Several years ago, the Wayne State University History Department hosted Jason Steinhauer (then working at the Kluge Center), who talked to us about a new field called “History Communication“, which he was developing with colleagues at Purdue, UMass Amherst, the National Council on Public History, the National History Center, and elsewhere. While I’m still unconvinced that we will see a significant growth in a distinct occupational field of History Communicators, his description of the field resonated with much of the public-facing work that I was doing in the context of my own research and as a social media manager for our department. This included blogging, social media engagement, public talks, policy consultancies, digital history projects, and collaborative work with Ghanaian artists. I came to this work on my own, untrained in public writing, marketing, policy, design, or digital technologies. To complete my work, I looked to other colleagues for advice and examples and either developed these skills on my own or worked in partnership with technical experts. However, as history departments increasingly shift beyond the long-established tracks of academia or law to think about what history majors can do after graduation, it seems increasingly necessary that we work with students to develop a wider range of skills that reflect the current state of the discipline as well as the varied ways/places that history is deployed in the public sphere. Such a field seemed like a natural complement to our new Master’s in Public History program and the growing interest in the public humanities.
In September 2016, I represented our department in a meeting to flesh out more of what exactly history communication might look like as a course and a curriculum, joining colleagues from around the country at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress for a weekend of work and conversation. The result of that meeting was a general syllabus outline for a History Communication course, as well as recommendations about curriculum. Through our work we also wrestled with a number of questions or challenges that have no clear-cut or easy answers: What is the relationship between public history and history communication? How can one person teach all of these different skills? How do available university resources shape the kind of course experience available to students? How might be expand access to expertise and information, enabling people to teach the course without the same kinds of institutional support that might be available at larger research universities or better endowed private schools?
Since that meeting, several programs have launched their own versions of “history communication”. Jason Steinhauer is himself the first head of the LePage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University, where he has continued to develop the field of History Communication. Marla Miller at UMass Amherst developed a course called “Writing History beyond the Academy”, which draws on conversations about History Communication. And various people continue to work on framing a new certificate program in History Communication.
Within our department, History Communication is connected to the Master’s in Public History, but also serves as a bridge for undergraduates who might be interested in public history or digital history. It is part of a sequences of courses, which I teach, that think about the relationship between history and technology, including an Introduction to Digital History and the Digital History Seminar. I taught the Digital History Seminar for the first time this fall, and I have been working on the syllabus for a new History Communication course, which we hope will be offered next fall. In working on that syllabus, I have weighed not only the curricular interests of the department, our Public History program, and our students, but also my own capabilities and the resources available at our university. As we move forward with these courses and as the university expands its commitment to public scholarship, we hope that these kinds of courses and the opportunities that they provide for students can continue to evolve. The syllabus below is a draft, which has not yet gone through the relevant processes of approval at Wayne State. But it represents a significant fleshing out of the concept for this course. Feel free to download it, use it, share it. Do let me know what you think, if you have suggestions or additions. If you share it on Twitter, please use the hashtag #histcomm!
HIS 4xxxx/HIS 6xxxx: History Communication
Prof. Jennifer Hart Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org www.histcommwsu.wordpress.com
(the website isn’t up yet, though the domain is active, so if you click it will show you a generic template. Check back at the end of the summer for a full site)
History today is communicated through a wide array of formats and across a growing variety of media platforms. Audiences include policy makers, federal, state and local officials, educators, students, journalists, funders, pundits, commentators, social media followers, enthusiasts and those with only casual interest. The communicators also come from a wide array of backgrounds – professors, public historians, historical consultants, marketing experts, social media managers, journalists, and librarians, among others. The outcomes and risks associated with these communications have broad consequences for society as well as historians and other history practitioners. Why communicate history in this various media? What are the consequences? What are the goals and motivations? What are (hoped to be) the outcomes? What does it mean to communicate history to different audiences through these channels? Who/what exactly is “the public?” How does one identify various “publics?”
This course examines the challenges associated with communicating about the past in today’s media-saturated environment. Case studies include analysis of communication surrounding controversial historical issues such as slavery and race, to the examination of successful history communicators operating in various media. An important sub-theme focuses on best practices and ethics when it comes to communicating history to non-experts through emerging media. Students also learn how to “economize” the history communicator skillset for the workplace.
Students should be able to:
- Communicate complicated historical research in a variety of media forms
- Identify an audience and construct projects that will engage that audience
- Classify the various kinds of “public” for history work
- Construct a portfolio of work in history communication
- Create a social media/online presence
Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts
Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto (*there is a free online version)
Trevor Getz, Abina and the Important Men
Roy Peter Clark, How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times
These books should be available at the campus bookstore. Students are welcome to purchase e-book versions of texts. Other required texts are available online. Students are expected to come to class with notes, prepared for discussion on all readings, including online texts.
