Public History, Scholarship, Teaching, and . . . Twitter?


On Monday, April 25th, the Center for Teaching Excellence held its final event for the 2015-2016 academic year: a Food for Thought luncheon hosted by Carl Robert Keyes, associate professor of history here at Assumption College.  Carl spoke to us about the research project in public history which forms the basis both for a current book project and for a course in public history at Assumption.

As Carl explained to us in his presentation, his current scholarly project explores the history of advertising in colonial America. In service to that project, he created The Adverts 250 Project, a web site that enables him to share his work-in-progress with the scholarly community.  The website “features a daily image of an advertisement published in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago that week.  Brief commentary accompanies each advertisement.  Daily updates are supplemented with longer posts that analyze individual advertisements in greater detail, highlight other marketing items from the period, or examine issues related to research and accessibility of historical sources.”

Carl had this website in place prior to the start of the class, and decided to involve students in two aspects of the work: creating content for the site during the semester, and then connecting it to the wider scholarly community through Twitter.  Students in Carl’s spring 2016 public history course first became guest curators for the daily advertisements posted to the site. They were responsible for searching colonial newspapers for the advertisements they wished to feature and writing a brief analytic essay for each ad.  Once the ads were posted, they had the additional responsibility to Tweet about the advertisement for each day, through Twitter accounts they created for the course.

The power of this assignment as a learning experience for Carl’s students was impressive.  They participated in an original research project in American colonial history, helping curate and analyze advertisements that influenced colonial America’s political and economic culture.  They learned how to shape and present their work not merely for an “audience of one,” as Carl put it, but for the wider scholarly community and even the public at large.

Other scholars and even historical institutions responded to and promoted the work they were doing, giving them an authentic taste of participation in the practice of writing and analyzing history.

And Carl learned from it as well: in several cases, as he explained, the work of his students gave him new perspectives on colonial advertising or on the scope of the project.

Carl wrote two blog posts of his own about his experiences teaching the course and working with his students as guest curators: one midway through the course, and one at the end of the semester.  Carl has also co-authored essays on pedagogy for the American Antiquarian Society’s blog Past Is Present, which offer equally fascinating accounts of his teaching work: one on “Combining History, Graphic Art, and Modern America in the Classroom” and another on  “Transcribing the War of 1812: AAS Collections in the Classroom.

Carl was one of the members of the CTE’s 2015-2016 Core Academy, seeking to explore innovations in course design with a small group of fellow faculty members throughout the year.  His presentation reminded us of the incredibly high quality of work created by this year’s Academy members, as well as of Carl’s commitment to creating the deepest possible learning experiences for his students.

You can continue to follow the work of this inspiring teacher and his students by connecting with Carl Keyes on Twitter at @TradeCardCarl.

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