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The Class I want to Teach

March 1st, 2010 by

This semester, I’ve been enrolled in a course on college teaching, as well as doing the Graduate Engagement Certificate out of the Office of Engagement. Both experiences have me thinking hard about what type of teacher I hope to be, and also what kinds of courses I’d like to teach. This idea, although requiring a lot resources, time, and energy, would be the ultimate course for me. Let me know what you think.

The topic: Local Cultural History and Heritage. I want to teach a class that would incorporate things I enjoy, think are valuable, and want to convey: archaeology, history, digital humanities, community engagement, and developing an appreciation for community spaces and heritage. I’m going to pretend that this course is offered at MSU, for simplicity’s sake. The course will be on the small end, maybe 15-25. It will survey the literature on cultural heritage, public archaeology, public history, etc. It will work within the confines of a larger digital humanities type of project: the establishment of an interactive and historical city map. This map would provide detailed GIS information about the history of spaces within the City, probably divided by city block.

Such a course would require partnerships across the University and community. University wide, we would partner with a course on Geographic Information Systems: my students would research and create content, while the GIS students would work within the framework of the interactive map to manipulate this data so that it fits within the framework. They would work in groups: something like 2 from my course, 2 from the GIS course.

The research would be done on block-by-block units. Each student group would research a different block, and create the content for those areas: my students working on gathering historical data, GIS students inputting it, both providing interpretation. Admittedly, I read about a professor who was doing this, I think in Richmond, VA. What I want to do, however, takes this towards community engagement, not just for analytical research.

These groups would not stop at four students. The community would also be incorporated into the project. Residents of the neighborhood would be asked work with us, visiting archives, studying their past, providing interviews about the neighborhoods. They would work beside us at each step, learning the power of the past, while we would learn about cultural heritage development, as well as something about the community in which they live.

The final product would take many, many years. Most likely an entire career. I would work neighborhood to neighborhood, so that completed projects could happen more rapidly (So, for example, take Old Town and finish that, then move on to Groesbeck, or something). This way, these neighborhoods could utilize the information for school groups, or whatever.

This class would also have a companion piece: a summer field school. The data collected by students would result in a fantastic overview of these neighborhoods, and potentially identify a number of potential archaeological sites. A field school would allow another opportunity to work with the community, as students and residents worked together to excavate the site, reemphasizing the power of discovery through very tangible means.

Please let me know your thoughts. I am curious if any of you have heard of similar ideas, have any suggestions about how it could be made better, or think it’s just an unobtainable dream…

Photo: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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