Reading Responses (150 points) – Students should post their reading responses on our class blog. Your reading responses should summarize the arguments of all assigned readings and should reflect on their relevance to the theme for the week.
Participation (150 points) – Read the section titled “What to Expect” for more information about participation in this course
Social Media Exercise (100 points) – Pick a social media platform and cultivate a presence as a “history communicator”. This includes 1) following other prominent, relevant social media accounts on your chosen platform, 2) retweeting articles and commentary from other sources, and 3) creating original history communication content. You should use the hastag #histcommwsu in your content and share your profile with the class. You may make your account personal or more generic/anonymous. You are encouraged to use examples developed throughout the semester.
Op-Ed (200 points) – Write an Op-Ed drawing on academic sources to reflect on an issue of contemporary debate, which has historical relevance. Your op-ed can historicize a contemporary debate, use scholarly sources to clarify a debate about the past, or in some other way engage historical knowledge for a public readership. You should identify options for submitting your Op-Ed (if you so choose). Your grade for this paper is dependent on your full engagement in multiple rounds of peer-editing. Failure to participate in peer-editing or come to peer-editing fully prepared will lower your grade by 50 points per session.
Hist Comm Portfolio (400 points) – Identify an individual faculty member and work with them to develop a history communication portfolio, which could be used to communicate their work to the public.
- Meeting Report (50 points)
- Meet with your chosen faculty member to discuss their work, their goals, your project, and your progress on the portfolio. Reports should detail what you discussed, including the date and time of meetings. If you meet more than once (in person or via Skype), you are encouraged to include reports of those meetings or to create reports summarizing email exchanges.
- History Communication Plan (50 points)
- Your plan should include a list of client goals, a work plan detailing the kinds of platforms you are going to use, and a timeline for feedback and completion.
- Portfolio (300 points)
- Include at least 4 different types of history communication, including but not limited to the ones explored in the course of this semester.
- Your portfolio must include public-oriented material and make use of public-oriented platforms that can be widely distributed.
Total Points: 1000
What to Expect
This course may feel different from your usual courses in several respects. First, rather than simply learning course content, you will be asked to apply your knowledge to make new things. Not all of these new things will be determined on the first day of the course. Together with a large responsibility for the final product(s) of this course, you will have a large say in what we produce.
Second, to attain the technical skills necessary to make things, you may sometimes be asked to inform and educate yourself outside of class, using extracurricular resources. Be prepared for some DIY moments throughout the semester.
You should also expect to have help, however; you won’t be going it alone as you learn new technical and analytical skills. You will be working not just as an individual, but as a member of a team. Your classmates are not your competitors, but your collaborators. In that role they will sometimes be asked to help you figure out assignment-related problems, evaluate your work, and share workloads. As their collaborator, you should do the same in return.
Finally, much of your work for this course will be done “in public” on our course blog or websites like Twitter; while your grades are always private, some of your work will be shared with students elsewhere and with the public at large.
All of these aspects of this course are actually not that new or rare. What may be unfamiliar to you is doing these things in a humanities course, where our emphasis is usually on individual and private reading, writing, and discussion. But whether they are unfamiliar or not, these aspects of the class mean that every student’s engagement and participation will be essential to its success. By the end you’ll have sharpened your skills as an historian while also acquiring digital, teamwork, and project management skills that will be useful even beyond the study of history.
A Note on Grades
A wise man once said that a grade is not a gauge of your intelligence but rather an evaluation of your work in the course—to a large degree, the outcome, in other words, is largely dependent on how much work and thought you put into the course. However, “working hard” is only necessary but not sufficient to receive an “A”. The grade you “deserve” reflects the work you produce, not how “hard” you worked. The scale for work in this course is standard for other courses at a research university; this means that the baseline for average work will earn a “C”. Grades will follow: A=excellent work; B=good work; C=average work; D=below average work; F=failing work.
I am very willing to speak to you about your grades, but I require that you wait at least 48 hours before speaking to me, that you read the comments as well as your paper, that you provide me with a written list of specific questions about your grade, and that you either come to my office hours or schedule an appointment (i.e. you must speak to me in person, not over email).
You are expected to complete your work on time. This includes all reading responses, drafts, and assignments. We cannot do work as a class or learn together if we are not all prepared. As a result, late submissions will not generally be accepted. If you are struggling to complete your work for any particular reason, you should contact me as soon as possible to arrange some sort of accommodation or understanding about your progress in the course.
