy
4) Fast Food Lifestyles
5) Religious Conflicts

I hope I'm wrong; be unique, students of the future!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interactive History Displays

I've been working on some projects for Bill Turkel recently that he likes to call "Interactive, Ambient and Tangible Devices for Knowledge Mobilization." In layman's terms, that's "Interactive History Displays."

The project I'm currently working on is an interactive ice core. It's not really ice, but it's a cylinder of plastic, cooled by a device called a "Peltier Junction." When a student touches the ice core, sensors determine where the finger touched and a monitor displays relevant information.

Our current prototype is a cardboard tube, but it's going to get way better, we swear. We have recently started working with a milling machine. This machine is essentially a 3D printer. You give it directions of what you want, put in a block of material - plastic for instance - and it creates your shape in relief.

For those of you interested in the technical details or who wish to follow along with our progress, you can do so here.

But, that's not why I'm posting. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate new ways to engage students with history.

Textbooks have their place, but so many children learn by touching or experiencing. And, because it's not very feasible to truck an ice core into a classroom, we're creating the next best thing. Perhaps better, since most children lack the university degree in paleoclimatology required to decipher ice core secrets.

The interactive display also gives students and educators more control over their learning experience. Students can choose to learn about only those aspects of the core that interest them, by deciding which parts of if to touch. If they are particularly interested in the bubbles which are trapped under the surface, they can focus their attention on that aspect. If they want to know about the dirty section near one end, they can do that too.

These displays can be made relatively inexpensively. The ice core will likely cost about the same as your average science textbook and could be used to teach an entire classroom.

Bill has already started work on a tree-ring which follows the same principles as the ice core.

I think this idea has a bit more potential. So, if anyone has a suggestion for something they would like to see, or that they think would be useful for teaching history, please leave a comment here or send me an email at I'd love to hear your ideas, and perhaps we can bring them to life.

Be creative: dinosaur bones, a castle, a dress. Anything is fair game.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No one will check the internet

I volunteered at Doors Open London yesterday. Doors Open is held one weekend a year; various sites around town, including museums, historic homes and churches open their doors to the public, free of charge. My job was to help people who came to the London Tourism Bureau by giving them a map and telling them about any of the sites they were curious about.

One of the sites had recently pulled out of Doors Open, but unfortunately the brochures and maps had already been printed. No big deal, I just made sure I told everyone who took a map to cross that one off.

Then, one man asked why they didn't reprint the thousands of brochures to prevent confusion; if he hadn't come to ask me, he never would have known the problem. I explained that it wasn't economically feasible to reprint them so late and that the change had been noted on the internet so he could get the latest information.

"Yeah, but nobody will check there" he says.

The generational line has been drawn.

I live in a world where I stopped reading my local newspaper because they redesigned their website and I dislike the result. Where the bus schedule is found with mouse clicks, and all answers can be Googled.

He lives in a world of paper and face to face contact in which the bus schedule is kept in a drawer, not a cookie.

This is not meant as a criticism towards this man. It just surprised me how different his worldview was on this particular issue. Maybe I need to get out more. And important to remember when working in public history. Not everyone will check the internet.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thanks to the Archivist

For any archivist, archival assistant or poor grad student who digitized something today and made it available online: Thank you.