Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
This is Part 2 of the series on student projects from this past semester. The last post featured videos of place-based historical studies. This post shares some images from a group of students who selected Option #2 of the assignment. Most of these projects cannot be easily reproduced here; the selected images here offer glimpses into the multimodal works produced. Some were shared via Tumblr, Prezi, WordPress, Slideshare, Instagram and PowerPoint. Some included “lab experiments”, journal entries, videos, photos, audio files. The results also varied:
~ hip-hop tracks and dj remixes
~ infographics, interactive maps, models, and treasure hunts
~ board games and “on-the-street” trivia
~ interviews and surveys / polls
~ performances, demonstrations, and tutorials
~ and a number physical artifacts and artworks…
~ painting, woodwork, metalwork, and hand-sewn crafts
Two questions grounded many of these projects: (1) How can performance and making/critical-making projects create access to historical understanding? and (2) How can strategies and platforms used in entertainment and popular culture be used for academic research and writing to make historical studies relevant to the general public? Guiding these questions, I tried to encourage students to think through three terms throughout their process (from brainstorming and pitches / proposal writing to submission): experimentation, imagination/creativity, and discovery.
Below, I will briefly describe some of their results.
One common form of submission was website links. One such project was: Annapolis Adventures. This student builds a “scavenger hunt” in her hometown and leads visitors on a tour of historic homes, churches, hotels and taverns, printing offices, and the state house (where the Continental Congress met in 1783 and Gen. George Washington formally resigned as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army). A crossword puzzle is also included!
Three projects documented the reenactment of Revolutionary War battles or and interviews with and demonstrations by individuals who participate in such activities. Students learned first-hand the amount of time, work, and money involved in such operations. Each grappled with the concept of “authenticity”, the memory and commemoration of battles and those involved, and the value of these performances and activities for educational purposes.
Yet another set of projects were interested in the making-process of works. Some of these videos might appear in a third and final set of videos in this series of student work. Interestingly, a number of students were not only interested in metalwork (something unrelated to their academic majors) and, extraordinary to me, had or made contact with practicing local blacksmiths and craftspeople to conduct their interviews and work with tools and materials themselves.
Shown here, is a set of images from a larger project from one student who initially wrote a proposal surrounding the study of children and childhood during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The project evolved into a study of leisure and then more specifically, on children’s toys. In the final weeks of the semester, the student visited home and decided to try to make a cup-and-ball. He brought it the toy to class and I must confess I was eager to try it out . . . I got it on the first try (and then missed the next 6-7) before capturing the ball again and calling it a day! His included statement took a unique (comparative) approach in that he was interested in how makers and children “read” or “valued” these works versus how we–as producers/consumers and parents/children–look at toys today.
Since he examined the “reading” of objects, I’ve also shared a few projects related to reading and writing below this. A number of students investigated writing materials–making paper and writing with ink and quill, sealing wax and stamps–and candle-making and reading via candle light. A number of students made paper and candles and several wrote on how reading and reading and writing practices were different in this era than today.
Food, food studies, and cooking were among the most popular projects for the past two semesters. Each student had their own take. Some tried to recreate historic recipes from books like Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (1796); some tried to modernize these recipes or compare them to contemporary favorites; some examined the economics and trade of key items / ingredients; and some tried to grow their own herbs, fruits, or vegetables.
In another approach to the assignment, selected students pursued more creative outlets. A few students tried to re-create famous (and lesser known) portraitures and paintings. Others tried to reproduce scientific experiments. Others tried to create original works based on their studies. The first three images are part of a larger charcoal collage on scientific “scenes” and milestones between the 17th-19th centuries. The second two images show another student’s model of the famous Fraunces Tavern in New York City. More interesting, her great-grandfather was the architect who restored the building at the turn-of-the-century. And, finally, the black-and-white photographs in the gallery are from a Biology-major, who wanted an excuse to learn how to develop his own photos and to use the university dark room. For the project, he bought an antique camera–a folding pocket Kodak–from the 1890s or 1900s, and spent a few days at a few local state parks, inspired by the nature photography of Timothy H. O’Sullivan. I’m happy to report that he continues to explore this time of photography, post-graduation, and am happy to still receive updates via email.
Finally, some of the most experimental (and entertaining work) came from students who had wished to explore how to (re)make history using genres popular on social media and television. One example comes from a set of students who re-imagined the social media make-up tutorial by instructing viewers how they, too, could achieve those classic looks of aristocrats and wealthy Americans . . . using the ingredients they used! It was a fun (and funny) video, but, sadly, the original couldn’t be posted on YouTube because of copyright restrictions (they used a few soundbites from eighteenth-century harpsichord tunes–and Drake and Pharrell Williams. Of course!)
The second example is a video from another group who were inspired by the sketch comedy genre. They cited Monty Python and Mel Brooks‘ movies, television shows like Saturday Night Live! and Key and Peele, and work produced by Funny or Die!, especially Drunk History (now co-produced and broadcasted on Comedy Central. Side note: the series creator, Derek Waters, is from Baltimore.). Interestingly, each of the participants had a different take on the (potential) role of comedy and pop culture in/on historical education. Although one suggested that comedy could be used as a strategy to unpack, criticize, and re-write history for the public, the other two were a bit more skeptical, arguing that, as a genre, was still part of constructed narratives.