Participation and Attendance
Your learning in this course will come not only from the readings, but is also produced through discussion and classroom interaction. Coming to class prepared (i.e. having done the reading, armed with your own questions, and ready to discuss the material) is an important part of your success and enjoyment of this course. It is your responsibility to pay attention to any instructions and ask clarifying questions at the appropriate time.
Participation constitutes a major part of your final grade. Students may lose points from their participation grade for not attending, arriving late, leaving early, not participating in class activities and discussions, texting or sleeping in class, or being disrespectful to me or a fellow class member. I will not often call you out for these things, but I will take note of them and it will affect your total participation grade. In other words, being present means more than being physically in the classroom – it means active engagement in the activities of the class. If you struggle with some forms of participation, I encourage you to take full advantage of other opportunities to engage while also challenging yourself to master new skills and expand your comfort level. Participation is evaluated not only on the quantity, but also the quality, of your contributions—i.e. the more you think seriously and volunteer your thoughts and questions in the classroom, the better your participation grade will be. If you will be late for some reason out of your control (i.e. weather), you must explain your lateness immediately, preferably in person at the end of class.
Because of the importance of participation in this class, you are allowed only two (2) unexcused absences. For each further unexcused absence your final grade will drop by 1/3 of a letter grade (i.e. from A to A-). It is your responsibility to alert me to university-affiliated absences at the beginning of the semester (in the case of sports) or at the very least in advance. I require written notification, either in person or via email. If you have a medical or other emergency please notify me within 48 hours of your absence and present appropriate documentation. Again, it is your responsibility to notify me. Your attendance will be recorded through an attendance sheet which you will sign every day. You are responsible for making sure that you sign the attendance sheet every day. If you arrive more than 10 minutes after the beginning of class, you are counted absent and will not be allowed to sign the sheet unless you have an excuse.
Work-related absences are not excused except under extraordinary circumstances. If you have enrolled in this course and wish to complete it, you need to arrange your work schedule in order to be in class regularly and complete course assignments. In short, you need to accept responsibility for your own work in this class and commit to it. If you cannot do that, then you must accept responsibility for the consequences. I am happy to work with you to make your success possible in this course, but excessive unexcused absences negatively impact your grade (see Attendance Policy above) and inhibit your ability to do well in the course through participation.
You are responsible for checking your email in this course. I will communicate with you via Canvas and your Wayne email account. I will only accept emails from your Wayne account, so you need to make sure that you check it at least every day. Not checking your email, Canvas, or the course blog is not an excuse for not having completed assignments.
Using others’ work as your own without appropriate recognition constitutes plagiarism. You should credit the sources of any words, ideas, images, etc., that you use in your own work, which are the product or property of someone else. I assume that when you submit a paper with your name on it that you sufficiently quoted and cited any sources of information, ideas, etc., that were not your own. If that is not the case, students who do get caught plagiarizing in assignments or cheating in any way, including collaborating on assignments or in examinations, will be penalized to the full extent authorized by university policy. This most often includes a grade of “F” for the assignment or for the course (depending on the severity of the offense) and a report to the Dean of Students’ Office and Student Judicial Services, which may pursue further action. See the university’s code of conduct for further information.
If you are in any way unsure of how to reference material in assignments, please consult a reference manual (e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Handbook) or speak to the instructor.
For further information on referencing, see:
Writing is a skill that requires work and is developed over time, and I strongly encourage you to get feedback on your writing. You are encouraged to bring drafts to my office hours or make an appointment before a deadline. You may also contact the CLAS Writing Center, which is located on the 2nd floor of the undergraduate library and can be reached at 313-577-2544 or at their website: http://www.clas.wayne.edu/writing/. Basic writing skills are an expectation in this course and a general expectation of your admission to the University. If you consistently have problems with organization, clarity, or grammar, I will strongly encourage you to consult the Writing Center. I can help you with content (including constructing a clear argument and a well-organized paper), but they are trained to help you with the mechanics of writing.
Responsibility and Success
If you need help in any way in relation to this course, it is your responsibility to come and talk to me about it ahead of time (or as soon as possible). If you cannot purchase the textbook, have a work conflict, have difficulty completing assignments or understanding course expectations, you should see me as soon as possible. I am here to help you, but I can only help if you ask for it. If you take responsibility for yourself and your actions, you will find that I am very willing to help you in any way that I can. This syllabus lays out everything that you need to do for the entire semester. I often will not remind you of due dates. You need to make sure to keep track of things yourself and to look ahead and plan ahead to make sure that work can be completed in the course and that you can receive the help that you need. Asking for help the day something is due is far too late.
