Category Archives: Teaching

Non-Text Sources and Teaching Ideas

So there was some cool stuff at Doing Digital History today, but unless I move in the direction of Civil War memory, video and audio sources probably aren’t going to be a huge part of my researching life. Photographs and other images may, of course, and lots of people with the appropriate training do cool things with material culture. I definitely hope to include mapping, but I’ll leave a discussion of that for when we actually get to it in the seminar. (Is it a seminar or an institute? I’m never sure how the NEH classifies things.)

I am excited about some options we’ve seen for having students work with nontextual sources. I’m hoping to find two or three good tools to incorporate into the Historical Methods class, and I definitely plan to use ThingLink. We already include a series of assignments in which students locate and analyze one primary source at a time and then explain how that single source connects to larger themes, and images should obviously be part of that process. I’ll have to think about ways that annotating the image in ThingLink promotes historical thinking differently from simply writing about it, but it’s definitely a little more fun — and sometimes that’s enough to make something worth doing. We all need some fun built into the semester.

I had students use iMovie/Moviemaker for two assignments last semester, and that worked fairly well, but I think Animoto would be great too. What I like about Animoto is the limitations it places on the amount of text students can use. It prevents them from making the kinds of text-heavy products they sometimes create when asked to give class presentations or share various types of visual aids. I have a wonderful colleague who regularly asks students in the methods course to write their papers on a Post-It note — the idea being that if you can’t explain your argument in that amount of space (at least in the context of a semester-long essay of about 10 pages), you probably don’t have one yet. Making an Animoto movie would serve the same purpose, forcing students to zero in on what they thought was really important.