My goal is to facilitate full participation and active learning among all students in this course. If you have a documented disability that requires accommodations, you will need to register with Student Disability Services (SDS) for coordination of your academic accommodations. The Student Disability Services (SDS) office is located at 1600 David Adamany Undergraduate Library in the Student Academic Success Services department. SDS telephone number is 313-577-1851 or 313-577-3365 (TDD only). Once you have your accommodations in place, you must arrange to meet with me privately during my office hours (or at another scheduled time) for me to sign your accommodation letter. Student Disability Services’ mission is to assist the university in creating an accessible community where students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to fully participate in their educational experience at Wayne State University.
Add/Drop & Withdraw Policy
Effective Fall 2011, students must add classes no later than the end of the first week, including online classes. During the second week of the semester students must personally request departmental permission in order to register. If departmental permission is granted, students must register themselves for the class in Pipeline during the second week. Receiving departmental permission is NOT the same as registering for the class. Students may continue to drop classes (with full tuition cancellation) through the first two weeks of the term.
Effective Fall 2011, the withdrawal deadline from this semester forward will change from the WSU designated “Study Day” at the end of the 14th week of classes to the end of the 10th week of classes. After the deadline, the Withdraw option will not be available in Pipeline. The Registrar’s Office does not grant exceptions to this deadline so please plan ahead and mark your calendar.
- What is history communication?
Reading: Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto (Cambridge University Press), 2014 (online 2017)
“AHR Exchange: On The History Manifesto”, American Historical Review (April 2015)
Jim Grossman and Jason Steinhauer, “Historians and Public Culture: Widening the Circle of Advocacy”, Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine for the American Historical Association (November 2014)
Lab Work – Survey and complete a review of the department’s history communications efforts on the website and social media (Facebook and Twitter).
*Bring in three examples of different forms of history communication. Be prepared to discuss your examples.
*Survey the list of faculty and look into their research interests; bring a ranked list of faculty you wish to work with
*Start following #histcomm on Twitter
- What is historical thinking?
Reading: Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts
Schedule a meeting with faculty to talk about the work they wish to be communicated, identify any of their research that they need you to read, and examples of best practice that they admire. This meeting should also include an interview about what “doing history” means to them.
- Media Literacy
Reading: “Media Literacy and the Critical Process” (Canvas)
*Submit a 500-word essay in which you evaluate a piece of media using the Critical Media Literacy Process.
Lab Work – Write a script: contextualize, synthesize, distill, “brevitize”
- History in Public vs. Public History vs. History Communication
Reading: Liz Covart, “Writing History for the Public”, The Way for Improvement Leads Home (January 4, 2014) http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2014/01/liz-covart-on-writing-history-for-public.html
Robert Weible, “Defining Public History: Is it Possible? Is it Necessary?”, Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association (March 2008) https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2008/defining-public-history-is-it-possible-is-it-necessary
Jim Grossman, “Everything Has a History”, Perspectives on History (December 2015) https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2015/everything-has-a-history
Jason Steinhauer, “Introducing History Communicators”, History@Work: The NCPH Blog (January 29, 2015) http://ncph.org/history-at-work/introducing-history-communicators/
Jason Steinhauer, “Building an Interdisciplinary Discipline”, History@Work: The NCPH Blog (April 27, 2016) http://ncph.org/history-at-work/building-an-interdisciplinary-discipline/
Peer-Editing – History Communications Plan due
- Social Media
Reading: Paul Ringel, “Can Facebook help Public Historians Build Community”, History@Work: The NCPH Blog (August 11, 2017) http://ncph.org/history-at-work/can-facebook-help-public-historians-build-community/
Sam Levine, “Here’s Why Donald Trump is Horrifying, According to Historians”, HuffPost (July 13, 2016) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/historians-donald-trump_us_578644dee4b03fc3ee4e9da7
Patrick Iber, “A Defense of Academic Twitter”, Inside Higher Ed https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/10/19/how-academics-can-use-twitter-most-effectively-essay
Oliver Bateman, “The Risky Ways Academics Build Their Brands on Twitter”, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/05/the-young-academics-twitter-conundrum/525924/
Laura Shapiro, “Instagram your Leftovers: History Depends on it”, The New York Times (September 2, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/02/opinion/sunday/instagram-your-leftovers-history-depends-on-it.html
Survey #twitterstorians on Twitter – what kinds of things do historians tweet? How do historians use Twitter?
Lab Work – Produce a tweet, a gif, and a meme around a central topic/theme. Share it as part of your work in the Social Media Exercise (which should be up and running by today).
Reading: Bret Stephens, “Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/opinion/tips-for-aspiring-op-ed-writers.html
CHOOSE AT LEAST ONE ARTICLE FROM EACH OF THE FOLLOWING THREE AUTHORS:
Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic), https://www.theatlantic.com/author/ta-nehisi-coates/
Jill Lepore (The New Yorker), https://www.newyorker.com/contributors/jill-lepore
Rebecca Onion (Slate), http://www.slate.com/authors.rebecca_onion.html
Peer-editing – Op-Ed, 1st draft
Reading: Listen to at least one podcast from each of the following:
“Stuff You Missed in History Class”, https://www.missedinhistory.com/
“Making History Podcast”, http://www.makinghistorypodcast.com/
“Ben Franklin’s World”, https://www.benfranklinsworld.com/
“New Books in History”, http://newbooksnetwork.com/category/history/
Lab Work – Use your script to produce a podcast
Guest speaker from the Department of Communications
Lab Work – Use your script to produce a 3-5 minute video. See examples here: https://www.jasonsteinhauer.com/history-communicators
- Graphic Histories
Reading: Trevor Getz, Abina and the Important Men
Graphic Histories Collective, http://graphichistorycollective.com/
Graphic History Series, Oxford University Press, https://global.oup.com/academic/content/series/g/graphic-history-series-ghs/?cc=us&lang=en&
The Graphic History Company, http://theghc.co/index.php
Lab Work – Identify a historical event, choose a tool that fits your skill level and vision, and create a comic: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-tools-to-create-an-online-comic/
Reading: Lori Byrd Phillips and Dominic McDevitt-Parks, “Historians in Wikipedia: Building an Open, Collaborative History” Perspectives 2012, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2012/the-future-of-the-discipline/historians-in-wikipedia-building-an-open-collaborative-history
Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Journal of American History 93:1 (June 2006), 117–146.
“Wikipedia: Five Pillars” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars
Lab Work – Wikipedia editing
Reading: “Blogging for Historians” https://bloggingforhistorians.wordpress.com/
SURVEY ARTICLES ON THE FOLLOWING SITES WITH SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THEIR PURPOSE, CONTENT, AND FORM:
“Two Nerdy History Girls” http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com.au/
“Global Urban History Blog” https://globalurbanhistory.com/
“Black Perspectives” http://www.aaihs.org/black-perspectives/
“History News Network” http://historynewsnetwork.org/
“Informed Comment” https://www.juancole.com/
*Post a link to a blog that you admire on our class website, with an explanation about the blog’s author(s), its purpose, and its content.
Lab Work – Create an engaging blog entry on a subject of your choice and upload it to our class blog
- Controversial topics in History
Reading: Ta Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations”, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
Jelani Cobb, “John Kelly’s Bizarre Mythology of the Civil War”, The New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/john-kellys-bizarre-mythology-of-the-civil-war
“Harvard and Slavery”, https://www.harvard.edu/slavery
Survey #everythinghasahistory on Twitter
Peer-Editing – Op-Ed, 2nd Draft
- The Politics of Speaking Out:
Reading: Jennifer Schuessler, “Ta-Nehisi Coates deletes his Twitter account after feud with Cornel West”, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/19/arts/ta-nehisi-coates-deletes-twitter-account-cornel-west.html
Nick Roll, “A Schism for Medieval Studies, For All to See”, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/09/19/one-professors-critique-another-divides-medieval-studies
David Palumbo-Liu, “Why the ‘Unhiring’ of Steve Salaita is a Threat to Academic Freedom”, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/09/19/one-professors-critique-another-divides-medieval-studies
Final Draft of Op-Ed due
- Citing Your Sources: Acknowledging the work of others
Reading: Ta Nehisi Coates, “Five Books to Make you Less Stupid about the Civil War”, https://www.theatlantic.com/author/ta-nehisi-coates/
Soraya Nadia McDonald, “’The Rape of Recy Taylor’ Explores the Little-Known Terror Campaign against Black Women”, https://theundefeated.com/features/the-rape-of-recy-taylor-explores-the-little-known-terror-campaign-against-black-women/
Ryan Mattimore, “Before the Bus, Rosa Parks was a Sexual Assault Investigator”, http://www.history.com/news/before-the-bus-rosa-parks-was-a-sexual-assault-investigator
#CharlestonSyllabus, African American Intellectual History Society http://www.aaihs.org/resources/charlestonsyllabus/
In-Class Exercise: Create a public infographic to explain what historians do and how/why it matters
Hist Comm Portfolio Due – Peer Review
History Communication Showcase: Share your work over the semester with faculty
Final Exam date determined by the University schedule – Post links on our class blog to your social media account, which fulfills the requirements of the Social Media Exercise.